This is it: the canonical, Jewish-penicillin, mom-style, for-and-of-the-soul chicken soup. It's not complicated. (Mom recipes never are; they may not be easy, requiring patience and skill, but simple? Always). It's not glamorous. (Moms are too busy for that.) But it's everything else.
As with lots of yesteryear classics, one of the most important ingredients is time. You can shortcut this chicken soup; simmer it for an hour and call it done. I've done it countless times. We all know what winter Fridays are like: aggressively brief. Put some soup almonds in it and call it a week. But. But, if you can, put this soup on in the morning. Like 10 or 11. Bring it to a boil, cover it, and set it to simmer over the lowest flame until 18 minutes to.
Selecting chicken for soup
You can make a nice, rich soup out of lots of different parts of a chicken, but you'll get a lot more mileage out of them if use a minimum of 3 lbs. / 1.5 kg. The best cuts for soup include lots of bones, because the magic in chicken soup comes from inside the bones. I usually keep the carcass of a whole (cooked) chicken or leftover bones from a cut-up chicken for soup-making. To these I add (raw) chicken feet, necks, wings, and/or drumsticks to equal about 3-4 lbs. / 1.5-2 kg. You can use all raw meat, all cooked meat, or a combination; and you can put the meat in (whether raw or cooked) straight from the freezer without defrosting. If you want to have some white meat to serve in the soup, you can add a bone-in chicken breast with the rest, or slip in a boneless breast in the last 30 minutes of simmering.
The vegetative soul*
The mandatory vegetable, as I see it, is an onion. You're ultimately going to strain the finished soup and discard the onion, so you don't need to chop it. Some people swear by keeping the skin on it for the color it lends to the soup. My jury is still out on that one, but I usually do it, because why not? I usually trim the ends of the onion and cut it in half.
Next up is carrot. I've learned the hard way that too many carrots will make the soup taste strangely sweet. Two large or three medium seems to be the magic number.
As far as herbs, parsley is pretty much required. You put it in right towards the end of simmering, with 10-15 minutes to go, so it only just gets blanched. You can add dill along with the parsley, which I always do if I have some around.
Everything else is optional. I like adding a peeled yellow potato or two to serve in the soup. If I have celery on hand, I'll add two to three stalks (the parts with the leaves are especially nice). Other good options are turnip (trim but don't peel), parsnip (peel), and/or leek (I put it in whole or cut into two large pieces).
*This is a little medieval philosophy joke for you, my fellow un(der)employed philosophers. In Aristotelian thought, the vegetative soul was one of the lower of the life-forces possessed by living organisms.
As you may have deduced, and you can bet that this eluded me in my early, hilarious years of making friends with my kitchen, you put the chicken in the pot with the onion, add salt, and fill the pot almost full of water. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and lower the flame. Add other stuff if you want. Let it simmer till you're out of time.
Then, there's straining. It's annoying, but nonetheless worth doing. I know it's tempting to skip it and ladle out the soup from around the stuff floating in your stock pot, but it is that much lovelier having strained chicken soup. My stock pot has a locking lid with holes in it for the purpose of straining. (How many years of pot ownership did it take for me to remember to use the straining lid? Not going to tell you. Don't be me.) Some stock pots come with a strainer insert that you can use to lift out the soup guts to discard them easily. If yours has neither, you can buy a strainer insert to fit inside and accomplish the same. Failing that, you'll need to actually pour the big, steaming pot of soup through a strainer into another large container, which sucks, but then you have beautiful, perfect, soul-saving soup, and that does not suck at all.
Things to put in your soup
I like to cut the carrots and potatoes (rescued from the soup guts) into a few large pieces and serve them in the soup. I also shred some of the meat left on the bones and add it to the soup. There are the aforementioned soup almonds, which my grandma served every summer lunch no matter what degree centigrade and relative humidity it was. And, of course, there are matzah balls, which are the teleological* point of soup, no?
*Another medieval philosophy favorite, this means a purpose or conclusion to which something inevitably leads.
Chicken Soup (meat)
- Large stock pot with strainer or straining lid
- 3-4 lbs bone-in chicken, any combination of cooked/leftover and/or raw (necks, feet, and drumsticks work well) - 1.5-2 kg
- 1 medium to large onion, ends cut off and halved
- 3-4 medium carrots, peeled - use 2 if large
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt - more to taste
- generous pinch black pepper
- 4-5 sprigs fresh parsley
- 4-5 sprigs fresh dill - optional but recommended
Optional vegetables to add in along with the the onion and carrot:
- 2-3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled
- 4-5 stalks celery, with the leaves if available
- 1-2 leeks, cut into two to fit in pot
- 1 turnip, scrubbed and trimmed
- 1 parsnip, peeled and trimmed
- Place the chicken in the stockpot. Add the onion, carrots, and any root vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and fill the pot to about ¾ full with water.
- Bring the soup to a boil over a medium-high flame.
- When boiling, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for at least an hour and up to 6 or so.
- About 10-15 minutes before taking the soup off the flame, add the fresh herbs to the stock pot. Continue to cook in the soup.
- Strain the finished soup. Add the carrots and any other vegetables desired back into the soup. Shred meat from the bones to add to the soup, if you like, and discard the rest. Serve with accompaniments, such as matzah balls.