Saturday, March 9, 2013

How to make great Chicken Soup

When my friend, Tammy, was sick last month, I whipped up some Matzoh Ball Soup for her and her family. I received the following response:
"My dearest,I want to tell you,that your chicken soup was one of the best I ever tasted in all my life! The chicken was sooo....succulent...and juicy! I don't know how you did it,but it was THE BEST!!!!"

Chicken soup is one of those things that can seem intimidating, but once you do it a few times, it's at least as easy as making pasta salad.

Cook time: 20 minutes in a pressure cooker or 1 hour simmering in a regular pot

Basic ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2-4 carrots - peeled, whole
  • 2 stalks of celery, washed, cut into a few pieces
  • 1-2 onions, washed or peeled, quartered
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • water
  • salt to taste - maybe 1 tsp for kosher chicken, more for a non-kosher bird (kosher chickens are salted to remove the blood.) 
Extra ingredients or alternatives:
NOTE: don't overdo leafy things or you will have a soup that looks and tastes more green than meaty.
  • whole peppercorns
  • fresh or dry parsley
  • celery seed (I only tried it because I didn't have parsley last time, but It was GREAT!)
  • celery leaves
  • mushrooms 
  • dry shitake mushrooms (my favorite)
  • a small spoonful of sugar or a little honey
  • garlic cloves, halved or whole
  • butternut squash - scrubbed or peeled, seeded and left in very large pieces
  • parsnip - scrubbed or peeled and left in large pieces
  • chicken bones, necks, or legs and thighs
  • herbs like fresh or dried sage, rosemary, and thyme
  • a spoonful or wine or sake after cooking

  • 1 large cooking pot or pressure cooker
  • 1 pot or heat-proof contaner big enough for the soup
  • large mesh strainer or colander
  • bowls for separating chicken
  • a way to cool the soup
  • stove


  • Some people tie their herbs together or put them in cheese cloth to make them easier to retrieve. I just strain the whole soup.
  • I read that the chicken should go breast-side up. (From Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass)
  • When in doubt, use a bigger pot.
  • To save time. begin heating a large pot with about 4 cups of water
  • When considering adding ingredients like vegetables, consider cook time. If you want to include the vegetables in the final soup, leave them in large enough pieces so they won't overcook and become mush in your soup. For instance, I cut the butternut squash in half to remove the seeds and then only cut it to bite-size pieces after the soup is cooked. I cook the carrots whole.
  1. Bring all desired ingredients to a boil. 
  2. Simmer for 1 hour or cook in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes plus natural release. (Natural = Just turn off the fire and don't touch the cooker until the pressure comes down on it's own.)
  3. Let the soup cool just enough so it is not dangerous to handle.
  4. Poor the soup through a strainer into your secondary pot.
  5. Cool the broth (unless you will serve it soon or make matzah balls or noodles) and move the ingredients you want to keep (like the carrots and chicken) from the strainer to another container to cool.
  6. If you haven't already, put on some good music.
  7. Cut carrots, etc. into spoon-sized pieces and separate all edible chicken from the skin and bones.
    (I usually cut half the chicken into spoon-sized pieces for the soup and use half for chicken salad or something else. It depends how meaty you like your soup.)
  • Store chicken, carrots, etc. separately or in the soup. The benefit of keeping it separate, is that you can bring the broth up to a boil first, then add the appropriate amount of goodies without them getting over-cooked. This is especially important if you will be cooking matzoh balls or noodles in the soup.
  • If you store the soup overnight, the fat will float and solidify, and can be removed. (That's up to you.)
Matzoh ball tips:
I recently discovered that you can save time and energy by making matzoh balls at the same time that you make the soup. Though they will sink the the bottom of the soup, they don't otherwise suffer from being made even days ahead.
  1. While the soup is cooking, prepare matzoh ball "dough" according to the directions on the box or use my matzoh ball recipe.
  2. Refrigerate.
  3. At step #5, above, after you strain the broth, while you are waiting for the chicken to cool enough to handle, cook the matzoh balls, as follows:
  4. Bring the soup back up to a boil in a wide pot. (You can add water to the soup. Some will come off as steam, and a lot of the soup will be absorbed by the matzoh balls, but they will taste much better than if you just cooked them in salt water or soup mix.)
  5. I recommend you make the balls very small, like the size of a quarter. They will expand in the soup, and they will cook more evenly if they start small.
  6. Cover the pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes.


  1. Hmm, lovely recipe , I never get enough of chicken soup.

  2. I make chicken soup mostly in the winter but this sounds great

  3. Chicken soup, you cannot go wrong.



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