When chicken soup simmers on the stove, it fills the kitchen with a fragrant aroma and its scent will slowly infuse the house. Chicken soup evokes memories of mothers standing over the stove, grandmothers chopping vegetables and friends delivering nurturing broth to someone with a cold or flu.
Chicken soup graces tables worldwide. Cubans use onion and garlic for flavor while Germans use celery, parsley, onions and garlic. Eastern European mothers use sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, chicken bits and onions. The initial broth is one of the most versatile ingredients to have on hand.
Of all the recipes I taught to my children, the basic chicken broth proved to be one of the most important recipes. The magical properties of chicken soup have been touted since the 12th century when Maimonides praised it in a treatise.
A flavorful chicken broth is the perfect base for a wide variety of soups, sauces, creamed vegetables, casseroles and is even considered to have medicinal qualities.
For years, medical researchers and doctors tried to demystify the healing properties of chicken soup. Their conclusion, based on studies at Mt. Sinai Hospital, the University of Nebraska, the University of California at Los Angeles and several institutions in Europe, tout chicken soup as an alleviant for upper respiratory infections, congestion, depression, stress and as a mild anti-inflammatory for nasal passages and lungs.
Chicken soup can be served as a clear, clarified broth or a hearty bowl of meats, vegetables, and hot chilies. It can be thickened with cornmeal or cornstarch, or made creamy with sour cream, heavy cream, milk or coconut milk. The ethnic variations are endless.
When adding your own touch to a chicken stock, remember to add the vegetables near the end, perhaps the last hour depending on their size, to prevent overcooking them.
Hard herbs, like thyme or rosemary should be added in two parts. Add half when the soup is half finished and the remainder about 15 minutes before the soup finishes.
Add any soft fresh herbs, like cilantro or basil, after the soup is removed from the heat and allow it to rest for several minutes.
In my home, chicken soups curative abilities have worked magic on broken hearts, chasing away an evening chill, and comforting runny noses and hacking coughs. We always keep some old-fashioned homemade stock in the freezer.
Since the observance of Passover begins next week, this recipe adds matzo balls to my classic chicken soup.
CHICKEN SOUP with MATZO BALLS
4-5 lb. Stewing or roasting chicken – cut up, skin removed
4 previously frozen, reserved chicken carcasses, defrosted
1 large onion pierced with 8-10 cloves
1 large parsnip, peeled
1 stalk celery, with leaves
Several sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Clean the chicken in cold water. Place in 6-quart stockpot. Stick onion with cloves. Place in pot with parsnip, celery, parsley, salt and pepper. Add water to cover and bring to boil.
Skim the top of the soup and cover pot. Turn heat to simmer and cook slowly for 2-3 hours. After the first hour, check to make sure the parsnip is not overcooked. If it is soft, remove it with a strainer and discard.
Cool. Discard the onion, celery and parsnip, parsley. Remove the chicken and save meat. Remove the carcasses. Refrigerate broth overnight. Remove congealed fat. Strain the soup. Refrigerate again. Remove any remaining congealed fat.
Taste for seasoning and adjust. At this point, you may choose to add diagonally sliced carrots, a squirt of lemon juice and/or the reserved chicken (shredded). Add matzo balls and reheat to serve.
Yields about 12 large or 18 small matzo balls
(can be doubled or tripled with ease except for the salt.)
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of white pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup matzo meal
Combine egg yolks with salt, pepper, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold them slowly into the egg yolk mixture.
Slowly fold in the matzo meal, 1/4 cup at a time; it should be absorbed but still hold air and not become thick like paste. You may not need the entire 3/4 cup; it all depends on the size of the yolks. Cover and refrigerate.
Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a boil. Remove the matzo ball mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten hands with ice-cold water and form balls, dropping them gently into the boiling water. Cover the pot. Turn the heat to simmer and cook for about 40 minutes.
Carefully remove the matzo balls with a slotted spoon. Add them to the chicken soup. Simmer 15 minutes before serving.
The soup and matzo balls can be frozen separately for up to 3 months. Feel free to jazz this up by adding a Puerto Rican sofrito (roasted onions, red peppers & tomatoes), a bit of horseradish hidden in each matzo ball, or a fresh sprig of dill to your stock. Follow your tastebuds!