This week is the Jewish festival of Passover. Passover is comparable to a Jewish Christmas, in that it’s the one holiday where even tenuous Jews get around to having dinner together, nibbling a sheet of matzoh and gratuitously working Yiddish words into the conversation.

While observant Jews are selling their beer for the week and feeding carp into the grinder for gefilte fish, why not celebrate your tenuous Jewish credentials (or make some new ones) with a nice pot of Yiddish grandmother chicken soup? Chicken soup is at the heart of the Jews, along with guilt, and chicken soup is more delicious than guilt.

This recipe is based on my memories of the soup made for me by my own Yiddish grandmother.  Wracked with homesickness in a shoebox apartment in Osaka, I perfected it with the help of the many Yiddish grandmothers of the internet, hunched over their keyboards, typing recipes out one letter at a time.

You will need:

  • Approximately one chicken’s worth of chicken (I like drumsticks) with bones.  Bones are required to turn the soup into a terrifying jelly in the fridge overnight.  I’m not sure why, but this is important.
  • Soup vegetables: carrots, celery or celeriac, onions, potatoes, maybe a parsnip, barley if you’re feeling adventurous. This is not a creative soup: thousands of years of soup expertise say don’t start messing around with snow peas or enoki mushrooms.
  • Fresh dill
  • Salt and pepper
  • About three hours
  1. Put the chicken in a pot and cover it with water and add enough salt to make you worry about your health.  Boil.
  2. The chicken fat will float to the surface; skim it off with a flat spoon as it rises and THROW IT AWAY.  How are you going to get married with that midsection? You don’t need it. (Unless you’re using it to make matzoh balls, which are little balls of heart failure, but traditional and seasonally appropriate and therefore fine.)
  3. While the chicken is boiling, cut your vegetables.  If you’re serving to company, cut them large so you can fish them out and serve them as main course, so it looks like you put in twice the effort.  If it’s just you, cut them to taste.  I like a diced vegetable.
  4. After the chicken has boiled for about an hour and a half, add the vegetables.  Boil gently until everything but the carrot has turned a uniform shade of beige.  You should be able to pull the chicken off the bone by looking at it sternly.
  5. Optional: if you aren’t making a clear broth, I like to pull the chicken out, debone it with a fork and then return it to the pot.
  6. The final and most important step: the dill. Dried dill is OK in cases of desperation, but to make your neighbours hungry and cause visitors to float into your house nose-first on the smell, fresh dill is vital. Add a handful chopped and the rest in (washed) bunch form, to be picked out again after five minutes.

Serve your chicken soup with a sprinkle of fresh dill.

In addition to being cultural and delicious, Yiddish chicken soup is famed for its curative properties.  This may be a property of the antibiotics in the chicken, but if you’re better, who cares.  If sick, do not make the soup yourself; send this recipe to someone else (use the email link to the right) and guilt them into making it for you.