Magical healing properties are attributed to many foods, but there's perhaps none more legendary than chicken soup. For such a simple preparation, it has, over many years, become almost mythical in its ability to heal those struck with cold or flu.
It seems there's a version in almost every culture. The Chinese make theirs from old hens and season it with fragrant ginger, star anise and sesame oil. In Germany, it's dished up with the addition of semolina dumplings or Spätzle, while the Hungarians swear by chunky pieces of chicken liver and heart along with vegetables such as carrot, celery, parsnip and celeriac. Avgolemono, the Greek rendition, is spiked with lemon and thickened with egg and rice (it's also thought to have the ability to soothe a hangover).
In the Jewish kitchen, there's a virtual roll-call of variations. It can be served with matzo balls, dumplings, or flat egg noodles. A traditional garnish was unlaid chicken eggs, taken from the hen and boiled in the soup.
Ours is a take on the version popular in the USA and Canada – chicken noodle soup, amped up with tender chicken dumplings.
Regardless of cultural roots, the success of chicken soup relies on finding a good quality chicken. It's possibly the only occasion where the phrase "old boiler" is complimentary, because that's exactly what you want for a great chicken soup – an older bird. If you're unable to find such a bird, which is highly likely unless you have chooks of your own, the next best thing is to go organic.
Remove any fatty deposits from the bird (usually to be found around the neck) and blanch it quickly to eliminate yet more of the fat. Next, use your chook to create an intense stock. Start with cold water, and add aromatics (bay leaf, thyme, parsley stalks) and your standard stock vegies. Simmer gently for as long as you can until the meat falls from the bone, skimming the surface intermittently to remove scum and oil. Strain this flavoursome concoction (some cooks like to break the flesh of the chicken into small pieces to add back to the soup) and garnish as you will. Medicinal properties or not, this is one broth set to simmer on our stoves this winter.
It's a truth universally acknowledged that a steaming bowl of chicken soup does wonders to nourish both body and soul.