Its no secret that good, old fashioned chicken soup makes you feel better when you’re under the weather. Those “Chicken Soup for your Soul” books confirmed what we Jews have known instinctively all our lives, that chicken soup is the elixer of life. This knowledge is part of our collective unconscious. It might be the single greatest culinary contribution of all time made by the Jewish culture. If it wasn’t such a waste of excellent food, I’d consider bathing in chicken soup.
Recently, a friend of mine experienced pretty extraordinary results from eating my chicken soup and she thinks I should bottle the stuff and sell it as a dietary supliment. Not only did it help her recover from an ear and sinus infection, but it vastly improved her state of mind. Based on this result, I’ve done some reading on the subject and all the research agrees that chicken soup seems to surpass other home remedies in helping to heal a variety of maladies, most notably sympoms of colds and flu. Some research documents its ability to inhibit white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response, which causes sore throats and the production of mucus. And it turns out that chicken also contains an amino acid called cysteine that is released in the soup making process. This amino acid help thin congestion in the lungs, aiding in the healing process.
However, it also turns out that all the other ingredients add to the powerful healing ability of this most ubiquitious cure-all. Onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. Parsnips, which are an excellent ingredient in chicken broth, are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin E, which give a boost to the immune system. Carrots, a standard ingredient in chicken soup, are known far and wide as the absolute best source of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, helping to fight off infections. Imagine vitamin A as the body armor for white blood cells as they go to war against bacteria and viruses. Celery, also a standard chicken soup ingredient, is high in magnesium and iron that acts as food for our blood cells. Celery also helps relax our muscles and is good for all lung conditions, including asthma and bronchitis. Parsley could be called a miracle herb because it has volitile oils and flavonoids that qualify it as a “chemoprotective” food, which means it can neutralize particular types of carcinogens, like benzopyrenes from cigarette and charcoal grill smoke. Even sea salt and pepper have healing qualities.
No wonder my friend was miraculously cured when she ate my chicken soup! Who knew?
I have made oceans of chicken soup over the years. It might be the very first dish I learned how to cook properly. I have tried hundreds of variations and here is my tried and true method for making the best chicken soup, a soup that promises to cure what ails you.
I like to use a whole chicken and a smoked turkey wing or leg for my broth. Smoked turkey is bursting with flavor and it makes the soup rich and delicious. You need to have chicken on the bone as the bones are what really flavor the soup and give it the body that it needs. You’ll need about 6 lbs of chicken/smoked turkey to make a good pot of soup. Normally, I will roast a whole chicken for dinner, then use the bones to make soup the next day.
You’ll also need 3 large carrots, one large parsnip, 4 ribs of celery with their leaves, one medium onion, 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and a big bunch each of fresh parsley and dill. Don’t bother with dried herbs here, they have no flavor and will kill the brightness and freshbess of the broth.
I never peel any of the veggies when making chicken soup. The celery leaves have powerful flavor and most of the time, rather than using celery stalks, I just cut the tops of a whole bunch of celery and use them in the soup. The onion skin actually adds to the deep golden color of the soup and since you probably won’t be eating the veggies anyway, no need to peel them.
Roughly cut your veggies, get the biggest pot you have, put a little vegetable oil in the bottom and turn the heat to medium high. Drop all the veggie in and let them cook in the bottom of the pot until they begin to get some color on them. Then add the chicken and turkey. I like to take the skin off my chicken as it adds more fat than necessary to this preparation. Cook the chicken until it begins to take on a little color as well.
Now, toss in 20 or 30 whole pepper corns, a couple of big bunches of parsley and dill and cover the whole thing with water just so it comes over the top of the soup ingredients. Don’t drown everything in water, just add enough to cover the goodies. Put the lid on the pot and bring the soup to a boil, then turn the heat down and let the whole thing simmer for 90-120 minutes. By the time your soup is done, all the chicken and veggies have given up their flavor. If you used a whole chicken, you can take the meat off the bones after 30 minutes of cooking and return the bones to the pot. Let the meat cool and use it either in your final soup preparation or make chicken salad out of it. It’s been poaching in this wonderfully flavorful broth, it’ll taste great.
Once your broth is strained, add salt and adjust the seasoning as you like it. If you find the broth is a little weak, boil it down until you get the strength you like. You can freeze the broth or just add noodles, veggies or even make matzo balls for a truly traditional dinner.
Once I had an ingrown toenail and I tried soaking my foot in chicken soup. Would you believe it worked? Okay, I lied, I would never defile the elixer of life by sticking my dirty foot in it. But something tells me this broth could heal even the most unlikely ailments.