Growing up in a Jewish household, chicken soup cured everything, says Hannah Gregory as she shares her memories and a recipe
Of all the dishes I have posted on my instagram feed, I have never been asked for a recipe as much as this guy. I don’t know if it’s because everyone has a sweet spot for a good chicken soup, I don’t know if it’s because I claim it cures all ailments (it does) or maybe it’s just that it has been passed down through generations and that strikes a chord with people.
Growing up in a Jewish household, chicken soup cured anything – the common cold, a scuffed knee, heartbreak, the plague. My terrifyingly austere grandmother would make batches of the stuff, portion it and freeze it so she could swoop in to the rescue. It was a silent affair; you would sit at the kitchen table sniffling, she would slam a bowl of steaming broth in front of you and then patiently lean against the Aga, wringing her dish towel between her hands – why do Russian matriarchs always do this? When you had finally slurped every last drop, she would clap her hands and say: “Da – all better.” And it was.
Gran’s matzo ball soup was also the only dish I could stomach at passover – I recoiled as salt water was poured over hard-boiled eggs and platters of gefilte fish were passed around the table (I’m pretty sure my Dad’s long-standing fish allergy stems from this and he’s not allergic at all, he just played the part with such conviction as a child that it became an assumed thing – I have since proven this theory by lacing his food with anchovies, no allergy).
However, when the bowls of golden elixir came out, laced with bobbing dumplings and shredded chicken, I suddenly relished the role of a good Jewish girl and cleared my bowl with gusto.
The wonderful thing about this dish is it uses all the things that are too often destined for the bin, so is cheap as chips and you can modify it so easily dependent on what you have available. The longer you cook it, the deeper the flavour and also the more collagen is released from the carcass, which is the thing that cures all ailments. Remnants of a roast chicken will also result in a deeper flavour, but you then forfeit a lot of the meat. So I tend to cook a whole bird for two of us knowing the bones and any leftover meat will be turned into something glorious.
A note on matzo balls – they are absolutely not essential, the soup is delicious without, BUT if you want to keep with tradition you have two options: buy a packet mix online or from a Jewish deli and never admit to it (this is my vibe), or make your own from scratch and win all the points.
Testimony from my grammar checker and recipe tester – “legit the best chicken soup I have ever made.”
A chicken – this can be a whole raw chicken, the carcass left over from a roast, a carcass plus some wings if you have some knocking around. Just some good chicken bits.
3 onions, unpeeled and quartered
Bulb of garlic, halved
2 bay leaves
Bunch of thyme
Half a bunch of parsley
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons of salt
500ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon miso (don’t tell Gran)
For the matzo balls if making:
4 tablespoons schmaltz (chicken fat) skimmed from the broth as the soup cooks
Pinch of ground black pepper
1 cup of matzo meal (blitzed matzo crackers)
Place your bird/carcass/medley of both into a large pot and cover with water. If you are using a roasted carcass, remove any cooked meat and set aside.
Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer.
Add the veg, herbs and seasoning and simmer for 4 hours. NOTE: if you are using a whole raw chicken, remove the bird after the first hour, remove the meat and then add the carcass back to the stock, otherwise you will end up with a tough boiled chicken and that is not a vibe. You can reduce the time, but the longer you cook, the richer the flavour and the better the health bits.
Top up the liquid as needed and continue to skim the fat off the surface and reserve for your matzo balls, if making.
After the time is up remove the carcass, strain the broth, keep back any veg that look half decent and then add those into the strained broth and pop in a large saucepan.
Pull off any meat and add to the broth (or add your reserved cooked meat from earlier).
Bring back to the boil and check the seasoning and flavour of the soup.
If not chickeny enough for your liking, add in some stock to get to your desired flavour.
Whisk in a tablespoon of miso for a punch of umami.
For the matzo balls:
Whisk the eggs and chicken fat together.
Stir through the matzo meal till you have a wet dough.
Wet your hands and roll the balls into small golf balls and then pop into the fridge to firm up for 15 minutes.
For the last five minutes of the soup’s cook time, add in the balls and let them cook through.
Note: this soup just gets better over time, so if you can bear to leave it overnight you will be rewarded.
Find out about Hannah’s upcoming Supper Clubs and what she is currently cooking via Instagram @WanderSups or wandersups.com