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Photo by: Joseph DeLeo
My Mother, Belle, Always Made This Soup for the Jewish Holidays, So there was no question about what would be the signature soup at Mother’s. We offer it with egg noodles or matzo balls, and it can easily become Chicken and Dumplings with a few more steps. Sometimes called “Jewish penicillin,” this soup is simple to make, and devotees know when it’s time for their fix-a sniffly nose, a rough day, or just because.
Whenever my daughter Stephanie got sick, we had our routine: First stop was the doctor, then to the pharmacy to get the prescribed medicine, and finally to the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for this soup. Once home, the soup was simmering on the stove within 15 minutes.
To make the broth:
1. In a narrow, deep pot just large enough to hold the chickens (10- to 12-quart capacity), place the chickens, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, and parsley. (Make sure you use a narrow pot rather than a wide one. Otherwise, you may have to use too much water to cover the chickens.) Add just enough cold water to barely cover the chickens (ideally, not more than 5 quarts, or 20 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to a simmer (rapidly boiling soup or stock often makes it look cloudy instead of clear) and season with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. (You’re seasoning here because you want the chicken to have some flavor when you use it later in other dishes. The soup will be seasoned again later.)
2. Simmer the broth, uncovered, for at least 3 hours. Season again with 2½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Taste; if it tastes like chicken, it’s ready. If not, let it cook a bit longer and taste again. It can cook for another hour as long as it is barely simmering, but no more than 4 hours total or the chicken will dry out.
3. When the broth is done, turn off the heat, lift the chicken from the pot with slotted spoons or a spider (see Love Note 1), and set aside in a large bowl or on a rimmed baking sheet until cool enough to handle.
4. Strain the broth into a clean 6- to 8-quart pot, and discard the solids. If you’re not making the soup right away, cool and refrigerate the broth so you can scrape off the solidified fat from the surface before continuing. Otherwise, allow the stock to sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes, and spoon off the fat that rises to the surface.
To make the soup:
1. Set the pot of broth over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
2. Add the diced carrots and celery to the simmering broth, and cook until just fork-tender, about 8 minutes (see Love Note).
3. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper, if necessary.
4. While the vegetables are cooking, pick the meat from the chicken, leaving the pieces as large as possible, and set aside. Discard the bones.
1. Add the 2 cups of cooked chicken to the soup.
2. Divide the cooked noodles among the serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles, sprinkle with the fresh chopped dill, and serve.
My favorite tool for checking the doneness of vegetables or fruit is a thin, two-pronged fork. It has long, narrow tines that allow me to pierce the cooking vegetables without leaving a trace. When vegetables offer no resistance, I know they are cooked to perfection, so I stop the cooking immediately before the vegetables get overcooked. If the tines of the fork don’t slide in and out easily, the vegetables are not done and need to be cooked some more.
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