Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mom's Chicken Soup

As I write this, the temperature is 101˚ in San Diego. In September. Oy. So making soup hasn't exactly been on my agenda. But yesterday, when it was just a mere 95°, my mom wasn't feeling great. It didn't help that as she's been clearing out her house in preparation for moving, the fridge and kitchen in general are emptying and the chaos surrounding the move has meant she hasn't been eating well. She needed to have something easy, comforting, and nutritious to eat.

So, I brought her back to my house, pulled out the familiar big yellow enameled pot--a Belgian precursor to Le Creuset from the late '50s that my dad bought her when they were first married and that she just gave me in the move--and made her the chicken soup she's long made me.

Now there are all sorts of ways of making chicken soup and certainly more elevated and sophisticated than this. But this homey Eastern European Jewish version is what I grew up with and love. And it's so easy to make. Every family needs its go-to soup. This is ours. It's sweet from parsnips and carrots. And my mom's twist--adding fresh dill at the end of the cooking process--adds a brightness to an old-world tradition that makes it very specific to our family. During the holidays, usually Rosh Hashanah (which begins this Sunday night) and Passover, she serves just the broth with sliced carrots, cooked separately to eliminate the fat, and ethereal matzoh balls. She always saved the cooked chicken for my dad, who adored snacking on it.

But if we were sick with colds or flu or just wanted a warm, dense soup, we got the full complement of all the ingredients and maybe even some matzoh balls, too.

So, that's what my mom got yesterday, sans matzoh balls.

Here are some tips my mom has for making it:
  • You can add zucchini to the soup, again to add sweetness.
  • Use drumsticks and thighs because the thicker bones have more marrow, adding richness and flavor to the broth. If you include white meat, that'll be to save and eat later, as she requested yesterday.
  • Skin the chicken pieces to reduce the amount of fat. Now these days, in the name of cholesterol, we don't save the skin, but back in the day the skin was sliced and sautéed with sliced onions to make something called gribenes--think the most delicious crispy cracklins. The rendered fat? That would be schmaltz.
  • Be sure to skim any foam from the simmering soup as it cooks but even more effective is to make the soup a day before you serve it. Refrigerate the soup and the fat will rise to the surface and congeal so you can remove that layer before reheating it.
  • Add the herbs as the end of the cooking process.
  • If you're serving just the broth, be sure to have an extra carrot around to slice and boil separately. Then add those slices to your broth. They'll taste fresher without having been cooked in a broth with fat.
  • If you're making matzoh balls, cook them in water separately and then add them to the soup as you reheat it to serve. 
  • If you're adding noodles, cook them separately (otherwise they soak up all the liquid) and add them before serving.
  • Chicken soup (even with the matzoh balls) freezes beautifully so you can make it well in advance or keep containers around to have in a cold/flu emergency.
I will often add other root vegetables like rutabagas or turnips for flavor.

Chicken Soup
From Evie Golden
Serves 4 to 6

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into circles (reserve 1/3 for later if serving just the broth)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
4 chicken drumsticks and/or thighs, skinned
1/2 chicken breast, skinned and cut into 2 pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
7 to 8 cups water
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

In a large, heavy pot add the garlic, onion, 2/3 of the carrots, celery, parsnip, chicken, salt and pepper, and water.

Bring the mixture to a strong simmer, then cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for at least 1 hour (I prefer 2 hours). During that time, periodically lift the lid and skim any foam. Toward the end of the cooking process, stir in the herbs and let cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Let cool, pour the soup into a container, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. 

Before serving, remove the soup from the refrigerator and lift off the congealed fat. Pour back into the pot, and gently reheat. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you're serving just the broth, bring a small pot of water to the boil and add the reserved slices of carrots. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the carrots are cooked through. Drain.

Serve either the soup with the vegetables and chicken or just the broth with the cooked carrots added.

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