1.1 Chicken Soup
When I was nine, my mother had surgery and was incapacitated for about six weeks. Every Friday, my job would be to get the chicken soup on the go so that when she came downstairs, after I had gone to school, she didn’t need to stand at the stove nor lift any heavy pans. Needless to say, the recipe for this elixir has remained deeply embedded within my soul ever since.
Volumes have been written about this iconic dish and I have little to add, other than to confirm that it is indeed curative, nutritive, supportive, wholesome, comforting, golden and delicious. Its powers are more than the stuff of folklore; chicken soup is a scientifically documented cold cure — Jewish penicillin indeed.
Naturally, there are thousands of versions out there and every Jewish cook has their own take. I would humbly suggest that the version below is the definitive recipe and that no variations may be tolerated.
- 1 large chicken (around 2.25kg), either left whole or quartered (I freeze raw chicken carcasses and trimmings from other dishes and add these to my soup for extra flavour)
- 3 sticks of celery with leaves
- 2 medium onions, peeled
- 2 large leeks, halved lengthways, dark green part removed
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and halved lengthways
- 2 large carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
- ½ green pepper, deseeded (optional)
- 2 tomatoes
- ½ small raw beetroot, peeled (optional)
- 1 handful of parsley on the stem, no need to chop it
- 1½ teaspoons of salt, plus extra to taste
- Cold water
- Chopped parsley to garnish
- Place the chicken in a large pan and cover with cold water by 5cm.
- Add the salt and bring to a gentle boil, skimming off any scum that rises. Keep skimming for several minutes until no more appears.
- Add the vegetables and another 250ml of cold water. Bring back to a simmer and skim again if necessary.
- Put the lid on and simmer for two hours. Check the seasoning and, if significantly reduced in volume, add another 250ml water.
- Simmer for a further 1 – 2 hours.
- Add the beetroot for the last hour of cooking to give your soup the most wonderful golden colour.
- Carefully remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Do not throw this meat away: picked from the bones, it can be used right away — perfect in a curry, a chicken pie, chopped up and mixed with mayonnaise in a sandwich — or frozen for later.
- Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a clean bowl or pan and allow it to cool.
- When cool, refrigerate overnight, then skim off most of the fat that has hardened on top. Don’t remove it all. Those little ‘golden globules’, as my late father used to call them, demonstrate its provenance.
- To serve, bring to a boil and enjoy piping hot. Garnish each bowlful with a pinch of chopped parsley, plus any (or all, if you’re my brother-in-law) of the following: kneidlach (matzo balls), kreplach (Jewish ravioli), lokshen (vermicelli or flat noodles), egg lokshen, butter beans, some of the cooked carrot from the soup, boiled rice or meat from the chicken wings.
- Chicken soup freezes well and you should always have some to hand in case of plague, famine or invasion.
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