Jewish Chicken Soup

An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup. —H.L. Mencken

A Jewish soul is one who, on noticing that chicken soup heals, wants to share it with the world. —HJC

Is it true, as Beethoven is rumored to have said, that only the pure of heart can make good soup? I’m not sure, but I am sure that to most people, Shabbos (Shabbat) tastes of chicken soup. Jews from a variety of traditional backgrounds, from India to Iraq to Illinois serve chicken soup for the Friday night Shabbos meal.

I was vegetarian for a couple of decades. Now, we have reasons for eating (almost always) vegetarian during the “ordinary” week days and decidedly not-vegetarian on Shabbos and Holy Days. We are taught by the sages that the generation before the flood was aggressive, immoral, murderous, and thieving. Interestingly enough, they were strict vegetarians. Just goes to show: Vegetarianism doesn’t make one morally superior; you can be kind to animals and brutal to your fellow brothers and sisters.

My husband always reminds me that there are mystical reasons for eating fish, fowl, and beef or lamb on Shabbos. On the simple level, the pshat, animal flesh is generally more expensive than vegetarian foods and is therefore reserved for times of celebration, in order to show honor towards the holy Shabbos or Holy Days or weddings.  Same holds true for wine—we honor the Shabbos with Kiddush, the holy blessing over the wine; during the week we don’t drink wine. We also, during the week, don’t eat so much for pleasure as to promote health and energy with which to do good deeds.

By enjoying our food during Shabbos and Yom Tov, and specifically by eating animal-based foods with conscious delight, we elevate the holy sparks of neshamas, souls, in the food and achieve mystical tikkunim or rectifications of Creation. During the week, our eating must be more mundane and physical; without the holiness of Shabbos, the average person cannot achieve holiness in their eating. Eating animal foods requires heavy spiritual lifting.

There are mystical reasons why the order of eating on Shabbos is wine, challah (Shabbos bread), fish, chicken soup, chicken or other fowl on Friday night. During the day meal its wine, challah, fish, egg, chicken, beef or other kosher beast. You’ll notice the animal foods over the course of Shabbos are served in the order of water, air, land. Chicken soup is unique—to all the meat course, it’s a marriage of water and air, and when the onions, carrots, and other vegetables are added, land, as well—it’s the world in a bowl. (The egg, to my thinking, takes the place of the chicken soup course on Shabbos, the egg is perhaps even more mystical—it is ripe with potential and is both liquid and solid.)

Many traditions serve various noodles or dumplings in their soup, from the typical lokshen/matzoh ball combination to the rather exotic dumplings called Gondi of the Persian Jews. There are mystical reasons for these, too. I prefer just some vegetables or clear broth, but I do prepare various doughy treats for guests who like them.

HJC supporters* Janna from Chicago and Hava from Australia, and my lovely friend Michele from England have all asked for a good chicken soup recipe, so here’s mine:

HJC’s Kosher Chicken Soup for Shabbos

I make a large batch and freeze some of it. It is one of those foods that freezes beautifully. Here’s a recipe for a slightly smaller amount. You can easily double, triple or quadruple this recipe. Amounts of meat are flexible. I like the richness of turkey, especially if hens are not available.

about 3 pounds chicken bones

2-3 pounds turkey necks or turkey and chicken necks, mixed

about 2 pounds of chicken legs or one hen (older chickens make better soup but do not add giblets except for neck and gizzard)

about 1 pound of chicken or turkey wings

My grandmother would tell you that you cannot make good soup without adding a few chicken feet, but they are hard to come by; if you’ve got them, add them.

2 fat carrots (if they are organic, leave peel on)

2 large yellow onions, peeled, halved and rinsed (you can even add another onion or two, but not fewer than two)

1/2 large celery root, peeled and diced or 4 celery stalks

1 large parsnip root, scrubbed, quartered

2 small parsley roots, scrubbed and quartered, or one bunch of parsley, washed and checked for insects

optional: a few bay leaves, a 1 inch chunk of ginger or three or four cloves

optional: a small yam or beet (peeled) and/or a small turnip or rutabaga (scrubbed or peeled)

optional: 1 fat leek, split, cleaned and checked for insects

optional: mushroom trimmings or other, non-cruciferous veggie trimmings (no cabbage, broccoli, but some like turnip or rutabaga)

favorite unrefined sea salt, white or black pepper

In a 3 gallon or larger pot place chicken and turkey (it should fill pot a little more than 2/3 full). Fill nearly to top with pure water. Add a heaping tablespoon of good sea salt. Over a medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, skimming off any colored foam. You will not get all the foam and impurities, don’t fret.

Tip: When you want the chicken to give its flavor away and turn water to soup, add chicken to cold water and heat. When you want the chicken to poach or cook and retain its flavor, add it to simmering water.

Add all vegetables and herbs. Kosher chicken tends to be salty so you will have to carefully adjust seasoning at the end. I like adding the veggies in cheesecloth bags or tied up well in homemade cheesecloth pouches so they can be pulled out easily. Let simmer (a low, lazy boil) over medium-low heat for 2 1/2 hours. At this point you may remove the chicken legs or hen, and reserve the meat for salad or other recipes. I usually don’t.

