I think I could make Jewish Chicken Soup in my sleep. My mother taught me the recipe and the rules before I could read. I’d stand on a chair and watch her clean the bird (“remember we have to take out all the stuff inside the chicken”). She showed me how to remove leftover pinfeathers, sometimes using a lighted match to burn off tiny hairs and then for a few minutes the kitchen would have an awful organic odor.
But all was forgotten as the soup simmered and the heady perfume of salty broth and sweet dill, meaty chicken and softening vegetables suffused through the house reminding us that a good dinner was on its way.
There is no magic so wonderful or remarkable as a bowl of Jewish Chicken Soup. People joke about its curative powers. But regardless of whether there are any real medicinal properties, there are few foods quite as comforting as this one, especially in the depth of winter when you need a little something to warm you up inside and out.
My Mom was adamant about the dill. She said it made all the difference to the dish, giving it an herbaceous lift that an ingredient such as mild mannered chicken can use. When a cousin married a Jewish woman from Ecuador whose Chicken Soup recipe included a green bell pepper instead of dill my mother was horrified.
She was also insistent on using a large kosher pullet, often difficult to find locally these days, and even when she was still alive, so she began to use the largest broiler-fryer she could find and sometimes a roaster. She insisted on a whole chicken (“much more flavor”) and sneered at a woman she knew who made soup with boneless chicken breasts (“you need to have the bones and skin to make a rich broth”).
I have to say her Chicken Soup was awesome, always a hit, always the first course at Passover (as well as Rosh Hashanah and more Shabbats than I can count).
Interestingly enough my mother always said she didn’t like soup, but as she got older she discovered how very comforting it could be. I’d visit and there she was, in her kitchen, bedecked in an apron, experimenting with new recipes, by now well beyond Jewish Penicillin. She could be simmering a bunch of vegetables in broth or cooking dried beans and peas with a bunch of marrow bones or adding a couple of hunks of fish to tomato chowder. Her house had a welcoming, reassuring smell that I can conjure up even today, many years later, as I try to replicate those soups in my own kitchen using the legacy of her wonderful recipes. Now I pass them on to you to try.
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