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
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
-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
-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).
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 Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO
Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.