Tami’s Secret Chicken Soup Recipe
Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser
cups (9 quarts total)
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 8 hours
There is no food as comforting as “Jewish penicillin," and this chicken soup recipe is a cure-all for whatever ails you—heart, body, and soul, if I do say so myself! Its richness comes from plenty of chicken bones, chicken meat, and chicken “bellybuttons” (gizzards), but the real key is plenty of time. Yes, I know, it takes time to chop, time to cook, and time to strain.
This recipe makes what my Southern mom calls "a gracious plenty." You will need a large stockpot—a really large stockpot that's big enough to hold four chickens plus all the other ingredients (a 20-quart pot will do nicely). Unlike most recipes, the liquid will only cover the other ingredients by about an inch. They will cook down considerably, but it really does make a lot. Make sure that you have plenty of freezer-safe containers. You can also freeze some in ice cube trays, ready for a microwave cup anytime.
This recipe isn't exactly the standard chicken soup. This soup will chill up quite gelatinized, and is very much like a bone broth, because of the high ratio of chicken and the unusually long length of cooking time, and I personally, feel that it has all the same health benefits. In this recipe, time spent means better flavor and better health benefits. To me, every moment you spend is worth the incredible mouthfeel, the robust fragrance, and the deep layers of flavor. This is simply the stuff of memories.
5 onions, top and bottom removed, skin on, quartered, Spanish or Sweet onions preferred
4 leeks, white portions only, washed well, and split lengthwise (see Kitchen Tips) and roughly chopped
12 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
12 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
12 celery stalks, including leaves, roughly chopped
6 quarts low-sodium chicken stock, cold (your own, pre-made and frozen, or a good commercial brand)
4 chickens (3½ to 4 pounds each, totaling 14 to 16 pounds of chicken), cut into parts (see Kitchen Tips)
4 pounds chicken bones or carcasses, raw (see Kitchen Tips)
1 pound chicken gizzards (see Kitchen Tips)
2 large bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems (about 3 cups)
2 large bunches fresh dill, leaves and stems (about 1 cup)
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
12 black peppercorns
- Place the onions, leeks, parsnips, carrots, and celery into a very large, very deep stockpot. Pour in the cold chicken stock. Carefully place the chicken, carcasses, and gizzards on top. Add the parsley, dill, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns. Cover the pot, set over high heat, and bring to a rolling boil.
- Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest simmer. Leaving the lid slightly ajar, simmer for 14 to 16 hours, skimming the fat and scum from the surface of the liquid every hour or so.
- Remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool for 2 hours before straining.
- Line a fine-mesh strainer with a double layer of dampened cheesecloth, and nestle it securely over a sturdy bowl or large pot. Working in small batches, slowly ladle the soup through the strainer. Discard the solids and the used cheesecloth.
- Re-line the strainer with clean, dampened cheesecloth, nestle it securely over a clean bowl, and strain the broth again in order to get a clear amber potion (see Kitchen Tips). Discard the cheesecloth. Allow the soup to cool completely before transferring to smaller storage containers. The soup can be refrigerated for use within 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
- If you haven’t cooked with leeks before, you need to know a few things: they’re delicious, but they absorb an amazing amount of soil as they grow, so you’ll need to wash them extremely well. First, trim off the tough outer leaves. Then, place the leek on a work surface, hold it by the root end and, with a sharp knife, slice lengthwise, starting about an inch from the root and working your way down the leaves (keeping the root end intact for the moment). Roll the leek over about half a turn, and slice again, so that the once tightly wound leaves hang in big strands from the root end. Wash well under running water, making sure to get in between each strand. When you are satisfied that all the dirt is removed, you can cut off the root end, trim any remaining tough green leaves and soak, slice or chop as the recipe requires.
- I prefer using kosher chickens for more than nostalgia—they are pre-salted. They hold a bit more liquid to start, but when they relax in their hot water bath, they eventually give up all that extra liquid into the soup. You can use drumsticks and wings to save money, but make sure you throw in some thighs to get some meat into the pot. The broth needs meat, not just bones.
- I often buy whole kosher chickens, which are less expensive than cut-up parts, and take them apart myself. I save the breasts for another meal and use the rest of the bird for soup, since I need the carcasses anyway. I save wings all year and freeze them. Make sure everything is labeled and dated. I use them all within six months if the chicken was fresh and within two months if it was already thawed and then refrozen. Most chicken is defrosted, so if it is not marked “fresh” by a reliable source or has a lot of red juice in the package, assume it was defrosted.
- You can ask for the gizzard and bones at any grocery store meat counter or butcher shop. Sometimes they are mixed with hearts, which make a fine substitute, but make sure not to use livers. Livers have a strong and distinct taste and fall apart when cooked.
- When you pour the liquid into the pot, it should be at least an inch or so higher than the solids. It can even be a little bit less.
- If you can’t fit all of the ingredients into your largest pot, save some of the herbs and add them after the first 3 hours of cooking.
- For storage, I pre-measure the soup, by the cup, into many small containers, label them with the date it was made, and a “use by” date of about three months out. It will last in the fridge about 3 days in covered containers, but for safety reasons, I always make sure to reheat the soup before using, by bringing it to a full boil and then lowering it to a simmer.
- Chicken soup is called “Jewish penicillin” for good reason—it really is good for what ails you! Find that hard to believe? Click here to check out this article from The New York Times’s Well Blog.