Friday, September 23, 2011

Jewish Penicillin (aka Chicken Soup)

Apparently chicken soup will cure all your evils. Seriously, I’ve been reading up, colds, flu, stomach ailments, bad skin, bad moods, chicken soup will solve them all. Of course I won’t be declaring this under oath or anything, but still, it’s known as “Jewish penicillin” (though why that is is beyond me, it should really just be known as Grandma’s penicillin, everybody’s Grandma makes chicken soup, right?).

Anyway, there’s a catch (of course there is!) for it to work its magical powers you can’t use ready-made store-bought chicken soup, no ma’am. You done have to go out and get yourself a real bird.
I used to make chicken broth all the time when I was weaning the kids and I used it instead of just plain water for the purees (not the fruit ones, do I need to say it?), but it always smelled chicken-y and was too bland and, well, blah, so when I used it for soup I always had to add bouillon, which sort of defeats the whole purpose, you know?

So I’ve been experimenting and what I’ve come up with is divine. For optimal health I’ve read one should have a cup of “real” chicken broth a day, every day (kind of like the apple, it keeps the doctor away), I suggest you just make large quantities occasionally and freeze it. So if you want soup, or catch a cold, or a stomach bug, or just need comfort food, it’s there for you. Although, I do suggest you heat it in a pan, not the microwave, to preserve all the nutrients and stuff.

Please don’t pay too much attention to my pictures, they’re kind of crappy and there’s just no way to make chicken pieces boiling in a pan look good, just trust that the end result will be worth it!

As with most recipes this continues after the jump so click on the link!

This is what you need:
A chicken. Or parts of one. Ideally, you should get an organic chicken. If you get a whole chicken, cut it up, or if you just get pieces, break the bones and joints open. I clean the chicken really well (from innards and stray feathers and stuff) and rinse it out, but I keep the skin on.

A really large pot. This means different things to each of us, but the bigger the better, so you decide.

Vinegar – I’d stick to light colored vinegars, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
Water – I use bottled water (we bottle mineral water, so that’s a no brainer) but you can use filtered or regular tap water if your tap water’s good.

Stuff to make the broth taste good, I like: black pepper corns, salt, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, fennel, green leafy vegetables, broccoli stalks, juniper berry seeds, chili pepper (don’t go overboard and leave it whole!), red or yellow peppers, pumpkin, and lots of herbs (like laurel leaves or parsley or sage or whatever you’ve got underhand really)… just use any vegetable you’re comfortable with and that are in season though I’d say the salt and garlic are essential (if for no other reason that garlic is great for your immune system).

Now, don’t start moaning about all the vegetable prepping I’m making you do, because there’s virtually no vegetable prepping involved here. Leave everything whole, with the skins and all the other bits we normally don’t eat. I just like to cut up the bigger pieces in smaller chunks. Lots of people even freeze the castoffs from their veggie preps (onion skins, tough stems, ugly parts) and use those, I wish I was that organized.

This is what you do:
Clean your chicken and cut it up to fit your pot, cutting through some bone and the joints. I like to brown it real quick with a teeny bit of oil in a really hot pan first, but you can totally skip this step if you want to limit your use of oil. Drown your chicken in water and put a ½ cup of vinegar in there.
If you didn’t brown the meat first just do this off the stove and let it sit for an hour. I don’t because my pot is already hot. The point is that the vinegar supposedly softens the bones and your broth becomes more gelatinous (i.e. healthy and yummy), but I believe it does this even if you put it directly on the stove without letting it sit first because the darn thing is going to cook so long anyway.

Now just cook your chicken for as long as you can stand it and up to 12 hours. Yes, twelve hours. It doesn’t necessarily have to cook that long, but definitely no less than 3 hours. I usually cook mine 6 or 7 hours on very low heat, it should just simmer.

About an hour or two before you’re ready for it to be done add all the vegetables and herbs. 
I like to tie all the herbs inside a big leaf, like a cabbage or kale leaf,
just because it reduces the fishing out I have to do later.

When you’re done, let it cool. Take all the pieces out and strain it (you can line your strainer with a cheesecloth so it gets all the teeny pieces out but I personally can’t be bothered). Some people stick it in the fridge at this point so it hardens and the fat rises to the top so they can skim it off, but the fat is sort of the whole point of this, so it’s best to just leave the stock as it is in my opinion. And you’re done.

I add stuff to it to make soup, the first night, and freeze the rest in small portions. I even freeze some of it in ice cube trays so I have teeny portions to use when cooking other stuff. It really adds flavor, and is good for you, so win/win.

So go on and make yourself some chicken soup, I know you want to!

P.S. this is a great first food for babies (just skip the chilis and black pepper) you can add it to all your vegetable purees.


  1. I love the idea of using a large leaf to tie all the herbs! I make this every time anyone gets a cold. Whether it works or not, I'm not sure but it feels good to be doing something I think will make people get better!

  2. It looks delicious! I think my sinuses cleared up a bit just IMAGINING the smell of it.

  3. Well, doesn't this sound great! One question, could I do it in a crock pot? I hate to leave the gas on the stove for 3 hours and 12 is a no-go. I can't stay awake that long:)

  4. Yum, now I'm craving chicken soup, especially since fall is coming!