Jewish penicillin

This is not a politically incorrect joke, but a reference to the alleged therapeutic qualities of a home-made chicken soup. Soho used to have a significant Jewish community with a synagogue, an art gallery, a kosher butcher, two fishmongers, a baker, a fish smoker and several salt-beef bars. All of these have now gone, so if you wish to try the miraculous effects of this soup you will have to venture further afield.

The best sort of chicken to use in this soup is strictly speaking not a chicken at all but a clapped-out hen. These are normally referred to in the butchery trade as boiling fowl. They are old, tough, hard to get hold of, and require lengthy cooking; they are however essential if you want the real thing. Most butchers will be able to supply you with a boiling fowl, though it may need to be ordered in advance. This soup is best made a day before you need it, and storing it overnight in the fridge will make removing the fat from its surface much easier as it will have set hard and can be scraped off. This fat is known as schmaltz and is used in Jewish recipes instead of butter.

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Ingredients

  • 1 boiling fowl
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 chicken stock cube (optional)

Method

Making the Stock

Put the chicken in the pot, cover with cold water and place on a high heat. When the water has just started to bubble, turn the heat down to medium. After 10 minutes’ simmering, turn the chicken in its broth, which will cause a considerable amount of scum to rise. Remove this and add about 500 ml cold water, stir again, and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Skim very thoroughly at this point: the eventual clearness of the soup is decided by how much of the albumen (scum) you remove in the early stages. While all this is going on, prepare the vegetables: they need not be peeled, but must be washed and coarsely chopped. Add these, the herbs and, if using, the stock cube. Return the whole lot to a simmer, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for an hour more.

At this point you have a decision to make. There is a large cooked chicken in the pot, and if you would like to use its meat in another dish, remove it and allow to cool. Keep the broth simmering while the bird cools enough to handle, which will take at least 20 minutes. When feasible remove all the meat from the chicken, and set this aside, covered, to finish cooling, then refrigerate. Return the stripped carcass to the pot and simmer slowly for another hour, still skimming frequently. If on the other hand you don’t want the meat, simply leave the bird unmolested in its pot for another hour, simmering all the while. With the second option the broth is better, but the chicken will be overcooked, disintegrating and donating all its flavour to the soup.

Carefully ladle the broth through a sieve into another pot. Try not to disturb the solids too much as this will cloud the soup. When you have removed as much liquid as possible, discard the solids. Put the pan of broth on a high heat and pay close attention as it nears the boil because any remaining fat and solid particles will coalesce into a prominent scum. As soon as this has formed, turn the heat down and skim diligently. Taste the soup: if a little under-flavoured return to a boil and concentrate it by reduction. Up to this point no salt has been added so it would be wise to wait until after reducing.

Serving

I personally prefer this soup with noodles. Use either Chinese egg noodles or spaghetti, both of which should be broken up and boiled until nearly ready in a separate pan to avoid clouding the soup. If you have saved some of the chicken meat, add a little bit, shredded up, as you serve.

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