COOKING LOCAL Jewish Penicillin (Chicken Noodle Soup)

November 04, 2011


Welcome back to the kitchen. Well friends, if you are like me and what seems like at least half of the valley this

week, you are fighting off some sort of nasty bug or another. Inevitably when the weather turns cold, my sinuses

will swell up in protest, my nose begins to run, and that persistent cough rears its ugly head.

/>    Oh rhinovirus, you are a mean old bastard! And influenza, you are even worse! Now, there is

really no cure for the common cold. Sure, there are many remedies that can alleviate and sooth some symptoms, but

there is no one magic bullet.
    That being said, my ancestors claim to have invented the one

remedy to ameliorate any nasty wintertime ailment, from cold and flu to stomach problems, to general malaise and

homesickness! We call it Jewish Penicillin, but in goyim country you probably know it simply as chicken soup.

/>    Now, there are so many claims that chicken soup can actually cure sickness that some

scientists with plenty of time on their hands have actually looked into the claim the results of the various

studies I have found are fairly inconclusive. Some claim any hot liquid will make you feel better, others claim

the collagen in chicken might have some restorative effect. And then there are studies that say chicken soup does

nothing at all.
    Normally I like to think of myself as a pretty scientifically rooted guy,

but when it comes to chicken soup, I’m willing to suspend disbelief and have faith that it does make me feel

better. Of course, the placebo effect is strong medicine too! And the best part about medicinal chicken soup is

that there are no side effects except for a full and happy belly, so you certainly don’t have to be sick to

enjoy it. It may be just because grandma and mom made it with love, or maybe this stuff really works.

Doesn’t matter either way.
    Whether you are trying to heal a sick loved one, warding

off that bug that is going around the office, or simply stocking up on delicious soup for cold weather, I want to

share with you a simple and delicious chicken soup recipe your whole family will love.

Now, soups in general are the perfect way to use scraps and leftovers. In fact, many people will save chicken

bones and carcasses in the freezer to make into soup and stock. You can also save the ends of onions, celery, and

carrots to flavor the broth. But I’m going to give a recipe assuming that you are starting from scratch.

/>    Now, there are a couple of tips and tricks I’ve learned for my chicken soup over the

years. We are going to do a very basic chicken noodle soup, because sick people will probably want uncomplicated

pleasures to make them feel better.
    Many recipes will have you cook the noodles in the

pot towards the end of the soup. This works ok if you think you are going to eat the whole soup in one sitting,

but I always cook a lot, and the leftovers end up tuning to a sort of noodle mush in the fridge as the pasta

expands and absorbs all the broth. So I’ve learned to cook the noodles separately and spoon some in to each

individual serving as needed. This goes for rice as well, which hold up a bit better in the broth but can

definitely turn soggy as well. I have no idea how canned soups keep the noodles intact, and I’m guessing I

don’t really want to find out.
    Lots of recipes will also call for some chicken

bouillon, which is like a concentrated broth flavor cube. I recommend skipping the bouillon. It is packed with

flavor, sure, but also packed with sodium and MSG, often disguised as “yeast extract”. Your

grandmother probably didn’t use bullion in her soup, and I don’t think we should either. Add salt and

garlic and fresh herbs for flavor, and if you still think your broth needs some depth try a small splash of soy

sauce to hit those umami notes. Another thing you can do to add depth of flavor is sauté your onions and

maybe your other veggies a bit before adding the water tot the soup, which adds some interesting notes. Sometimes

I do this, sometime I can’t be bothered.
    Another tip which I go back and forth on is

simmering your veggies with the chicken to make broth, and then discarding those veggies because the flavor has

been cooked out of them. I have a hard time doing this. It makes the finished soup a bit more elegant, but it

still somehow seems wasteful to me, so I leave this up to your discretion. But either way I recommend adding back

some chopped carrots and celery towards the end of the soup simmer, so you have some less mushy vegetables in

    Use a whole chicken, or at least use thighs and other bone in cuts. Don’t use

boneless skinless chicken breasts, because you will have tough meat and a flavorless soup. We want the fat and

gristle and all of that to add wonderful flavors to the broth. Don’t worry; we will skim off most of the fat

before serving.
    Many chicken soups use just onion, celery, and carrots, plus chicken,

salt, and spices. I have taken to adding a parsnip, which adds some awesome sweetness to the broth. I also think

fresh herbs are a must, particularly parsley and dill. I like to add some to the simmering broth, and then some

more toward the end of the cooking time. Oh, and I recommend some fresh garlic, a bay leaf or two, and a few whole

peppercorns as well.
    But enough of these notes, let’s get down to the recipe!