Let simmer another hour or so. Some people prefer soup cooked more briefly, I don’t. You may add water if the water level gets below the vegetable or meat level.

Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if using. Some prefer white pepper since it doesn’t color the broth. I do not like the musty flavor of it in chicken soup, I prefer black pepper.

Strain soup in large, cheesecloth-lined china cap over large bowl or pot. Squeeze out chicken and veggies with back of metal spoon. Let cool slightly.

I generally make my broth very condensed and add a bit of icy-cold water to it to cool it down for packaging. This does not affect the richness of the broth. However, if your broth isn’t terribly rich, don’t add any cold water.

Pour into BPA-free containers for freezing. Stick in fridge or cold porch to cool down quickly, then freeze when only warm, not hot, to the touch. Makes about 10 quarts of soup, which is about 20 generous servings of soup, 15 medium-sized servings. When defrosting scrape off any fat that has risen to the surface if you like.

Variations per two-three servings:

Stimulating: We like Chinese 5-spice. When reheating one quart of soup to serve four^ (do NOT boil), add, in a small bouquet garni pouch, add a couple of Sichuan peppercorns (or a couple black peppercorns and a half-teaspoon of dried or fresh lemon peel); 1 star anise, 3-4 fennel seeds, 2 cloves, a one inch piece of cinnamon stick. Place on hot Shabbos stove-cover (blech) and heat gently until Shabbos-usually it sits on the blech at least 2 hours. Add a tablespoon or two of cooked rice to the soup if you like.

Heimish: Serve with home-cooked jumbo lima beans, thin lokshen-noodles (preferably homemade) and chunks of carrots. Don’t skim the fat if you want to be heimish. I cannot eat fatty soup, but many people like it. If you are blessed with pasteured, kosher chickens, the fat is quite nutritious; chicken, goose and duck fat kept many of our ancestors alive in Russia, Siberia, Ukraine, and Poland during the freezing winters. Kosher chickens in general are not administered antibiotics, and many brands are at least free roaming and not fed food with dangerous chemicals.

Moroccan: Add a pinch each of dried ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon in a bouquet garni pouch. Add 1 diced tomato, 1 sliced zucchini, and three sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped. Add a handful of cooked chickpeas and/or cooked brown lentils.

Semi-Persian (No Gondi): Add one Persian dried lime and 1 cardomom pod to reheating soup. Remove before serving.

Medicinal: Feeling under the weather, weak, or have a cold? For a day that is not Shabbos, while you are making a large pot of soup, divide it so that you have about two quarts in a separate pot. Add in one or two sticks of real licorice root (if you don’t have high blood pressure or other contraindications on the link), two-inch piece of Panax ginseng root, a nice piece of dried tangerine (or orange) peel (you can make your own, you can also make your own dried Persian limes, above), 1 clove of garlic, mashed, four dried shitake, reishi or maitake mushrooms or a combination. Simmer for two hours, strain and squeeze out additions except for mushrooms, and serve with a dash of shoyu.

* A few months ago I removed the PayPal donate button from this site as there were technical problems with it, and want to thank those of you have supported the blog. If you have benefited from HJC and would like to support the continuation of this blog (in your name or for a refuah shleimah or in memory of someone) please email me at for contact information. Also, special thanks to Rochel Miriam bas Tzipporah for generously supporting the creation of chicken soup (among other projects) for dozens of guests in recovery! May she be blessed with good health, success, and joy.

^Update. I originally wrote a quart of soup should serve 2! Big, bad typo. A quart of soup serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a meal.

Note: It seems my camera ate my terrific picture of an actual bowl of real-live kosher chicken soup so my apologies for the stove-top back up.

6 responses to “Jewish Chicken Soup

    • @tzirelchana
      About 9 or 10 years ago I heard this amazing tape by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg (I blogged a bit about it here). It was on women and Moshiach which also touched on cooking for Shabbos and the order of cooking for Shabbos. I loaned the tape out and never got it back and really want to listen to it again, but cannot seem to find it at his site. Also, my thoughts are cobbled together from Midrashim, various Breslov books (you can see some links in the same post). Finally, these comments are a synthesis of this plus nearly 30 years of holistic nutritional healing experience. The thoughts about the chicken soup = the egg (I have more to share, in another post perhaps) and how they compare and contrast are something I’ve been “chewing on” for some time. Understanding the energy profile of an egg for example. Also, this illustration (the one in the post) and others I have done were spun out of this one shiur by Rav Ginsburg. Plants and animals and so on. Lots more….:)

  1. Pingback: Judaism And Vegetarianism | healthyjewishcooking·

  2. Roast chicken is, for me, the ultimate Jewish comfort food. It’s hard to imagine Friday night without it. Yet although chicken has been a staple of Shabbat and holiday dinners since the Middle Ages, it is only relatively recently that people began to roast it. Historically, Jews simmered the chicken with rice or made a tagine or fricassee of it. Ashkenazi Jews would boil it, serving the soup as a first course and cutting off the breasts to make cutlets for the Shabbat main dish.

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