Aunt Renee’s Signature Chicken Soup
Shared by Julia Turshen
Recipe Roots: Belarus > France > Cuba > Rural Pennsylvania > The Bronx > Brooklyn > Hudson Valley
When food writer Julia Turshen’s aunt Renee passed away in 2005, Julia placed an obituary in the New York Times that read: “I will take care of the soup,” she explains in her cookbook Small Victories. Aunt Renee was “the least boring person I’ve ever known,” Julia says. She carried fake Louis Vuitton bags and told stories about her time spent working at a hair salon in the basement of the building where she lived in Brooklyn. But, it was her soup that stood out to Julia.
That soup is a clear chicken broth finished with pieces of white meat chicken, large knobs of carrots and parsnips, and fresh herbs. It’s “unequivocally” her favorite food she says, and the recipe that graces the cover of her book. “Family recipes are strings that tie generations together and it was and continues to be so important to me that the soup pot still keeps going even after she’s gone,” Julia told us.
It’s also a way to connect with relatives from earlier generations — aunt Renee learned to make the soup from Julia’s grandmother. “So much of the food I enjoy and write about is tied to nostalgia, both actual foods and memories I experienced and ones I long for like meals with my grandparents who I unfortunately never got to meet.”
Her grandparents fled religious persecution in Belarus, making their way to New York through France, Cuba, rural Pennsylvania, The Bronx, and finally settling in Brooklyn where they opened a bakery. “It was a very Jewish bakery, but not a kosher one and it specialized in bread, cakes, and cookies (nothing fancy!),” she says. “It was very much the type of place that provided things that were part of family's routines.”
Aunt Renee’s soup has worked its way into her family routine, particularly during the cold winters where she lives in the Hudson Valley. “I always make more than my wife and I can eat, so we can have it for a few days (or I'll often freeze portions so we can defrost them and enjoy whenever we want),” she tells us.
The broth is easily adapted. In her cookbook, there are suggestions for turning it into Thai chicken soup and Italian wedding soup. And, when we first came across a bowl of it on Julia’s Instagram account, it was finished with kreplach. But, she says, “I honestly just love it plain and simple with chicken, carrots, and parsnips.” Us too, Julia.
Aunt Renee's Chicken Soup
Serves: 6 to 8
Time: 4 hours
1 4 lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces, (2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 thighs, and 2 legs), backbone reserved
1 lb. chicken wings
2 large yellow onions, unpeeled, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, halved horizontally so that the cloves are exposed
1 handful fresh Italian parsley sprigs, stems reserved and leaves finely chopped
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 quarts water
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 handful roughly chopped fresh dill
1. In the largest pot you have, combine the chicken pieces, chicken wings, onions, celery, garlic, parsley stems, peppercorns, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Add half of the carrots to the pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the top, until the chicken breasts are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
2. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts from the pot and set them aside in a bowl. Continue simmering the stock, stirring it every so often and skimming any foam that rises to the top, until everything in the pot has given up all of its structural integrity (the vegetables should be totally soft and the chicken should look well past its prime—this is all great, it means these things have given all of their flavor to the water) and the stock is a rich golden color, about 3 hours.
3. While the stock is simmering, let the chicken breasts cool to room temperature, and then discard the skin, remove the meat from the bones (discard the bones), and shred the meat. Set the meat aside.
4. Ladle the stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot (or, if you don’t have another large pot, ladle it into a bowl, clean the pot you started with, and return the stock to the pot). Discard the contents of the sieve (everything in it will have given all it can by this point).
5. Bring the stock back to a boil and season to taste with salt (be bold, it will need quite a bit!). Add the remaining carrots and the parsnips, lower the heat, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
6. Add the reserved chicken breast meat to the soup and let it warm up for a minute or two. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top each with some of the chopped parsley and dill. Serve immediately.
Chef’s Note: This soup is even better the next day. Do not discard the hardened fat that will have formed on top after the soup has been refrigerated. The rich pools of chicken fat on top of your soup are essential (at least in my book, but no hard feelings if you would rather discard the fat).