    So for this Cold and flu fighting Jewish Penicillin Chicken Noodle Soup we will


    -1 whole chicken (roughly 3 pounds, organic preferred, or several thigh/leg

combos), rinsed. If it includes neck and giblets, don’t discard them. We wan to use everything but the guts

and feathers!
    -1 large or up to 3 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped. You can

actually get away with just cutting it in half and leaving the skin on if you plan to discard the cooked veggies

used to flavor your stock
    -2 carrots, cut into chunks, plus 2 more for later use

/>    -2 celery stalk, chopped into chunks, plus 2 more for later use

parsnip, peeled if the skin is not very clean and smooth, and chopped (2 if they are on the small side, or use a

    -3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a chef’s

    -1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped
    -1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

(use the stems of both the parsley and dill for the soup stock, and reserve some of the leaves aside for later

    -about 6 quarts water (enough to fill your really big soup pot roughly 3 inches from

the top)
    -salt and pepper to taste, plus 4 whole peppercorns for the broth

/>    -1 or 2 bay leaves
    -1 pound cooked noodles (I like farfalle or egg

noodles, but it doesn’t really matter what you use)

    Start by getting out your

really big soup pot. It is worth investing in a gigantic stock pot, which should run you about $30 or so and will

allow you to make big batches of soup to freeze and enjoy all winter long.
    Lay the chicken

in the bottom of the pot. Some recipes say breast side down, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to

matter wither way. Cover over with the carrots, onion, celery, and parsnips. Fill the pot most of the way with

cold water, certainly enough to cover the chicken and then some. Add in the peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, and

half of the dill and parley (remember, use the chopped up stems for this part).
    Bring the

pot up to a boil and immediately back off the heat low enough to just keep it simmering. Now we wait! Bring your

cold or flu patient some beverage high in vitamin c and tell them the real cure is on the stove. Your stock should

simmer for about 2-2½ hours, partially covered. Don’t let it get back up to a boil. A few times

throughout the process, use a slotted spoon to skim off some of the fat and foam that will form while it is

cooking. You will know it is done when the chicken is very tender and basically falling off the bone.

/>    I know this can seem like a long time to wait, but you can’t rush a good stock! And by

the way, if you seem to have made way more stock than you intended, it is worth reserving some aside strained and

plain to freeze and use in other recipes. Homemade stock is just amazing compared with the canned stuff.

/>    The next step is a little tricky, because the soup if hot and we are dealing with a lot of

volume. Fish out the chicken and set it aside on a plate or cutting board to cool down a bit. Use a strainer to

separate out the mushy cooked veggies, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc. Hopefully you have another large pot or tow

medium pots to strain this broth into. If you don’t, just use a slotted spoon to get out as much as you can.

Discard all these mushy veggies, or use them if you can’t bear to part with them as is sometimes the case

with me. But this time, so this soup will be mostly simple broth for sick folks, I did discard the stock

    Now, the really pro thing to do is to let your strained broth cook over night so

you can strain off the solidified fat the next day. But darnit we need relief and this smells too good to wait on!

I skimmed a bit of the fat off the top with a spoon, and I’m not going to worry about whatever I may have

    While you are waiting for the chicken to cool, put the strained stock back on the

stove and bring it back up to a simmer. Add in the chopped carrots and celery that we have save aside, plus the

finely chopped dill and parley leaves (actually, you can wait on these until closer to the end if you want to).

Let these veggies simmer until tender, maybe 20 minutes or so.
    When the chicken is cool

enough to work with, discard the skin and bones, pulling off the meat. I usually just get in there with my

fingers, because you will get way more of the meat this way. Pull it apart into bite size pieces, using all the

meat you can get but discarding any gristly bits. I wan that carcass picked clean! If you think you have more meat

than you need for the soup, set some aside to use for chicken salad or whatever you’d like. Add the chunks

of chicken back to the simmering soup pot and turn off the heat (it should be plenty hot, but you can let it

simmer all together a bit longer, certainly until the celery and carrots are tender).

taste your soup. It should be simple, but absolutely wonderful. If it is your cold you are trying to conquer, you

should be feeling a bit better already. Look at what you’ve accomplished! If it is a loved one who is

convalescing in bed, rest assured that you’ve filled the house with incredible smells that have a healing

power of their own (assuming that noses are clear enough to smell!). Adjust your seasoning. It may well need a bit

more salt and fresh ground black pepper. If your stock tastes thin, you might add that dash of soy sauce I

mentioned. And if you haven’t added the final fresh dill and parsley, now is the time to do so.

/>    Boil some noodles and strain, instead of trying to guess exactly how much you will need for

the soup and ruining the leftovers, we’ll just add the noodles separately to each bowl. You can also cook up

some rice if that is what you prefer (I like wild or brown rice, because they have more texture and hold up better

in soup). Or if you are going for the fully Jewish version, make up some matzoh balls.

Yum! We have a lot of soup here, which will taste even better over the next day or two. Serve up some bi steaming

bowls to anyone who is sick and/or hungry, and let this folk remedy do the trick! Freeze some of the leftovers in

manageable small containers so that you can reheat it should the dreaded cold or flu return.

/>    Man, this stuff is good! Homemade chicken soup is just one of those simple pleasures that

makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, sick or not. I think you will be able to tell the difference when you do this

all from scratch, skipping caned stock and bouillon. I hope this makes you and your families feel at least a bit

better as we move through the sick season.
    I’d love to hear your folk food remedies

and favorite takes on soup. Send me any questions or comments to Cooking local in the KOHO

Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.


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