Chicken Soup for the (Pandemic) Soul
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
By Bonnie Fishman
Nothing says “welcome home” more than a steaming bowl of chicken soup. It’s like being wrapped up in a warm blanket when you have a chill. The aroma fills the whole house. The kitchen windows are fogged, the dogs are standing at your feet when you’re cleaning the cooked chicken, the table is set with large bowls waiting for happy guests. When we lived in Michigan, whenever my kids or other family members would return to visit, as they arrived straight from the airport, I ladled out some love. I looked forward to nurturing them as much as they enjoyed being nurtured. Add a great loaf of bread–perfection! This deep connection you feel when filling a bowl with warm deliciousness and serving it to those you love and care for is applicable in many situations, especially during the pandemic. You’re having a hard day? Eat soup. You’re sick of being cooped up? Eat soup. You’re feeling a little under the weather? Eat soup.
My chicken soup is really chicken in a pot. The difference? I don’t just use the chicken to flavor the broth. This chicken is not skipping through the water. It’s actually being cooked in the water with the vegetables to form a homogeneous flavored broth. The chicken meat becomes an integral part of the dish and there’s loads of it. I almost always begin my soup with the triumvirate: carrots, celery, onions. In French, the mirepoix. Where you go from there can vary. I began adding parsnip to my chicken in the pot about 10 years ago. It creates a great depth of flavor along with a subtle sweetness. Some people add parsley root or celery root, but I’ve never felt the need to do so.
Be forewarned: there is nothing worse than having a thin slime of fat floating on top of the soup. It is unappealing to look at and creates an icky “mouth feel.” There are two ways to avoid this. The easiest and most popular method is to make your soup the day before. In the recipe, take the steps through removing the chicken from the bones and putting it back in the soup. Stop there. The next day, scrape the solidified chicken fat off the top and discard. Then bring the soup to a boil, cover, and turn down to a simmer. Add the matzo balls. After 15 minutes, add the noodles. Cook 5-7 minutes more. Season well with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in the parsley.
The second method is what I do most often. Unfortunately, it requires you to skin the chicken while it’s raw, a most unpleasant task. I dread this step. Glove up! Most of the fat is in the skin, so by removing it before you get started, you can serve it the same day. I take a sharp boning or paring knife to the chicken breast and just wail away. It’s not pretty but hey, I get great results!
Chicken in a Pot with Matzo Balls
Yield: 8-10 servings
1 4-5 lb. roasting chicken, skin removed
1 large or 2 medium onions, cut into 1” dice
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2” rounds
2 large celery stalks cut into 1/2” dice
12 oz. parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2” dice
1 gallon water
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
6 oz. fine soup egg noodles
1/2 c. chopped parsley
3 Tbs. oil
3/4 c. matzo meal
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Put in a large pot along with the vegetables, water, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 1 1/4 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the matzo balls: In a mixing bowl and using a fork, scramble together the eggs and oil. Blend in the matzo meal, salt, and pepper. Stir until just combined. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Using damp hands, gently form the batter into 18 1-inch diameter balls. Try not to overwork, pat, or squeeze the dough, because it will make the matzo balls tough and dense. Keep refrigerated until ready to cook.
Remove the chicken from the pot. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, breaking up larger pieces. Return it to the soup. Add the salt, pepper, and the matzo balls. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Add noodles and cook for 5-7 more minutes. Adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle with parsley.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.