My son-in-law asked me for my recipe for chicken soup. I started to recite some of the ingredients I’d used to make my most recent batch and then realized that each time I make a pot it’s a little different. Maybe it wasn’t about what I put into the soup, but how I made it.
Whenever a friend or neighbor was sick, my mother in the Jewish tradition of performing good deeds, would put together a care package that included a large jar of homemade soup, usually chicken. A busy professional, who practiced networking long before the term was ever invented, when my mother made soup she set her ambitions aside and focused on creating a nourishing broth.
Soup making cannot be rushed, she would tell me. You must let the pot simmer over a low flame for at least a day. Both the bones and the meat, have their attributes, but the more chicken, the richer the soup.
As in the folktale of “Stone Soup”, when an entire village contributes ingredients to create a kettle of soup that begins with water and a stone; a chicken soup is enhanced by what is added both physically and emotionally.
Fundamental ingredients are pieces of chicken, fresh parsley, garlic clove, onion, carrot, celery. Back when I was a child, markets sold packages of chicken backs and necks, specifically for making homemade chicken broth. I rarely see chicken backs and necks sold separately, so I either use the carcass and leftover meat from a whole chicken or purchase a couple of packages of chicken legs to start the broth.
The broth part of the soup is made first. Some carrots, celery and onions are important initially to create a flavorful broth and more pieces of chopped carrots, celery and onions can be added later along with whatever else you like and have available.
To degrease the soup, let it cool, put it in the refrigerator and the fat will congeal on the top. My mother used some of that fat in the making of matzo balls in place of oil, giving them a richer flavor. Remove any bones and skin. Cut meat into small bite size pieces.
If you prefer a clear broth, strain out the vegetables and meat. Otherwise, enhance your soup with egg noodles, zucchini slices, peas, string beans, potatoes, rice, or matzo balls. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Give yourself plenty of time. Keep the kettle on simmer and sample on the hour until the taste makes you smile. If you just can’t get the broth to taste rich enough, there’s no shame in adding a chicken bouillon cube or two, depending on the volume. The basic nutrition is there, and you’re just enhancing flavor. However, realize that if you do add bouillon cubes go very light on the salt or eliminate salt all together.
Everyone’s version of chicken soup is slightly different, but if it is homemade it does contain magic. All that care and time the chef spent, the love they put into it, is transmitted in the broth. And that, my friends, is the not-so-secret ingredient.
Follow Nadja Maril on twitter at SN Maril. Read her essay “Love in the Kitchen” published in Pareidolia Literary Magazine here.