Chicken (soup) in every pot — parsing the Jewish ‘healer’

Chicken (soup) in every pot — parsing the Jewish ‘healer’

Every culture has its own version of chicken soup, but this venerable healer of ills mental and physical is — at least to me and my extended family — the iconic Jewish fare (despite the fact that the Chinese consume more chicken soup per person than any other people in the world).

The first chicken soup as we Ashkenazi Jews know it was probably created by inhabitants of the impoverished shtetls of Russia, where poultry was the only affordable meat and so the traditional Shabbat dish. When it came to making soup, the added advantage was that all the parts — including the fat, skin, bones, and meat — could be used.

The various Diaspora communities embrace their own versions of chicken soup: Iraqi Jews delight in Shorba Bi Djaj, a thick, fragrant, rice-filled dish, and Indian Jews are partial to Marag, with its turmeric aroma, but the basic Eastern European version — a stock made from chicken (including, crucially, marrow-filled bones) and an assortment of vegetables is certainly the most recognized and consumed. Delicious additions include knaidlach (matzah balls), lokshen (egg noodles), and kreplach (meat-filled “Jewish ravioli”). 

Chicken broths are easy to digest and have been prescribed for sufferers of various ailments since ancient times. Maimonides — 12th-century rabbi and physician Moses ben Maimon — launched chicken soup’s status as a healer when, in his work “On the Cause of Symptoms,” he prescribed the broth made from hens and other fowl to “neutralize body constitution.” He also claimed chicken soup could help cure those plagued with leprosy and asthma.

Rather than give you an actual recipe (I never measure ingredients for this staple; I firmly believe that it is impossible to ruin chicken soup), I have the following suggestions for making the best chicken soup: 

1. Chicken choice is important. Including the bones is a must. De-boned cutlets can supplement a broth, but the bones provide increased flavor and richness. I prefer cut-up pullets or roasters (as opposed to broilers and fryers). I like white meat but you can use both white and dark. The more chicken you use, the richer the stock. If your soup, for some reason, is not sufficiently tasty, simply bring to a boil with the lid off to let some of the water evaporate. If that is not sufficient, by all means, sneak some kosher bouillon into the pot. 

2. Add sweetness to the stock. My grandmother’s preferred method was to add a large peeled sweet potato. My preference is a bunch of yummy parsnips. 

3. Eat your vegetables. Add lots of carrots, celery, onions, and dill. 

4. Season with lots of salt (kosher salt is my preference) and pepper. 

5. My final advice is this: Every pot of soup should make at least two meals. Use the meat to make chicken croquettes, pot pie, chicken salad, just a few of the “secondary” meals I get out of each batch of soup. 

Enjoy this recipe for Chicken Pot Pie. 


3 lbs. chicken

1/2 cup each, diced: celery, onion, white potato (can substitute parsnip)

1/2 cup sliced carrots

1/2 tsp. salt (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

Fresh parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

3 Tbsps. pareve margarine

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

3 Tbsps. flour

2/3 cup frozen peas, defrosted

Puffed pastry sheets


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cook chicken with carrots, celery, onion, potato, and spices in water (should cover ingredients plus a couple of inches). Bring to a boil and simmer, with lid on, until chicken is fully cooked and tender. Cool chicken in refrigerator, then dice or shred. Strain broth and boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 2 1/2 cups. 

EHeat margarine and saute mushrooms and garlic until tender. Add flour and cook and stir one-two minutes. Add broth and continue stirring until mixture is thickened. Add peas and cut-up chicken and remaining vegetables. Pour into well-greased nine-inch round or square casserole pan. Cover mixture with defrosted (do not “over” defrost or it will become mushy) puff pastry sheet(s). Make a few vents in the pastry and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until crust is lightly browned and mixture is hot. 

Enjoy — and be careful not to burn your tongue!

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