I never get sick. Check that. I rarely get sick. Usually I can attribute it to something specific — like the time I was carrying my friends’ sniffly little girl and she sneezed. On my face. There’s not much hand sanitizer can do about that, and all I could really do was share an incredulous laugh with my friends and the suddenly giggly little girl. At least I knew from where the offending germs came.
But a few weekends ago, I felt something creeping up on me, from an unknown origin I might add. (Ew.) Despite gallons of preemptive hot tea, it still hit, although perhaps with less ferocity than I had expected. Thank you, Earl Grey. If I were a man, and it was still fashionable to do so, I’d tip my hat to you.
I’m not a fan of the cold remedy aisle, at least not of anything there that’s actual medication. I haven’t yet mustered the nerve to try a neti-pot. Maybe one day. The pills usually make me edgy or — worse — unable to sleep, which is all one really wants to do when a cold hits.
When I was in college, there was a joke that for everything that ailed you, the health center would give you a handful of packets of Sudafed. There was, it appeared, nothing those two little red tablets couldn’t cure. Cold? Flu? Sudafed. Itchy rash? Sudafed. Broken leg? Eh, take some packets anyway.
Eventually (and, more importantly, when I stopped living in a dorm and thus had use of a kitchen) I jumped off the Sudafed bandwagon and returned to my roots. Which meant, instead of heading to the health center, I headed through (or, with a few additional turns, avoided) the one traffic light in my college town to the Grand Union, the only supermarket for miles and miles and miles. And there, I got what I needed, like a long distance hug from my mom.
Garlic. Onions. Carrots. Celery. Parsley. Dill. Chicken. In a pot (although not exactly in that order). With water. Cook. Remove lid. Let vapors invade your soul. Cook some more. Heal. Explain when the aroma draws friends near. Feed friends. Heal others.
Non-homemade chicken soup can be a bit of a tricky game. A gamble, if you will. How much are you willing to risk that what appears before you will not be akin to chicken-flavored, yet somehow flavorless, water? Or worse, iridescent and nearly a salt-lick? We used to take my grandfather to a well-known Jewish deli in the New York City borough of Queens. At first, the exciting idea of a good matzoh ball soup quickened our steps to the table. What arrived in the bowl, overflowing onto the saucer below, was bright yellow and left us tempted to ask some of the other customers if they had blood pressure medication on them. Nothing should be so salty that you can’t taste anything through your burning lips. We gave the soup another try during another visit, but that was it. Unfortunately, it was one of my grandfather’s favorite restaurants, so we couldn’t stop going entirely.
Ordinarily, as opposed to what you see in the photos here, I use a whole chicken. But sometimes, when you’re on a quest for a three to four pound organic chicken, you have to compromise. So cut up chicken is what I got. And it even came with an extra leg, which I considered a bonus.
But the real bonus is how amazing your home will smell as the soup comes together. That alone will cure whatever ails you.
If you slice the carrots and celery too thin, they will become mush, fall apart, and have little individual flavor when they reach your mouth. You can dice them, if you choose, but keep them on the larger side. The parsnip can also be cut up and added with the carrots and celery, but I find that that adds a more decidedly parsnip-y flavor with each parsnip-y bite, which can sometimes overpower the actual broth.
The parsley and dill add a lot of flavor during the cooking process, but they become fairly unsightly by the end. This is why they’re tied with twine (becoming a bouquet garni) so they can be easily removed (although a few pieces will likely fall out and remain in the soup). I keep the onion whole so, again, it adds flavor but the end result isn’t chicken-onion-soup. That being said, dicing the onion would work, too.
After the soup is finished cooking, remove all of the chicken parts. Don’t throw them away, because the tender chicken makes for an incredibly moist chicken salad, into which I also throw some of the remaining onion (chopped), parsley, and dill (I also add fresh parsley and dill, cranberries, walnuts, and sometimes little bits of apple). If you’re going to freeze the soup, I recommend first cooling it in the fridge — when the soup is cold, the fat will solidify, and it can easily be skimmed and saved for another time. Like for matzoh balls, which I’ll post another day. Once you’ve skimmed off the fat, freeze away.
As for adding noodles, or matzoh balls, or rice, or any other grain: I recommend not cooking them in the soup. You know how when you make pasta the pasta water is always a little cloudy at the end? That’s because as it cooks, the pasta releases some of its starch, which winds up in the water. It’s also why pasta water helps thicken sauces. If you cook something starchy in the soup, the soup will become cloudy and a little bit starchy, which probably isn’t what you’re going for. Cook the noodles, etc., separately and warm them through when you reheat the soup. If you’re worried about having mushy noodles or over-cooked rice, cook them separately until they are just shy of being done, and then finish them off in the soup when you reheat the soup.
Chicken Soup1 large onion, peeled but not chopped
3-4 pound chicken, whole or in pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼” discs
3 large celery stalks, ends trimmed and chopped into ¼” wide pieces
8 cloves of garlic, chopped (not too finely)
1 large parsnip, peeled but not chopped
8 sprigs fresh parsley (and a little for garnish)
8 sprigs fresh dill (and a little for garnish)
fresh black pepper
In short: Put chicken and onion in 8 qt. stockpot. Add water to about 1 inch below edge of pot. Add 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil. Skim off the crud. Reduce to light simmer — do not boil. Add carrots, celery, garlic. Add parsnip, parsley, and dill tied together. Let simmer lightly partially covered for about 2 to 3 hours. Add salt and fresh pepper to taste.
1. After rinsing the chicken, put it and the peeled onion in a large, ~8 quart stockpot. Add water until the water reaches just about 1 inch below the edge of the pot. Add 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
2. Once the water has boiled, skim off whatever crud has risen to the top and discard. Lower the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, continuing to skim off the scum.
3. Meanwhile, bundle the parsnip, parsley, and dill together and tie with cooking twine, creating a bouquet garni.
3. Once all the scum is gone, add the carrots, celery, garlic, parsnip/parsley/dill bundle, and some freshly ground black pepper.
4. Simmer lightly, partially covered, over low heat for about 2 to 3 hours. Do not let the soup boil, and you don’t want an aggressive simmer. Every once in a while, give a light stir just to move things around, but try not to agitate things too much or you run the risk of breaking up the chicken and dislodging pieces of the skin.
5. If necessary, add more salt and pepper to taste. Careful not to over-salt, because it can — and does — happen.
Yield: At least 8 ample servings.