In this version of my mother’s chicken soup I combine the best of two worlds—fine home cooking and fine restaurant cooking—to create a more intensely flavorful version of a classic comfort food. By cooking the chicken in chicken stock, rather than simply in water, you double the flavor. It’s the same technique I use at Chanterelle to prepare consommé for the restaurant menu. The soup’s richly concentrated taste is the very essence of the bird as well as a perfect vehicle for Homemade Matzoh Balls.
The matzoh balls can be poached right in the chicken soup toward the end of the final simmering, or poached separately in chicken stock in another pan, then drained and added to the soup just before serving. Either method results in good flavor, although poaching matzoh balls in the soup does make it cloudy and a little less appetizing looking. Since I always have plenty of chicken stock in the restaurant, I usually poach them separately.
1. Using butcher’s twine, tie the dill, chervil, and parsley together in one big bunch. (If you’re using tarragon, just sprinkle it in after you pour the stock into the pot.) Place the bunch of herbs in a very large stockpot along with the chicken stock and chicken pieces. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil, skimming the surface as the foam rises to the top. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer the broth until the chickens are just cooked through, about 45 minutes. Test for doneness by piercing a thigh with a fork; the juices should run clear.
2. Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the broth and set aside to cool. Remove and discard the herb bundle.
3. Add the onion, carrots, and parsnips to the broth and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes; a fork should pierce quite easily through a piece of carrot (see Note).
4. While the vegetables cook, remove the skin from the chicken pieces and pull the meat from the bones. Discard the skin and bones. Coarsely chop the meat and add it to the soup, simmering it for 10 minutes longer to reheat. Remove the pot from the heat and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.
If you’re planning to cook the matzoh balls in the soup, add the batter in step 3, after the vegetables have been simmering for about 20 minutes and before the chicken is added. The matzoh balls should take about 15 to 20 minutes to poach in the simmering soup; they’ll bob to the surface when they’re done. Add the chicken after the matzoh balls have cooked for 10 minutes.
If you’ve cooked the matzoh balls separately and they’re still warm, add them 5 minutes after you add the chicken. If the matzoh balls are cool, add them at the same time that you add the chicken.
Soup for Sara:
After several years of lunches centered on her fondness for peanut butter sandwiches, our daughter, Sara, suddenly discovered soup. So she and I began making soup together, tucking containers away in the freezer for her school lunches. She likes lentil and leek and potato, but her real favorite is chicken with fresh herbs and noodles or rice. Around noon in the wintertime, when I’m busy in the kitchen, I’ll picture her sitting at a table of boisterous kids, quietly reading a book and sipping soup from her thermos.