This extraordinary chicken soup is one big bowl of COMFORT–inspired by my Southern and Mennonite Grandmothers.
Mary grew up in a German Mennonite Colony in South Dakota. Meals in the colony were communal and every girl old enough to wield a wooden spoon participated in the preparation. My maternal grandmother was a quiet, kind, humble farm girl–and my-oh-my could she COOK.
When I asked her what the noodles were called, she uttered a German word that took me nearly a lifetime to decode. I wrote about that epiphany here. In short, the word was “spaetzle.”
When I was older, she gave me the special wire grater she used to make the noodles. But I was never able to push noodle dough through that grater.
And when she was gone, I regretted not asking her to show me how she made the noodles. The dough must have been very soft, even wet (like spaetzle dough).
My summers with Grandma Maisie in Louisville, Kentucky were magical. She was a devout Catholic, so we attended one church fair after another all summer long. Then one weekend, the church we attended held its own fair. Maisie and several other church women hosted a food booth featuring their mind-blowing Southern Chicken Noodles.
I burnt my tongue badly on those thick, lush, chewy noodles adrift in an intense, almost syrupy chicken stock. And I kept right on eating through the pain. The texture of those noodles has haunted me ever since.
How did they get that texture? After a delay of decades, and then some recent research, I found the answer in something called a dumpling noodle.
Grandma Mary and Grandma Maisie, thank you for gracing my life with your wonderful spirits. And for encouraging and inspiring my love for cooking. This soup is for you both.
The absolute best chicken soup in the known universe. Even many decades later, my memories of this soup are wonderfully vivid. There is no soup in the world more delicious, more nourishing, or more comforting.
Advance Prep Stock can be made a day or more ahead and boiled noodles a day ahead. Noodles can also be prepared, rolled, and then frozen if desired.
Ingredient Note I used to remove all fat from my chicken stock and then wonder why it didn’t taste as spectacular as my grandmother’s chicken stock. Well duh. The flavor is in the fat. Don’t remove it.
Quantity Note Although making homemade stock takes little effort, it does take time. So I always make more than I need for any one recipe and freeze the remainder in 1-qurt freezer bags. The recipe below will yield about 4-5 quarts of stock. You’ll need only 2- 2½ quarts for this soup. Decant and freeze the remainder for another use.
5 pounds chicken backs and necks
1 large onion, halved and then cut into eight chunks, skin and all.
4 large carrots, trimmed and roughly chopped
4 celery ribs, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
cold water to cover
fine sea salt, to taste
2 whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned
2½ cups (11 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced into rounds (8 ounces prepared)
2 large ribs celery, trimmed and slices (8 ounces prepared)
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped celery leaf
- To make Chicken Broth, in an 8-quart stockpot, add chicken, onion, carrots, celery, and peppercorns. Cover with cold water and slowly bring to a bare simmer.
- Over the next ½ hour or so, skim the top of the stock of the white, foamy albumin particles that rise to the surface. These will cloud the stock if not removed.
- After skimming, partially cover, and simmer slowly for about 2 hours, replenishing occasionally with additional water if necessary.
- When there is no longer any flavor remaining in the chicken or vegetables, remove from the heat, and let cool.
- Strain through a triple-mesh strainer into a clean container.
- To make Poached Chicken, in a medium saucepan, add chicken breasts and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer, cover and remove from the heat. The chicken should cook through as the water cools. Remove from water, shred, and reserve. Add the strained water to the chicken stock.
- To make Dumpling Noodles, in a small mixing bowl, whisk milk, eggs, butter, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, add flour, make a well in the center, and pour the milk and egg mixture into the well. Stir with a large wooden spoon until a shaggy mass forms.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean counter-top, and knead for 5-6 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Let rest for 15 minutes, and then with a heavy rolling pin, roll out to an 8- by 16-inch rectangle, or larger if possible. The dough should be about 1/8-inch thick.
- Let rest 15 minutes, and then, using a pizza cutter and an 18-inch ruler, cut as many ¼-inch wide strips as you can. Now cut the strips crosswise in to 2-3-inch lengths.
- Let rest 15 minutes while you bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- To test the elasticity of the noodles, pick up a noodle and pull it as far as you can from both ends. It should easily stretch to about 4 times its original length. If it won’t stretch, let it rest for a while longer.
- To boil noodles, stretch each one as described in Step 8, and then drop it into the boiling water. Continue quickly until you have about half the noodles in the water. Boil for 3 minutes and then remove to a bowl with a large strainer. Add a few tablespoons of the prepared chicken stock to keep the noodles from sticking.
- Continue with the remainder of the noodles.
- To finish soup, in an 8-quart pot, add 2-2½ quarts of Chicken Stock. Add boiled noodles, carrots, celery, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, Ladle stock, noodles, and vegetables into wide soup bowls, and garnish with parsley and celery leaf, and pepper.
Makes about 4 quarts soup; serves 6-8.
Copyright 2016 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.