The soup begins life as a liquid-less amalgam of ingredients in a big pot.
During times of trouble, stress, sickness, sadness and lack of hope, there is little more soothing or healing than one’s grandmother. And of all the grandmotherly things, chicken soup (often called Jewish Penicillin) is probably near the top. (Her baking might be at the top, but it depends on the grandmother). This recipe was handed down to me by my Grandmother Sylvia (and my Aunt Doreen) and I have successfully made it for holidays and sick people for about two decades. It is alarmingly simple to make, as most of the work is in the shopping and prep. It makes approximately 4 quarts of soup and feeds about 10 people as a first course. It freezes perfectly, but you have to remember to add a little hot water when you reconstitute. For the purposes of healing the sick, it is great to keep some in the freezer, because the last thing you want to do when you’re sick is wash and chop vegetables.
For about 10 years before I asked my family for the recipe, I tried my hardest to make chicken soup from a wide array of cookbooks, including the New York Times and Silver Palette cookbooks. They all contained funky ingredients like butter, white wine, garlic, vinegar, ginger, and never ever tasted like the soothing and simp broth I had at my grandmother’s house. Don’t get me wrong, I think tweaking recipes is great, and there are endless variations on chicken soup which I celebrate. But “Grandmother’s Chicken Soup” is a specific variation that needs to remain simple—and dairy free—among other qualities.
When I finally made my soup for my Aunt, she gave me two pieces of feedback— one, that cooking the soup too long (which I did) would make the chicken “fall apart”; and that using and removing whole onions keeps the soup clear. Keeping the soup clear is very important if you intend to add matzoh balls or egg noodles— but as I am on a constant carb-watch, I don’t do those things. As a result of slicing the onions and leaving them in, my soup is kind of ‘atmospheric.”
Additionally, I found that the whole chicken legs are part of the final delicious, savory flavor, and that using only chicken breasts does not impart the same deep level of yummy soup satisfaction. I can’t explain why that is, but don’t fault me for that– even the scientists can’t figure out why eating chicken soup seems to help with the common cold (see NY Times article here).
This soup has been of one the stars of my cooking portfolio for years, and something people always ask me to make. At first I was reluctant because I wasn’t sure my grandmother would want that. After all what’s the grandmotherly soup without the grandmother? But I am sharing it now, and I hope that by sharing you too, can help heal the sick, feed the hungry, and give hope to the hopeless. Or at very least, make a great first course at that pot luck dinner.
- 2 Whole Chicken Legs
- 3 Skin on split bone-in Breasts/Chicken
- 4-7 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
- 3-6 stalks celery, cut into ribs
- 2-3 parsnips, peeled
- 2-3 yellow onions (my grandmother put them in whole and removed them; i slice them thin and leave them in).
- fresh parsley
- fresh dill (approx 1/4 cup of both)
- 1-2 packages of Swanson Chicken Stock (I used to use College Inn but now I’m a convert).
Grandma’s chicken soup becomes savory, delicious, healing and ‘atmospheric.’
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces; lay without overlapping (as much as possible) in the bottom of a 5-7 qt dutch oven. Place cut vegetables on top. Wash and chop herbs finely, squeeze out liquid and put on top. Turn on heat. When I can smell the chicken sizzling I pour in the chicken stock to about 3/4 full. I add hot water the rest of the way. Bring to a boil and then simmer for two hours.
Somewhere around the 90 minute mark I take out the chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and replace it (without shredding) in the soup. After that, I remove the parsnips and discard. In the final analysis, If the soup is too thick I add hot water and if it’s too bland I add salt. When done, remove the pot from the heat source.
When the soup cools (about 90 minutes), ladle into storage containers, and refrigerate or freeze. Keeps in the fridge for about three days and in the freezer until the next person in your house gets sick. When re-heating don’t overdo it or you might inadvertently dissolve the carrots, etc. Serve with fresh bread, challah or soup nuts. And always, always, give a grandmotherly smile of approval when they say they like it. Sylvia would have wanted it that way.