Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Can’t Make Chicken Soup


Although I never really gave it much thought, I thought that I could make chicken soup because it seemed pretty straightforward to me; chicken, water, vegetables, cook over a low flame. Wasn't that it? Was there more? Obviously, there may be.

Today was my epiphany on chicken soup making. Standing in a small deli, waiting for my Gaspé lox, the conversation turned, quite innocently, to chicken soup since it was a dreary, rainy day. I asked, never knowing what was coming, how that deli made their chicken soup; did they use bones? I asked about the bones because someone had told me that's the way you make chicken soup; you cook chicken bones for hours and hours and then you have soup to which you add matzoh balls. Okay, seems like all I was asking was for a few simple recipe tips but what I got was a verbal shellacking.

"You think you use a whole chicken in chicken soup," the guy shot back as he gracefully pulled his long knife through a series of pastrami on rye sandwiches. "You don't use chickens because that would be fatty. You'll use the necks, backs and whatever else you can find and then you cook it for hours and hours. We make enough chicken soup for you to bathe in every day. We have a 50 gallon pot that is cooking every single day. That's how you make chicken soup." He gave me enough looks with raised eyebrow that I knew I was treading on thin ice.

Trying to bring the conversation around to a more pleasant tone, I told him an experience I had had at a dinner party with a particular chicken soup that look like a very dark beef bouillon. Yes, they had matzoh balls. He looked again at me and said, "Yeah, it turns brown."

The luck of the Irish must have been with me just then because a woman came in and politely asked if she could just have a small container of chicken soup with one matzoh ball,  no noodles.  Oh, the joy of it all as I watched him dip the ladle into the container and draw out soup; chicken soup that wasn't brown. Not brown? Hadn’t he just finished telling me that chicken soup, after all that cooking of the bones, resulted in a brown soup?

Here he has just finished lecturing me on the gustatory secrets of making this most necessary of Jewish cuisine and he was serving something totally different. Had he saves the real chicken soup for someone else? Was this the soup that had been cooked for hours and hours with necks and backs and bones? Why was this soup not brown? I know. I did not ask.

The lox had been sliced, wrapped and was ready for the money exchange with another employee who didn't question anything about chicken soup or conversation. It was a money exchange and that was it. He was pleasant, wished me a good day and the woman took her chicken soup with one matzoh ball, no noodles and we both left quietly.

Now I am wondering, is chicken soup supposed to be brown or should it be golden? No, he said golden was no good because that was fatty. So did he give this woman a fatty, inferior form of chicken soup? She didn't seem to mind that it wasn't brown. She didn't ask why it was golden yellow. I guess she knew it was okay. But why is he giving me such a hard time? In fact, my friend who was with me and who is Jewish, wanted to chime in that she never saw brown chicken soup. Her grandmother never made brown chicken soup and she threw a whole chicken in.

Okay, I promise never to make chicken soup ever again. No, I promise not to make chicken soup. I’ve never really ever made it and I don't think I'd want to cook it for hours and hours and hours waiting for it to get brown. Yes, he did mention something about a reduction, but I still don't believe that chicken soup should look like some kind of brown water. Always imagined it as I had seen it in other people's homes where vegetables were swimming in a golden broth with one or two huge and wonderful matzo balls waited for me to devour them.

No, I won’t make chicken soup. I have been warned.