A few months after I married, I decided to make chicken soup. I poured over my recipe books but none of the recipes evoked the smell and taste of my grandmother’s chicken soup. So, there was only one thing to do. I called my Babcia (Polish for grandmother).
“Babcia, how do I make chicken soup?” I asked (this conversation occurred in Yiddish).
“Well,” she said, “How big is your pot?” I replied, “Bigger than yours.” Babcia countered with, “Hmmm, put in the chicken, cover it with water and lots of vegetables because you like vegetables in the soup and it will be delicious!” And then I heard the phone call disconnect. Although the call was much less helpful than I had anticipated, Babcia had never steered me wrong when it came to cooking, so I decided to follow her instructions.
I took my 8-quart stock pot out of the cabinet, laid the chicken in the bottom of the pot and filled the pot with water. I added onion, and after about one hour, the celery, carrots and parsley. I remembered that Babcia would stand over the pot and skim anything that floated to the top, so I did that as well. After about two hours, the soup had the delicious aroma I associated with chicken soup and the meat on the chicken was falling off the bones. I decided that the soup was ready, decanted it into containers and stored it in the fridge overnight.
The next day was Friday and Erev Shabbat. I took the soup out of the fridge and much to my delight, there was a thick congealed layer of chicken fat on top of each container. As Babcia had done while I watched so many times, I now skimmed the fat off the top and put the skimmed soup into the pot to heat up for our Shabbat meal.
Later that evening, my friend Amalia from across the hall knocked on the door. As she came into our apartment, she exclaimed “Your chicken soup smells so good. Can I taste it?” I doled out a bowl of soup. After Amalia finished her bowl, she turned to me and asked “Can you tell me how to make this soup?”
“Well,” I replied, “How big is your pot?”
Chicken soup recipe from Babcia
(with a few additional details added by Rachel)
For an 8 quart stock pot (pressure cooker instructions below)
3 lbs chicken pieces (including necks and bones)
1lb flanken meat (optional)*
1-2 marrow bones (optional)*
3 garlic cloves
1 small onion
3 celery ribs, cut in 3″ pieces
6 carrots, cut in 3″ pieces
A few peppercorns
1 bay leaf
*meat and bones add a richer flavor. However, some people prefer just chicken soup and this recipe works just as well without the meat bones.
Place the chicken, flanken, meat bones, onion, garlic and bay leaf into the pot. Add water, leaving 2″ head space in the pot. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower the flame so the soup simmers (this should look like a gentle rolling boil).
After two hours, add the vegetables and peppercorns. Continue cooking until the vegetables are soft. The longer the soup cooks, the more caramelized it becomes and this really enhances the flavor. So if you have the time, cook the soup for 6 hours, adding the vegetables for the last 1.5 hours.
Cool soup. Decant into containers and refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat off the soup before serving. If you are going to freeze the soup, don’t decant the fat until you defrost the soup. I like to separate the chicken and meat from the bones before I put the soup away.
Pressure cooker instructions:
Put all the ingredients in to the pot. Add water until the 2/3 line or as per the manufacturers instructions. Cook for 4 hours. The soup will be more concentrated and beautifully caramelized.You can dilute the soup with water if you find the flavor too rich.