In anticipation of the coming season — chicken soup the Saunders way

It’s recipe time here at the League!  I am pleased to say that I do, indeed, have my own recipe for chili, but since that’s already been done, I thought perhaps I would share my recipe for chicken soup.  Cold and flu season is coming, after all, and since I have nothing to offer in my professional capacity, I may as well offer some tips for the TLC that I recommend for patients who must simply recover in their own time.

Before I go any further I’m going to admit right from the get-go that my recipe for soup is based largely on the Chicken Stock 1 recipe from the “Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook” by Crescent Dragonwagon.  I can’t tell for sure, but given the prices for the few copies you can get via Amazon I would guess it’s out of print?  (I will now  guard my copy jealously.)  I start with her recipe, toss a lot of additional ingredients in, and modify it to make it a soup instead of just a stock.  It’s an easy recipe, and one that is happy for a relatively lazy cook like me.

Aside the First:  This recipe is, no doubt, very different from the one Rose uses for her chicken soup with matzoh balls.  If you’re lucky enough to be invited to her home for a seder, you will understand why I will gladly modify it in accordance with anything she might recommend.  It is, no joke, the dish I look forward to most out of the whole meal.  (Her dad’s gefilte fish is also awesome.)

Anyhow, here goes…

Ingredients: One 4-lb chicken (washed, giblets removed but neck optional), two onions (peeled and quartered), garlic (crushed but not peeled, as many cloves as you like — I like six), eight whole cloves, an inch of ginger root (cut into segments but don’t bother peeling), four stalks of celery, two parsnips, two leeks, four carrots, two bay leaves, celery seed, eight or nine black peppercorns, olive oil, fennel (more on that later), salt, vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar) and generous amounts of fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme [insert obligatory Simon & Garfunkel joke here; I firmly believe the soup tastes better if you listen to “Graceland” while you make it], dill and savory.  (Crescent includes basil, which I omit, and excludes dill, which I think is crazy.)

Prep/cook time: About three and a half hours, but the work itself is pretty damn easy.

Step 1)  Cover bottom of large stock pot with olive oil.  (Crescent uses Pam, which I guess you could use… but why?  Any other cooking oil seems a perfectly reasonable substitution.)  Add chicken (and neck, if you’re using it.)  Stud each quarter of onion with a whole clove (not sure why, quite honestly, but it’s part of the original recipe to do it, and so I always have, and the soup is always good, so…) and arrange around chicken.  Toss in crushed but whole and un-peeled garlic cloves, ginger root, a generous sprinkling of celery seed, bay leaves, the whole peppercorns and a good palmful of fennel seeds (crushed with mortar and pestle; more on the fennel later).  Add two tablespoons of vinegar, which adds a bit of piquancy and also (I believe) helps draw some of the substance of the bones out with its acidity.  (Alton Brown, if you’re reading, please feel free to comment.)  Give a generous shake of kosher salt, but not too much.  (Better to add salt to taste later after it’s cooked down than add too much now.)

Step 2)  Cut one of the leeks (with greens attached) in half and wash well, then cut into large segments.  Cut two stalks of celery (leaves attached) into large segments, and do the same with two carrots and one parsnip.  Add to the pot.  Add enough filtered water to cover everything well.

Aside the Second:  Tragically, the grocery store did not have a bulb of fresh fennel on offer when I went shopping for ingredients.  I would usually add a bulb of fresh fennel, chopped into large segments, to the list of fresh vegetables above.  In that event, I would not include the fennel seeds.

Step 3)  Bring to gentle boil, then reduce heat for a steady simmer.  Cook for one hour.  Entertain small child running around the kitchen during this time (optional).

Step 4)  Remove from heat, and extract chicken from pot.  This has to be done gingerly, as it should be fell-cooked enough to come apart.  Remove as much meat as possible from bones (I find two forks work well for this step), and return bones to pot, which should be brought back to gentle simmer.  Remove and discard  as much skin from the cooked chicken as possible. Using forks, shred meat into small pieces. Cover and reserve for later, and protect from the attentions of thieving household felines and spouses.

Step 5)  After another hour, add generous amount (~ 1 tablespoon or so, roughly chopped) of fresh sage, dill, rosemary, thyme, savory and parsley.  You can be pretty lazy with the chopping here, since everything’s going to get removed from the final product, and if the occasional stem gets tossed in you’ll just fish it out later.  Continue simmering for another hour or so.  Prepare chilled beverage (optional).

Step 6)  While the vegetables, bones and herbs are simmering for the final hour, take the remaining carrots, celery, leek and parsnip, peeling the root vegetables, trimming off the leek greens, and slicing everything thinly.

Step 7)  After the pot has finished simmering, remove from the heat.  With whatever implement of culinary artistry you think would work, remove every last bit of solid material from the pot that you can.  The bones should appear bleached and the vegetables are flavorless mush.  As Mrs. Who would say, the virtue is gone from them, and they should be discarded.  Now is the time to taste the broth and add as much salt as you feel is necessary.

Step 8)  Bring back to simmer over medium heat, and add the thinly-sliced celery, leek, carrot and parsnip.  Cook for another 15-20 minutes, long enough for the vegetables to be thoroughly cooked but no longer.

Step 9)  Add the reserved chicken meat to pot, and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and allow to cool.  Serve, or chill for later serving.

Notes, modifications and addenda:  If you’re going to cool the soup to serve later, it offers a handy method of removing the flavorless fat from the top.  Once it has cooled, it will collect as an easily-skimmed layer on the surface.  If you plan to serve immediately after cooking, skim the fat during earlier stages.

If you have other root vegetables (eg. turnips) to use up, you can add them at both steps 2 and 8.  But I think carrot, celery and parsnip make the best combination.

I like to add rice to the soup, which is cooked separately and can be added at the very end, along with the already-cooked chicken.

If you want to add a little fillip to the flavor, dry vermouth is nice.  A couple of tablespoons should suffice.

Anyhow, there you have it.  For those of you who try it, let me know what you think!  It’s a favorite of the Better Half’s and mine, and it’s something we both make for each other when ailment calls for chicken soup.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Naomi Judd referred to chicken soup as the “Jewish penicillin” in her cookbook.

Comments are closed.