Monday, December 22, 2008

Chicken Soup for My Soul...The Real Jewish Stuff!

There are very few foods in my life that I have fond memories of. Now this could be because I didn't eat as a kid, it just wasn't a priority to me. (I wish I had that problem now!) Chicken Soup was the ONLY food I would eat as a kid. We had to have it in the house all the time or else I went hungry. I can still recall that wonderful taste! The chicken from the broth was even flavorful! In fact it is still my comfort food. The best part was when my mother used to hand feed me with it. She would take a bite size piece of bread with some meat on it from the soup and put it in my mouth. OMG that taste still comes to my mind every time I make this soup! She tried to stuff in as many calories in my poor scrawny little self as she would add the skin off of the chicken as well. I still crave that! If I wasn't concerned about the size of my butt I would still be eating that!
When I got older and I actually ate something other than chicken soup, I still craved the soup on a cold day or when I wasn't feeling well. Anytime I was sick my mom would whip me up some chicken soup and it truely did heal the soul. Now I will say this, my mother hand fed me with this meal until I was 16. Somehow, everything always tasted better from her hands. It was always so simple, some chicken soup with cooked vermecelli noodles or rice and a few of the parsley roots and carrots from the soup. That was it. Nothing special, just good.

Today, my mother isn't around anymore to make me my own batch of chicken soup but every time I make my own, it still soothes my soul and makes me feel like she is in the kitchen with me.

Now please note this chicken soup is not that goopy canned condensed gross stuff. No this is the stuff that real Jewish grandmothers have passed down for generations. This is liquid gold. It is a golden broth, filled with minimal toppings but plenty of flavors! Mostly popular with the Ashkenazi Jews, this is the stuff that has been labeled the Jewish Penicillin. The cure all to heartbreaks and tummyaches; fevers and chest colds or just your run of the mill bad day. I don't even have to eat the soup, just the smell of it and the process of making it, makes me feel better!

On high holidays I usually serve it up with my fluffy matzoballs and everyone gobbles them up. On other days I serve with pieces of meat from the soup and some diced, cooked carrots, celery and onions.

It not only is the cure-all for all human ailments but also for animals. When my dog was a puppy, she got an upset tummy. The doctor told us to feed her rice. But my mom felt bad and gave her chicken soup with the rice instead. The dog felt better almost immediately. The past few days she hasn't been quite herself either. I gave her some chicken soup and the next day she was a totally different dog, keep in mind, she is 14 years old!

Honestly, no words can explain how important this soup is to me. It may sound silly, but in many ways it is the tie that I have to my mother. No matter what age or what season I gobbled it up and always asked for seconds. I always felt the amount of love that my mom put in her soup. She always told me, "Cook only when you want to and no matter what you add, a piece of you must always be in it. Your food will always taste great." Her chicken soup was always hers. It tasted different than when my grandmother made it. Prehaps that was why it made me feel better. My mom's chicken soup can never be duplicated because she won't make it, but there are certainly ways to come close and that's the best I can do.

On Sunday, it was cold..AGAIN and I needed a pick me up and I love when the house smells like chicken soup. It just makes me feel whole again.

My Chicken Soup (based on my mom's original recipe)

1 whole chicken or cut up chicken pieces (with skin-on)
6 or 7 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
2 large onions, peeled and cut in half
5 celery stalks, cut in half
1 bunch dill, washed
1 bunch parsley, washed
1 parsley root, peeled and cut in half
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Kosher Salt
*I'm sure you noticed there is no chicken base in this soup. Well if you do as the recipe says and you let the soup cook for awhile, you will never need any base in this soup. My mom never used it in this soup and neither will I.*

If there was one thing that my mother taught me about cooking it was to use the best products you can. This recipe is no different. Try and get an Amish or Free Range chicken. They even look different, you will notice they have a more yellow tint to them, due to the difference in their diet.

In Russia, when I was growing up, we didn't have any pesticides or horemones in our food, so it tasted like food should taste: REAL. For a long time when my mom made the soup here, it just didn't taste right. Then one year she bought an Amish chicken. OMG! It was like a taste of the old country in a bowl! Finally we found the secret! It made a huge difference and we never went back to the regular chickens. So please, spend the extra few bucks and buy a nice bird, for soup's sake!

Now the pot. You want a nice big stock pot. Mine is an 8 qt.

There are 2 secrets to make a really great stock or soup.
#1. Start with cold water, ALWAYS.
#2. Add only Kosher Salt to the water, it clarifys the stock and makes it less cloudy.
That's it. Other than that it is just patience.
Add in your chicken and 2 tablespoons kosher salt, cover completely with water and let it simmer. Once the scum comes up, (it's really just coagulated blood) skim with a slotted spoon.

Continue to skim the soup until no scum comes up. Turn down the soup to a simmer and add in all your veggies and black peppercorns. Let the soup cook for about another 2-3 hours or until desired taste is achieved. Sometimes I take out my meat and just let the soup go for even longer to develop the sweetness and golden color in the soup. The carrots will achieve that beautiful golden color and sweetness that you want.
*When the chicken was done, I could not help myself but taking a piece out of the soup. I ate it just the way my mama fed it to me: I took a piece of bread, (whole grain) ripped off a piece of meat with it (with the skin) and ate it. I savored every bite, it really did take me back to my childhood.*

Once the soup is done place it in the cooler for at least 5 hours, overnight is best.
You want the fat to come to the surface. Once it has been refridgerated, take out all the big pieces of veggies that you can grab.

Then strain it through a double layer of cheese cloth. You can secure the cheese cloth with clips that you use to close your bags of potato chips, this will keep the cheesecloth from falling into the container you are straining into.

Once it is strained, you just add some of the carrots, onions and pasley root from the soup, throw in some cooked noodles or vermecelli and enjoy!

You can also pour some off into ziplock bags and freeze in until a rainy day!

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