Here lies my recipe for perfectly delicious chicken soup, filled with vegetables and tender poached chicken. And, of course, let’s not forget the renowned fluffy, pudgy dumplings affectionately called “matzoh balls.” Over the years, my rendition of chicken soup has soothed more colds than I can count and warmed many winter weekends. This recipe also highlights the incredible benefit of always having a supply of chicken stock in your freezer.
My students often ask me, “Why is your soup richer in flavor and color than mine?” Well, the secret is simple. When making chicken soup, I poach my chicken separately and begin my soup with a base of already prepared and defatted rich Chicken Stock from my freezer. If you start your soup with plain water, a big raw hen and vegetables, you will undoubtedly end up serving dry chicken in pale-colored greasy broth, loaded with soggy vegetables and excess fat. But the biggest bonus of this recipe is that, at the same time you are making the fresh soup, you are also replenishing your supply of stock. I hope my kosher friends will forgive me for loving butter in this classic Jewish soup; they can always use schmaltz or follow my low-fat (non-dairy) variation.
If you check out my Chicken Stock video and Chicken Soup video, you’ll learn why (and see how) to make a few different types of stock in advance so it’s always available in the freezer. This is really the only way to, at whim, get a great bowl of chicken soup on the table–in a hurry!.
Any time I’ve suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary term that’s unfamiliar to you, you can go to Learn to Cook for more information.
Rinse and dry the chicken pieces and gizzards (reserve livers for another use). Place the chicken and all of the remaining poaching ingredients in an 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot and cover the solids with cold water. Cover pot and bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to very low and simmer chickens until tender but not dry, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken to a large bowl to allow the pieces to become cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the chicken, tear into chunks and set aside for the soup. Return the chicken carcasses, including skin and all other parts, to the pot of poaching ingredients and use to replenish your supply of stock for use at a later date (see step #6).
Melt the butter in a 10-inch deep-sided skillet over medium heat. While it melts, tear off a sheet of waxed paper (large enough to cover the bottom of the pot) and brush some butter on one side of the paper. Stir the leeks, carrots, celery and parsnips or turnips into the melted butter. Toss to combine to lightly coat the vegetables with butter, then place the greased side of the waxed paper directly on top. Reduce heat to very low and let vegetables sweat until wilted and only slightly tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
In a 12- to 16-quart stockpot, bring stock to a boil and reduce heat so stock just simmers. Add the sweated vegetables to the stock and simmer (covered) over very low heat until crisp tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir the chicken chunks into the soup pot along with the chopped tomatoes, peas, shredded spinach, if using, and chopped parsley. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Shape and simmer the matzoh balls as directed, and ease them into the soup until ready to reheat and serve.
Reheat the soup gently but thoroughly until very hot. Taste for seasoning and adjust before serving. Place a matzoh ball in the center of each warmed soup bowl and ladle a generous amount of soup and vegetables over and around the dumpling. Serve piping hot.
Return the poaching mixture with the chicken bones to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until the stock is rich with a golden color, 1 to 2 hours. As stock simmers, occasionally press hard on the solids to extract all of their goodness.
Although the addition of butter will produce a richer tasting soup, you can omit it entirely by adding the fresh vegetables directly to the stock instead of sweating them.
All of the vegetables can be prepared 1 day ahead of cooking and stored in the refrigerator in separate, well-covered bowls.
The soup can be fully assembled 1 day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. To refrigerate the soup in the pot, pull a clean kitchen towel over the top and then apply the lid. The towel will prevent any accumulated condensation from falling into the soup and diluting the flavor.
Any leftover soup and matzoh balls, if making them, can be frozen together in securely covered heavy-duty freezer containers for several months. (Be sure to label the containers with both the date and contents.) Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat gently, being careful not to overcook the already cooked soup ingredients.