The Great Restorative 

Almost everyone has a beloved chicken soup recipe--here's mine

One of the many things I do of which my father disapproved is make chicken soup. I've always claimed it to be the knockout response to flu, bronchial conditions, general miasmas and gloomy outlooks on life.

He said the very thought of it was an absolute tonic to his constitution. Well, he didn't put it quite that elegantly, but he did often say that he'd never confess to feeling ill when I was around for fear I'd make "the soup." It's not that he didn't like my cooking; it's just that he hated this soup.

Poor Andrew didn't have the advantage of Poppa's years of experience. So the other night, when he was feverish and more disconnected than usual, Andrew agreed when I told him to lazily spend the bulk of the following 24 hours watching the director's commentary for Titus, dozing, drinking plenty of fluids, taking hot baths and, of course, having "the soup."

Chicken soup can be a delicate issue. As with all good things, they are markers of memories. In my Midwest-oriented family, chicken soup was an unsophisticated simplicity: the cut-up bird, vegetables, salt and pepper, slow cooking. Fortunately, the gruesome beginnings to such a meal--which involved my tiny grandmother, a large butcher knife, a live chicken, boiling water and a butane torch--have become somewhat softened by time. Jean Goorwitch, my "mother" for decades, made a sweet, rich soup that lightened the heart. Having been told by my mother than I must be on my deathbed since I hadn't bothered to call for several days, Lillian Rosenzweig, long a fixture in Tucson, once had an incredible broth delivered by messenger. The stock is the base for any of the dozens of excellent tortilla sopas to be found throughout Tucson, from tony foothills eateries to comfortable southside haunts and everyplace in between.

Almost everyone you know will have a chicken soup recipe or story. Just ask. The other night, my friend Betsy Sandlin was at a nearby table having dinner. I asked her about chicken soup, and her face lit up with enthusiasm as she started to talk about her grandmother's chicken soup--the "best." Barely a day later, I received a fabulous e-mail from her with explicit instructions, and I can't wait to give it a try--turnips and all. I will no doubt skip some of the steps which reminded me again of my grandmother's methods. Not even a day later, I received another recipe--this from the owner/chef of the restaurant where we were eating--for a chicken tomato soup.

Eighteen months ago, when I was writing about plates and things, I passingly mentioned chicken soup and a meal that Andrew missed. This is what he had last week, and I am pleased to say he's fit as a fiddle today! Truth be told, Poppa was always better after a bowl of this, too--even if he never admitted it.

There are endless variations, of course. Sometimes, I roast the chicken a bit before throwing it in the stockpot. If I have broccoli or cauliflower, I may toss them in the pot at the end. Rice is a good addition, and noodles turn it into something else altogether. And if there's too much chicken, all the better--freeze and save it for enchiladas, pot pie, stew or a soup down the road.

It just may be much more than the Great Restorative. It may be the Great Hidden Commonality for which we search. As I was writing this, I did a Google search for "chicken soup"--14.6 million entries! More meals, I'm afraid, than I will be able to consume. However, I am collecting recipes--so if you have one (and, op. cit., I know you do), please e-mail it to me.

The Chicken Soup

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 chicken breasts, bone in
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 serrano chiles
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno chiles
  • 4 crook-necked yellow squash, cut roughly into 1-inch pieces
  • 18 cups chicken stock
  • 4 zucchini squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 18 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 pound of snow peas
  • 3 limes
Wash chicken and pat dry. Put into large, heavy stockpot and add celery, carrots, onion and pepper. (I use a stockpot that has an insert I can eventually lift out to remove the cooked chicken and vegetables in one fell swoop.) Pour in stock and add water, if needed, to cover chicken. Bring to boil and then set on simmer for 2-3 hours, adding water or more stock as needed. Skim foam and fat from time to time.

Remove seeds from chiles and puree with garlic and a bit of the stock. WASH HANDS AFTER WORKING WITH CHILES. DO NOT WIPE EYES.

When chicken is cooked (falling off bone) remove pot from flame, and chicken and vegetables from stockpot. Let all cool. Separate and shred chicken from bones, and cooked vegetable mush from chicken. Put stockpot back on stove and add squash and snow peas. Salt to taste. Puree vegetable mush and add it to stock with pureed chiles and garlic. Add shredded chicken. Bring to boil. Juice the limes.

Ladle soup into large cups or bowls, Just before serving, add lime juice to taste.

That's it: Eat and heal!


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