There are few things I love more in this world than a steaming bowl of chicken soup. The hot soothing broth and easily digestible protein has always been just the ticket when I am sick. While I greatly enjoy this traditional medicinal food, I’ve also always felt that it lacks sufficient depth and flavor. Only recently did I learn how to make real chicken soup. It turned out like I always thought it should be: thick, rich, yellow, and bursting with flavor. Compared to my most recent creation, all other chicken soups I’ve encountered literally tasted like flavored water.
This post will be my first in a series instructing how to make the perfect chicken soup. The initial parts will introduce you to the ingredients, and the final posts will include the full recipe. You might be thinking that making chicken soup is easy, or why not just look up a recipe on the internet? The sad truth is that our culture has all but lost the knowledge of how to make this delicious food. This doesn’t stem from a simple omission of spices or using the wrong cooking temperature. It comes from our loss of the tradition of how to breed, raise and cook poultry. This tradition was with us for thousands of years and has all but disappeared within the past fifty. Follow this series to rediscover the science, art and essence of making an amazing chicken soup!
One of the ingredients most vital to making this possible is schmaltz (aka rendered chicken fat). Jews have been using schmaltz for thousands of years. While non-Jews often used pig fat or butter for cooking, because of kosher dietary restriction on pork and the mixing of milk and meat, Jews have often had to rely on fowl for much of their cooking fat. When Jews moved to Eastern Europe, they no longer had easy access to their traditionally used olive or sesame oils and this increased the need for schmaltz all the more. At some point high demand seemed to spur the highly inhumane practice of force-feeding poultry so they would produce more fat.* This is still done to geese and ducks today to make the French delicacy foie gras, but is no longer specifically used for schmaltz production. Force feeding has been banned in many countries, including Israel, which was only ten years ago one of the world’s largest producers of this product.*
Some of you may be thinking, but schmaltz is so unhealthy with all that saturated fat and cholesterol! Well don’t you worry, because many modern day health practitioners have reversed their views on these most demonized of fats. Scientists have discovered that saturated fats play an integral role in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E & K, and that cholesterol is essential for healthy brain function. Not only that, but because the birds I use are raised on pasture for a long period of time, they eat many delicious greens, and their fat fills with omega 3 fatty acids.* These boast a whole host of health benefits, including inflammation modulation, and they turn the normally white schmaltz to a deep yellow.
Where does one get schmaltz? Many of you can find it in your local kosher market. But this factory farm schmaltz comes from highly unclean and inhumane sources. It also lacks the strong flavor, beautiful yellow color and omega 3s of my pastured version. You can purchase it from KOL Foods or Grow and Behold, where it is sourced from pastured chicken. Even though their intentions are commendable and their pastured product is a definite step in the right direction, their birds are none the less heavily hybridized and are slaughtered much too young to develop the rich flavor and deep yellow color of heritage birds. This brings me to my next and most important ingredient, old chickens. An old chicken is of utmost importance when making chicken soup, but I don’t want to open up this can of beans until my next post so stay tuned for more info!
In the meantime, for most of you who want schmaltz, one of the aforementioned sources will have to suffice. But for those of you who have access to an older heritage chicken (at least one years old) than you’re in luck! When slaughtering these birds you will find a large deposit of beautiful yellow fat under the breastbone surrounding the intestines. Collect & kasher the fat, then render it by simmering over a medium heat and you will have liquid gold! Don’t worry, I’ll have a much more in depth description of how to do this when I post the full recipe at the end of the series.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.