It’s cold and flu season, the perfect time to simmer a big pot of chicken soup. People all over the world enjoy this delicious home remedy and each nation boasts a specialty. In some ways, chicken soup is a free-form recipe. Once you have simmered the stock, you can add any ingredients you have on hand.
There are two ways to make chicken soup. If I want chicken in the pot for dinner, I use two large split chicken breasts and four plump thighs. The chicken is cooked in 2 quarts of rich stock with approximately 3 to 4 cups of water. I always use chicken stock packaged in sealed cartons because it is richer and tastes fresher than canned broth.
A collection of chicken and capon bones are in my freezer, ready for making soup along with a carton of stock. Celery, onions and carrots are the classic vegetable trio for chicken soup. I also add a leek or two to the stockpot because I love their aroma and flavor. Some cooks add a turnip and parsnip for taste. I always use large bay leaves, Italian parsley and fresh snipped dill.
Noodles, rice, barley, orzo or tiny pasta squares are cooked separately. I particularly like the handmade egg noodles that I buy from Amish merchants in the Reading Terminal Market.
Chicken soup takes on an Asian flair when it’s made with diced scallion, baby bok choy, lemongrass and coriander. Add some wontons, small shrimp, slices of boneless chicken breast and sliced roast pork and you have a hearty main-course soup. Avgolemono, the classic soup of Greece, is enriched with egg yolks and fragrant fresh lemon juice. The Greek Jews of Salonika called it sopa de huevo y limon, which is Ladino, the language spoken by many Sephardic Jews. According to Claudia Roden, whose Book of Jewish Food earned Cookbook of the Year honors from the James Beard Foundation, this soup is one of the most popular in the Sephardic world.
Italian-style chicken soup usually features a sturdy green such as escarole, spinach or chicory. In Italian chicken soups, semolina or farina can be used because it gives the broth body. Although my family is not Italian, for the past few years my mother has been adding fresh baby spinach leaves and a bit of farina to her homemade chicken soup. She says it is delicious.
Here are international recipes for chicken soup.
Chicken in the Pot
2 plump chicken breasts, split
4 plump chicken thighs
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, white part only, split, washed thoroughly and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 (32-ounce) carton chicken stock
About 3 to 4 cups cold water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 large bay leaves
Snipped fresh dill
Snipped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Place the vegetables evenly on the bottom of a 4- or 5-quart soup pot. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables. Add the stock, water, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Place the pot over high heat, bring to a boil, place the lid askew on top of the pot, lower the heat to medium and simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour or until carrots are tender.
Take the pot off the heat and add the snipped fresh dill and parsley. Stir well to blend. Serve with noodles, rice, barley or orzo. You can remove the chicken from the bones and shred it into the soup or serve pieces of chicken in the soup.
Sopa de Huevo y Limon
Egg and Lemon Soup
From The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden
1 chicken carcass and some giblets or chicken wings to make the stock
1 large onion, quartered
2 carrots, cut into large pieces
2 celery stalks and leaves, cut into large pieces
A few parsley stalks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup rice
3 large eggs
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
Put the chicken carcass and giblets or wings in a pot with the onion, carrots, celery and parsley stalks. Add 2-3/4 quarts water and bring to a boil. Remove the scum, add salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for one hour for a rich stock. Strain through a fine sieve and return to the pot. Simmer to reduce the stock to 2 quarts. Adjust seasonings.
Add the rice and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Just before serving, beat the eggs in a bowl, add the lemon juice (the soup should be tart) and beat in a ladleful of stock. Pour this mixture into the soup, which should be barely simmering. Beat constantly until the soup thickens but do not let it boil or the eggs will curdle. It should be creamy.
Note: Roden writes that vermicelli or tiny pastine can be used instead of rice. The Moroccan version of this soup calls for 1/4 teaspoon of saffron or tumeric to be blended into the chicken stock.
Stracciatella Alla Romana
Roman Egg Drop Soup
From Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
6 cups strained and defatted chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups fresh spinach, stemmed, washed and cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling over the soup
Bring the chicken stock to a boil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about one minute. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with a good grinding of black pepper until thoroughly blended. Beat in the grated cheese. Pour the egg mixture into the soup while stirring constantly to break it into "little rags." Check the seasoning and serve immediately.
Note: You can use a 32-ounce carton of chicken stock in this recipe along with baby spinach leaves instead of larger ones that need to be sliced.