Chicken soup - ‘Jewish penicillin’ - is identified the world over with Jewish grandmothers. It's rare to find a meat-eating Jewish house where it isn't served on Friday nights. But there's still a centuries old, vexed question at the heart of Judaism: what do you do with the chicken from the soup?
medical tests prove...
Over the past fifteen years there’s been growing medical evidence to show what Jewish grandmothers always knew – chicken soup does actually help when you have a cold. (I like how Dr Rennard started his scientific research at the University of Nebraska medical school with his wife’s home made recipe, “handed down by her Lithuanian grandmother.” He deserves a Nobel Prize for keeping the family happy, at the very least.)
So it’s now scientifically proven, but it still doesn't answer the question of what do you do with the chicken after you've made the soup? It’s a problem because there’s an inbuilt conflict of interest: the longer you cook the soup, the tastier it is, but the less appetising the chicken becomes. In effect, you have to choose between the chicken and the stock.
One of our Food is Love grandmothers, Eva Grinston solves this problem for us this week, by explaining how to steam the chicken in the soup till it's just done, take it out, pick off the meat and then return the bones to the soup pot for a second go. The soup will still be tasty, and the next dish you make with the chicken will be a hit too.
INGREDIENTS for chicken soup
serves family plus guests
- One medium size chicken (to save time, buy it already jointed)
- 2 onions
- 2 chopped carrots
- 2 sticks celery
- 1 celery root or 2 parsnips
- Salt and pepper
- If you want a more Chinese flavour add any or all of: ginger root, star anise, garlic, spring onions, coriander
- Cook the chicken with vegetables in water, or more if needed to have the bird sit in a third of its size in water. Steam with the lid on until fork inserted shows it is cooked - about an hour. Add parsley for the last 10 minutes.
- You will cut your cooking time significantly by buying the chicken already jointed. The time taken to steam it will be 30 minutes or so. The breast cooks most quickly, so remove those pieces first. You can use more water if you want a greater amount of stock
- Remove all chicken from the soup
- When the chicken’s cooled, remove the skin and strip the meat from the bones. Be careful not to miss any fine bones. Chop chicken meat into even sized pieces. Save all bones, and return them to the soup. Cook some more to extract all the goodness and make a tastier stock. "Give the chicken fat to your pets. They will be grateful!" adds Eva. Nothing is wasted!
- To serve: remove vegetables, strain out bones and serve chicken broth with vegetables and noodles, kneidlach (matza balls) or sippets
Eva is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, as well as being the grandmother with whom I began this project (you can see her life story on the website here). Born in Bratislava in Czechoslovakia, Eva came to Australia as a refugee after World War Two. Her experiences during the war were devastating. The Nazis forced Eva and her family into concentration camps including Auschwitz, and Eva's mother, sister and aunt did not survive.
Eva arrived in Sydney on Australia Day in 1950 and fell in love with her new home from the first day. Everything appealed: "The light. The sunshine. The people."
Later the same year, Eva met Michael Grinston, a refugee from Poland. They fell in love at first sight. A new life was really beginning.
Michael had been more fortunate than Eva, as he'd spent World War Two in Australia.
Michael had left Poland when the Nazis invaded in 1939. He reached Lithuania, which the Soviets annexed a year later. At the Japanese consulate in the summer of 1940, the diplomat Chiune Sugihara began issuing special transit visas for Jews who were by that stage desperate to leave. (The picture on the right below shows Jews lining up outside the Japanese consulate in Kaunas in 1940.)
It was his own initiative.
Head office in Tokyo had rejected Sugihara's request to issue more transit visas. Still Sugihara spent 18 hours a day for the next 6 weeks signing and issuing visas. The Soviets had ordered enemy diplomats to leave, and by the time Sugihara did, in September 1940, he had issued some 6,000 travel documents, and saved the lives of several thousand people – including Michael Grinston.
In 1985, Sugihara was recognised with the title Righteous amongst the Nations by theHolocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in Israel, for his life-saving work. But that was 40 years after the war, and in Japan, Sugihara was never treated as a hero, or accorded the respect he deserved for these independent, courageous, life saving actions. In fact, he was fired for this insubordination, and did odd jobs for the rest of his life. These stories of unrecognised heroes always break my heart.
Less than a year after they met, Michael and Eva married. She couldn't afford a wedding dress and was grateful that a cousin who was a dress maker made her a suit – even if it was black. After the wedding they went to Michael's apartment, where the family downstairs had prepared a special lunch. Their 2 little girls couldn't conceal their disappointment at the sight of Eva.
"She's not a bride, she's all in black! When will Uncle Michael bring his real bride?"
1. Wedding Chicken with Almonds
At the centre of Eva's wedding lunch was this chicken dish. Eva has been cooking it ever since, and is still in contact with those 2 little girls from downstairs, now adults and mothers themselves. This 1950’s Australia attempt at Chinese flavours is actually remarkably tasty.
