Classic Chicken Soup

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    2 ½ to 3 quarts

Appears in


  • One 5- to 6-pound fowl or stewing hen (not a roaster) and its giblets (reserve the liver for another use)
  • 2 chicken feet or 1 pound chicken wings
  • 4 quarts cold water (quality is important here so if you use bottled water to make coffee or tea, use it here)
  • Salt
  • 2 large onions, 1 peeled and quartered, 1 washed and roots trimmed but left unpeeled, and quartered
  • 2 parsnips, scraped and cut into chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
  • ½ cup celery leaves
  • 5 large carrots, scraped and halved
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 fresh parsley sprigs, preferably flat-leaf
  • 1 parsley root (petrouchka), peeled and cut into chunks, optional (often found in greenmarkets and specialty stores, as well as supermarkets with well-stocked produce departments)
  • 2 large leeks, trimmed (reserve long green leaves), washed of all traces of sand and cut into large pieces, or 1 sweet red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 10 to 12 peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • Several leaves of mild-flavored lettuce such as Boston or iceberg, if no leek greens are available
  • About ½ cup snipped fresh dill


Prepare the chicken: I find it easier to work with the chicken when it is cut up, so I divide it roughly into quarters. Remove all visible fat from the chicken and giblets. Remove the skin from the neck and the neck and tail openings. Wash all the pieces thoroughly, including feet or wings, and place in your largest stockpot, which should be tall and straight-sided. Add the water and about teaspoons of salt to begin with.

Turn the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. As the soup cooks, keep skimming off any scum and fat that rise to the surface. When the soup begins to “smile,” that is, tiny bubbles open and close along the edge of the pot, turn the heat down to very low. Skim the soup constantly; at this point, you really need to fret over it. When the soup is just about clear, add the onions, parsnips, celery stalks and leaves, carrots, garlic, parsley sprigs, parsley root, leeks, peppercorns, and bay leaf, and raise the heat slightly to bring it back to a simmer. Continue skimming any froth or scum.

When the soup is again clear, turn the heat down as low as possible. Cover the surface of the soup with the leek greens or lettuce leaves, and put the pot lid on, leaving it slightly askew. Simmer the soup for at least 2½ to 4 hours longer—overnight is better still. (Some cooks simmer their soup in a 200°F oven overnight) Never let the soup boil; if necessary, use a blech (flame tamer), or put it on top of two burner grates stacked together. (But do make sure the bubbles are breaking very gently on the surface. If there is no surface movement at all, the soup might spoil.)

Adjust the seasonings. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and carrots and set aside. Let the soup cool to room temperature in the pot, uncovered. (Hot soup in a covered pot may turn sour.)

While the soup is cooling, pick over the reserved chicken and discard the bones, skin, and other inedible parts. Reserve the chicken for another use or refrigerate along with the carrots to serve in the soup.

Strain the cooled soup through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on all the vegetables to extract as much of their juices as you can, then discard the vegetables.

Refrigerate the soup covered overnight, or until all the remaining fat has congealed on the top. Carefully scrape off the fat and discard it. If the soup still seems fatty, line the sieve with a layer of paper towels and pour the soup through it into a clean bowl or pot (if the soup has jelled from chilling, bring it to room temperature first). If the paper towels become thickly coated with fat, you might want to change them once or twice during the process.

Before serving, reheat the soup. Taste for salt and pepper and add lots of fresh snipped dill. If you feel the soup is not strong enough, reduce it over high heat to concentrate the flavors. Serve the soup very hot, with additional fresh dill, the reserved carrots, and, if desired, shreds of the soup chicken. It is delicious with kreplach, matzoh balls, egg noodles, rice, kasha, or just plain.


  • kreplach, matzoh balls, cooked fine egg noodles, rice, or kasha

“Do you think there will be any yellow rings on the soup? I saw the chicken soup the women from the sick-visiting society brought old Rachel when she was sick, and it was all yellow on top—fat!—and smelt so good!”

—Mary Antin, “Malinke’s Atonement