Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Clear Chicken Soup--Just in Time for Passover

I was raised on chicken soup. Sure, it was Jewish penicillin for when I was laid up with a cold or flu, but it's also been the centerpiece of holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Add some matzoh balls and, really, is there anything else on the table that so completely epitomizes family love?

So, I was shocked--Shocked!--when I tasted my friend Candy Wallace's chicken soup last week. I help out Candy and her husband, Dennis, with social media and blogging for their business, the American Personal & Private Chef Association. The organization trains chefs and good home cooks how to start and run their own businesses cooking for families and individuals, many of whom have special dietary needs--a great alternative for talented home cooks  who want to enter the culinary profession and trained chefs who no longer want to work restaurant hours. It gives them more flexibility in their lives and extends their career from a life on the line.

Periodically we get together to do some planning at their house and Candy, a chef and culinary educator of over 40 years, makes lunch. This is my idea of a great meeting! Lunch last week? Yep. Chicken noodle soup.

So, why am I kvelling over this soup? The flavor, of course. Pure, focused sweet chicken flavor ladled out in a clear broth, punctuated with chunks of chicken, vegetables like carrots, celery, and broccoli, and swirls of fusilli. Mom, Nana, Grandma, I'm sorry, but I think we've been doing it all wrong.

What we have been doing is good enough. Fill a large pot with chicken legs and thighs; cut up and add carrots, celery, and onion, turnips or parsnips, some salt and pepper, and garlic cloves. Cover with water, bring to a boil, skim, and let simmer, covered, for several hours. My mom adds minced dill at the end (Love it--don't stop, Mom!). There's no doubt it's delicious. And it certainly is pretty easy. But I realize now that it could be even better.

Candy explained to me that the goal is to serve a clear--not cloudy--broth. Bring it to a boil and you get cloudy results. A clear broth is cooked low and slow. Got it?

The reality is that this method does take longer and it involves more steps and ingredients because you make a separate stock first. But, Mom, are you reading this? The flavor is amazing! Imagine this with matzoh balls!

Candy Wallace's Clear Chicken Soup
Serves 6 to 8
(printable recipe)

Clear broth was always required for soups being served in my grandmother's restaurant. In order to achieve clear stock you must always heat low and slow, never allowing the stock/soup to actually boil. My chicken soup is an example of this visually delightful stock process. I actually use a combination (50/50) of homemade chicken stock and water to make the soup.

Start with an organic chicken for the soup. Place breast down in the pot.
4 cups homemade clear chicken stock*
4 cups water
1 medium chopped yellow onion
3 quartered carrots
3 quartered celery stalks
A handful of fresh thyme stems (6 or 8)
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 to 4 fresh thyme stems
Other vegetables you enjoy

*Candy's Chicken Stock
Stock is chicken parts or a whole chicken, chicken bones, vegetables you have on hand and want to use or lose, plus carrots, celery, and onion (mirepoix), fresh herbs, and salt (no pepper--it can turn your stock acrid) slow cooked over low heat, strained, cooled, and stored. (But remember the old adage of garbage in/garbage out, so don't use your stockpot instead of your garbage disposal.) Also, always start with cold water and use enough of it to just cover the chicken and vegetables--about four inches over. Skim often if needed, but you don't need to stir often. Just cook low and slow for hours.


1. Add stock, water, onion, carrots, celery, thyme, and salt to the pot with the chicken. Heat on medium low flame and allow it to just begin to simmer before cover, reducing to lowest heat and continuing to cook for several hours. This process produces almost no scum on the top of the soup, but if it does produce any foam or scum, simply skim it off and discard.

2. When the chicken in the pot is cooked through and falling apart, remove it from the pot so the skin can be removed and the chicken boned and shredded. Cool it and store it separately.

3. Pour the stock through a sieve or chinois to separate the mirepoix  and thyme from the stock, leaving the enhanced clear stock base.

4. Cool and store separately. When soup is fully cooled, you may skim the layer of fat that rises to the top.

5. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the broth for the final soup, along with three to four stems of fresh thyme and any other vegetables you care to add to the soup, like small florets of cauliflower or brocolli, haricot vert, spinach, or whatever you enjoy and have at hand.

6. Once again, bring soup to a simmer on low heat, stir in the shredded chicken and allow to simmer until the vegetables reach the level of firmness you enjoy. If you wish, you can add pre-cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or pearl barley at this point and serve with hot rolls, a fresh salad, and cheese board.

"This low-and-slow approach is such a loving process that honors the ingredients," says Candy. "The stock starts you off on the right foot for whatever dish you wish to prepare.

"Good stock rocks!"

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