- A few sticks of celery, about half a small bunch, omit the rough outer parts, though use the celery leaves as well, if there are any
- 1 large onion
- Half a bunch spring onions or scallions
- 2/3 cup peas – frozen is fine
- Large handful of green string beans
- 200 g whole almonds, blanched is best if you have them, works fine with ordinary almonds too
- Oil for frying – a mix of olive oil and sesame oil is nice
- Soy sauce
- poached chicken from the soup, chopped
Steamed rice or noodles, to serve
- While the chicken is cooling, chop the onions and all the green veges into small pieces.
- Fry the almonds. Eva fries them in oil, I prefer to dry fry them in a fry pan where they won’t stick – but you do have to watch them!!! Remove almonds to a dish.
- Add oil to the same pan, and stir-fry the onions and the celery till glossy. Add chicken pieces, fry some more, stirring all the time. Add a good slurp of soy sauce. Eva likes one flavoured with garlic. Continue frying on a low heat. Taste for salt and also for soy.
- Add the peas, cook for 2-3 minutes, till they soften. Lastly add the beans – you want them to stay crunchy.
- Serve over steamed rice or noodles, scattering the almonds over the top.
Eva adds, “I like to make sweet potato mash, flavoured with lemon rind as well as some grated ginger and salt.” You can see why it’s such a pleasure to be invited to dinner at Eva's!
Madrid test kitchen
In Madrid, Candice prepared both dishes, starting with the Wedding Chicken. She used slivered almonds and served it with rice noodles, and her verdict was positive.
"Very tasty dish! We don't have scallions in Spain so I used small green onions and young spring onions, which are more pungent. I was afraid they'd overpower the delicate almonds, but all turned out well. I served it with glass noodles, which we love, rather than rice. It gave it a lightness that seemed right for summer.
The almonds gave the dish a nice crunch, a bit like peanuts in some Thai dishes. I liked that a lot. It came together quickly and easily. And I am left with a superb broth for my summer soup: Chicken Lime Soup Yucatan style!"
"Since I was cooking for two, I used only half the chicken; the rest goes into the chicken with Skordalia today. It still made a lot! More than two hungry people could eat."
2. Chicken salad with Skordalia
The obvious way to use poached chicken is in a salad. This is a delicious and unusual salad which comes together easily.
- 2 cloves garlic, or more to taste - 4 or 5 cloves works too for some of us!
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) almonds or walnuts
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 oz / 60 g white bread – no crusts
- 1 cup chicken stock or water
- 2-3 cups shredded chicken, from the soup
- 1 cup coriander leaves, chopped
- 2-3 sticks celery or 1/2 small bulb fennel
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Chilli powder or paprika
- 1 large bunch rocket leaves
- 2 teaspoons chopped scallions or chives
- Optional: 2 teaspoons capers in salt
- Optional: 1 small handful dried cranberries or barberries
1. Use any left over chicken stock for the skordalia sauce. If you don’t have any stock left over, it works well with water too.
2. Put walnuts, garlic and salt in food processor, and pulse for 20 seconds.
3. Squeeze most of the liquid from bread and reserve this liquid. Add the squeezed bread to the ground walnut mix, along with the olive oil. Process until combined. If it is hasn’t reached the consistency of mayonnaise yet, add the reserved stock. Do this gradually, you may not need it all!
4. Add the chilli or paprika and taste to adjust the seasoning
5. Remove from the food processor and add to the chicken and celery or fennel. Stir in 2/3 cup chopped coriander. I like to leave it for 10 minutes or so till the tastes meld. When you are ready to serve, arrange on chopped rocket leaves and garnish with remaining coriander. Add chives, and capers and dried berries if you are using them
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
This is very tasty, and it's easy to eat a lot of this salad! Luckily it’s actually good for you.
You can adjust the amount of garlic to your personal taste. This was too little for Candice in Madrid who likes this dish to really pack a punch. She traditionally makes it with almonds and not walnuts, and serves it on grilled swordfish, or baked beets.
On a summer's day in Jerusalem, this combination of garlicky mayonaise and chicken and greens worked very well, and it went well in turn with a salad of tomatoes and pomegranates. Heaven!
3. Chicken with Almonds and Pesto
This is a recipe from the gluten free kitchen of Amanda Hampel in Melbourne. She's produced a riff on the Skordalia, above, without using bread. She also cooked her dish, in tribute to the Eva's Wedding Chicken.
- 2-3 cups chicken from soup, shredded
- 1 cup almond meal
- 3 tablespoons basil pesto - or more to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Break up leftover chicken from soup into small/shredded pieces. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into a saucepan and heat. Add 1 cup almond meal and stir until golden, then add chicken and mix well. Add 3 tablespoons of fresh basil pesto (or more if you like) and stir until well combined.
Naturally, Amanda made her own pesto!
INGREDIENTS FOR THE PESTO
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed down
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cloves roasted garlic
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon each salt and fresh ground pepper
Blend the basil, pine nuts, cheese and garlic together in a food processor or blender. Pour the olive oil in slowly while mixing (Amanda used garlic infused oil). Scrape down the sides, add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until everything is blended and smooth. Add more salt/pepper if desired.
Storing: store in a tightly sealed jar can be kept in the fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to 2-3 months.