Josh Play Recipes Soup Chicken Soup

Steven Levine <> posted the following recipe to soc.motss in February 1997.

Chicken soup was a rare treat when I was a kid. My mother made it on Passover, and I thought it was the most wonderful food. Once my mother was simmering the chicken for the soup and she said, "When the house smells like this it reminds me of my mother's kitchen on Friday afternoon." And I said, "You mean you had chicken soup *every* *week*!"

I didn't learn to make chicken soup from my mother. I just experimented over the years to try to recreate hers. Not that it takes much "experiment" to simmer some chicken and vegetables for a couple of hours. But my soup will never be like my mother's because she is precise and obsessive and I am not. Her soup is always clear, and when she dices vegetables she make teeny little perfect cubes. "This is not necessary," I say, when I watch her in the kitchen. "I know," she says. "I can't help it."

This is how I make chicken soup. It takes two days.

I put a chicken in a big pot of cold water, which I bring to a rolling boil. This brings lots of scum and froth to the surface of the water. Then I dump out that water, rinse off the chicken, and start again. This seems like a waste of flavor or something, but it is what a woman I used to work with told me is "the Chinese way" to make chicken soup. Well, she was Chinese and this is how she made it and I find that it reduces the amount of scum to skim off by a huge amount.

After I put the chicken back in the fresh pot of cold water I add lots of cut-up celery and carrots and onion (not cut up too fine — big chunks, actually). Once I added a parsnip, but it didn't make any noticeable difference in the outcome. I also put in some seasonings: salt and pepper and random Italian seasonings and instant chicken broth. I know that last one seems stupid, but it's really just another seasoning: mostly salt with a little chicken flavor.

I bring the water back to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer the chicken for two hours or so, skimming off the scum that sometimes rises to the top. The advance boiling keeps this necessity to a minimum.

Then I take out a second big pot and strain the soup into that pot, squeezing every bit of liquid I can out of the vegetables and cooked chicken with a wooden spoon (this stuff is precious). This will fog up your glasses with hot steam. Be careful. As soon as the chicken I've strained out is cool enough to handle I remove all the chicken meat and put it aside to cool, then into the refrigerator for overnight. I put the super-cooked vegetable mash aside and wash out the strainer and the original pot. Then I strain the soup back into the original pot. It usually takes at least two strainings, because of the way I mash the vegetables through the strainer and put in spices early in the cooking process (most people don't add spices until reheating the soup the next day, I think).

I put the chicken broth in the refrigerator to chill overnight. It turns into aspic, and the fat rises to the top and congeals.

This leaves me with a big problem: the mushy mess of cooked vegetables and chicken bones. It seems such a shame to throw it away, because it is so full of flavor. What do you do with this?

Well, first of all, after it cools, you remove all the chicken bone you can. You can usually pick out most of it. Then you puree it in a blender. This can take two shifts. You mix the pureed chickeny-vegetables with a little milk and heat it in a saucepan, adding some fresh pepper. This makes one or two servings of the tastiest cream of vegetable soup, a little pretaste of the chicken flavor of the soup you won't be able to eat until tomorrow. It is a special treat for the cook. There isn't enough for anybody else. It is not kosher, of course, what with the milk, but that's not a concern for me these days.

The next day you remove the congealed fat from the top of the soup and throw it away. Now me, I like the broth just reheated and plain. Maybe with some croutons, or some fresh bread on the side. But most people want more out of their chicken soup, so if you plan on serving it to company this is what you do: Take out the cooked chicken from yesterday and cut it up into nice pieces. Unless you are my mother, you don't have to make them neat. Me, I like to leave bits of skin on the pieces of chicken, but that is another quirk that I don't think most people share.

Also cut up more carrots and celery and maybe a little onion if you want. In this case it matters a little if you make the pieces neat. Then put the vegetables and the chicken into the pot with the soup and bring it to a boil, then reduce it to simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Maybe 15 minutes, maybe a little longer. You can cook up some sort of pasta in the soup as well — kids like this, and it makes flavorful chickeny pasta — but I find this can make the pasta soggy and detracts from the purity of the soup flavor. It also adds starch to the soup, which makes it muddy.

Your house will smell really nice.

If it's Passover, you make yourself matzo balls, following the directions on the package of matzo meal, and cook the matzo balls in the soup at the last minute. If you are having a seder for 25 people and you triple the matzoball recipe, do not triple the salt. Trust me on this.

Michael Thomas <> spices his soup differently. He writes:

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Last update Jul16/05 by Josh Simon (<>).