This is my Mama’s Chicken Soup (AKA Jewish Penicillin). It is the best chicken soup in the entire world. It can and will cure any ailment under the sun, including a broken heart. This isn’t up for debate. This is fact. It is science. It is Math. 1+1= Mama’s Chicken Soup! Are we clear?
Growing up, my mother made Chicken Soup at least once a week. We ate it so often that at one point I never wanted to see it again. In addition to meeting her weekly Chicken Soup quota, she also made it (and continues to do so) on every single holiday – Jewish or otherwise. I would know it’s a holiday when I saw that she used the Chicken Soup as a base to make her Matzo Ball soup (something I will never get tired of!).
The recipe I’m sharing below is a codified version of something that is intangible. Chicken Soup, my Mama’s included, is an organic, living thing. It changes a little bit every time and doesn’t need to be made by following any specific measurements.
Chicken Soup is something you can feel your way through and improvisation is a part of the process. It is the Jazz music of the culinary world.
Of course, this is not something that comes easily to everyone. It takes practice and a great deal of trial and error. I have probably tried to recreate my Mama’s Chicken Soup no less than 2 dozen times and it still doesn’t hold a candle to hers. What can I say? She has that touch!
But, that shouldn’t stop anyone, myself included, from trying! I’m happy to say that with the below recipe, you can come very close to tasting a big part of my childhood.
But you might need a few of Mama’s Chicken Soup pointers to help you along the way:
- Raw vs Roasted
You don’t have to use raw chicken quarters. You can use a roasted chicken carcass. Roasted bones have a concentrated flavour that gets released into the broth as it slowly cooks. It’s also a great way to reduce waste!
- Fresh vs Scraps
Likewise, using whole, fresh, beautiful produce to make the stock is a waste of money. Instead, you should be using vegetable scraps saved from other recipes you make throughout the week. I keep a ‘stock bag’ in the freezer for precisely this purpose. I continuously add to it every time I peel an onion or carrot, trim celery or have odd cloves of garlic.
However, it is virtually impossible for me to quantify carrot trimmings and onion peels. It’s also very hard for me to explain how to cook without a recipe.
Therefore, I recommend sticking to the ingredients and measurements below so that you have a reference point.
- Stock vs Soup
My Mama’s Chicken Soup is, for all intents and purposes, a recipe for making stock. The only difference is that the we usually treat the stock as a meal in itself.
When making with raw chicken, we shred the poached meat and eat it with the flavourful broth.
If using roasted bones, we use the liquid as stock for other things.
You can use it however you please. It will undoubtedly make everything taste better.
- Use Kosher or Halal Chicken:
If you are going to use raw chicken parts, such as legs and thighs, or even an entire bird, I recommend purchasing Kosher or Halal. Unlike non-religious butchering practices, one of the requirements in both Kosher and Halal laws is for the blood to be drained from the animal.
Religious considerations aside, this will result in a less cloudy stock. Not to mention the fact that the animals must be slaughtered in a humane way or the meat is considered inedible.
If, however, you are using the bones or carcass of a roasted bird, this is less of a concern since most of the blood will have been cooked and/or drained after carving. On the other hand, many roasted chickens are first seasoned or marinated in any number of spices, etc., and these will inevitably colour your stock.
I once made stock from the remains of my Cajun Roast Chicken. While incredibly delicious, the stock was noticeably darker and more red than usual.
- Clean vs Cloudy
A cloudy stock occurs when you do not skim the foam that rises to the surface of the water when boiling the meat. The foam is the result of solidified impurities in the meat.
Personally, I don’t get too fussy with how clear my soup/stock looks. I do my best to skim as much foam as possible but if there are flecks floating around, all the better, I say! More flavour!
But if you want a less cloudy finished product, you can try one of the following techniques:
- Simmer the chicken on its own in water for 10 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface before adding in all of your vegetables and aromatics. One thing I’ve noticed is that while adding everything at once results in a more flavourful broth, the vegetables and herbs trap some of the foam and make it harder to skim, which later solidifies and lingers in the stock.
- Follow the recipe below, as outlined, but transfer the the remaining stock through a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth. This will ensure maximum flavour and a cleaner finished product.
- Keep the Schmaltz
Although you should skim any foam that rises to the surface, you should definitely leave the fat globules. Those beautiful, shiny bubbles that dance across the surface of your soup are rendered chicken fat (AKA Schmaltz). This is the holy grail of Jewish delicacies and is pure, unadulterated flavour!
You will notice significantly more schmaltz when using raw chicken that is skin-on, since this is where most of the chicken fat is stored.
Thus, there is a case to be made for using raw chicken as opposed to roasted bones.
Mama's Chicken Soup
- 4 chicken legs – preferably Halal or Kosher
- 2 celery stalks – cut in half
- 2 yellow onions – unpeeled
- 2 large carrots – cut in half; plus 2 more - peeled and cut into discs
- 1 parsnip – cut in half
- 1 chayote squash – cut in half
- 1 knob ginger – roughly the size of your thumb
- 1 head garlic – stem trimmed
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 small bunch fresh dill – plus extra for garnish
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Add all ingredients to a 7.5qt stockpot or Dutch oven. Add enough water to reach the brim of the pot.
- Set over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for a total of 75 minutes and use a spoon to scrape any foam that rises to the surface of the water.
- Use a large, slotted spoon or wire strainer to remove the vegetables. These are edible but I am not a fan of the texture so I discard.
- Transfer chicken to a tray and let cool. Use your hands or a set of forks to shred the meat from the bone. Discard bones, skin and cartilage. Reserve meat and set aside.
- While the chicken cools, add sliced carrots and cook until fork-tender (approximately 10-12 minutes).
- Return shredded chicken to pot. Taste soup for seasoning and adjust salt as required.
- Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with fresh dill and freshly-cracked black pepper.