Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chicken Soup

We are half way through the Jewish New Year, the span of time that begins with  
Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur. It is a time for celebrating and remembering, for forgiving and fasting, for being with family and friends.

It’s also a time to eat well.

While traditional recipes reign---pot roast, noodle pudding, roast chicken---pride of place in the Jewish Holiday food line up is the classic, comforting home made Chicken Soup. It is also the food with as many permutations as there are cooks putting a chicken in a pot (Not to mention that it is also a food that crosses many cultures).

Everyone starts with a whole, fresh chicken (which a hundred years ago might have arrived in the kitchen still feathered and squawking---a friend tells a great story about her Bubbie sitting on the back stoop plucking feathers), carrots and onions, celery, salt and pepper and enough water to cover the bird. That rounds out the list of widely approved ingredients.

Other additions---approved by some, scorned by others---are bouillon cubes, parsley, dill, leek, parsnip and garlic. My Mother, Aunt, Grandma and Nana added paprika and thyme.

The final result can be a finely wrought, clear broth with a simple garnish of cooked chicken and a bit of carrot or a rich soup served with a mélange from the pot: bits of onion, minced parsley, slices of carrot and lots of the chicken, shredded.

(In my house, Mother would be lucky to find any of the cooked chicken when it was time to serve the soup...Daddy and I loved nibbling on the cold bird and left little behind for guests).

Many cooks add rice, noodles, alphabet pasta (if there are very young children joining the dinner) or tiny squares of pastina. And of course, we cannot forget the lovely matzo ball---which we will save for another blog.

While there will always be as much discourse about what constitutes a perfect bowl of soup as there is over the perfect “Q”, I can promise that every cook who serves you soup will declare it the best you ever ate and, you had better agree!

My Family’s Recipe for The Perfect Chicken Soup

  • 1 3# to 4# kosher or organic chicken, well cleaned                    
  • 1 onion, cut in ¼’s
  • 1 stalk celery, leaves on, cut in ½
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut in ½
  • 1 leek, light green part on, well cleaned, cut in ½
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled and cut in 1½ ” to 2” lengths
  • ½ bunch fresh dill
  • ¼ bunch flat leaf parsley
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, dry thyme, paprika, dry dill weed: all to taste
Fit the chicken in the bottom of a heavy stock pot. The chicken should fit rather snugly on the bottom. There should be no more than 1”-2” of space from the side of the pot to the chicken. Fill the pot with enough cold water to top the chicken by about 4”.

Add the seasonings to the water; season lightly in the beginning. The cold water will deaden taste. You can add more seasonings later if necessary. Loosely cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the light down and keep the heat on a gentle boil for 1 hour.

After one hour, re-check and adjust your seasonings. Add all of the vegetables, bring the broth back up to a boil and continue gently boiling for another 2 hours. (Loosely covered). Turn off the heat, adjust the seasonings if necessary and let the soup cool for ½ hour.

Remove the chicken from the pot and put aside. Strain the balance of the soup, saving the vegetables. Pick out all but 2 of the carrot pieces from the vegetables and set them aside with the chicken.

Add all of the remaining vegetables to the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. If necessary, add 2-3 TBS. of the soup to the vegetables to make the processing easier.

Scoop the pureed vegetables back into the soup, stir, cover and chill overnight.
The next day, skim all of the congealed fat from the top of the soup and discard.

This soup will keep in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days. It also freezes very well. Make sure, if you’re dividing the stock into smaller containers, that it’s well mixed so there are equal amounts of the puree in each batch.

Serve warm with a bit of the cooked chicken, lightly shredded, a carrot and a pinch of finely chopped parsley.