Observing the high holidays while growing up, mom’s chicken soup was always the centerpiece of our special meals. Served sometimes with broad noodles or rice, most often the soup was accompanied by the quintessential matzoh ball, followed by mom’s perennial queries: How are the matzoh balls—light and fluffy?
“So light they’re floating to the ceiling,” we’d invariable reply.
Nothing takes me back to that place—the love felt around the family
dinner table—than a bowl of chicken soup that I've learned to make
(almost) as good as mom’s.
Chicken soup holds a central place in Jewish cuisine and culture—and
for good reason. This humble broth embodies the best of all things:
it's warm and nutritious, delicious, inexpensive, and easy to prepare for a group of any size. What’s not to like?
What’s more, chicken soup is valued for its curative powers, earning
the designation as “Jewish penicillin” or bubbemycin. It isn’t just
folklore; a bowl of chicken soup contains essential liquid, salts,
fats and other healthful ingredients. A warm bowl of soup clears the
nasal passages and is gentle on the stomach.
Making a pot of chicken soup is so easy, there is rarely a need to
ever buy canned chicken soup or chicken stock for cooking.
Any piece of uncooked chicken can be used to make soup. You want
pieces that don’t have too much fat, and with a lot of bone that
provides flavor. I’ve found that the best proportion of bone to fat
and meat are chicken necks and backs, which can sometimes be found
packaged inexpensively at the supermarket.
Thighs tend to produce soup with a darker flavor and more fat (which
can be easily removed by chilling the soup overnight in the
refrigerator and skimming off the solidified fat, resulting in almost
Usually, what we do is buy split breasts and cut the meat away from
the rib bones, cook the meat for one meal and save the skinless and
almost meatless bones in a Ziploc bag in the freezer until I have
enough to make soup.
Another way to do it is use a small whole chicken, and then pull off
the cooked meat to make a meaty chicken soup.
Take 1.5 to 2 pounds of chicken pieces and bones—still frozen directly
from the freezer is fine—and cover with water in a large pot. Add:
4-6 celery stalks
4-6 carrots or about a half pound of baby carrots
Salt to taste (always needs more salt)
The onion can be kept whole or sliced into half, so it is easy to
retrieve after the soup is cooked. Similarly, the celery and carrot
are kept whole or cut into large pieces. The vegetables are for flavor
and don’t end up in the bowl.
You can experiment adding small amounts of herbs such as bay leaf or
rosemary. A little bit of herb goes a long way in soup, so go easy.
Turn up the heat beneath the pot, but do not let the soup boil.
Boiling the chicken bones makes the soup foamy. Simmer for two or more hours; the longer it cooks the more reduced and intense the flavors.
Before serving, I usually pour the soup through a strainer or
cheesecloth into another pot to produce a clear bowl of flavorful
golden yellow soup.
It’s a good feeling to know that home is only a bowl away.