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The chickens of yesteryear arrived bearing giblets

For the Valley News
Published: 12/3/2019 6:23:34 PM
Modified: 12/3/2019 6:23:28 PM

In the beginning, pressed to feed their families on a cavewoman’s budget, our foremothers caught chickens and learned to make soup. Civilization was born, as far as I’m concerned.

And now that we’re finally able to get a chicken into just about every pot, the bird’s missing its most interesting parts.

The joys of a fresh whole chicken once included the wonderful little treasure bag of giblets tucked into its abdominal cavity. In my childhood (not all that long ago), a store-bought chicken came with its heart, lungs (fun to inflate with a straw before they got cooked), gizzard, liver, and — first among equal delights — the neck still clothed in its skin. And nice tasty soon-to-be-succulent feet were properly attached to the drumsticks.

Now our money buys an empty bird. I suspect that everything we’re not getting to enjoy ends up in manufactured food for Fluffy and Fido, and I call that a high crime with no misdemeanor about it. (Notice that processors haven’t the, uh, guts to do that to our Thanksgiving turkeys, though, because there’d be an insurrection if we Americans were deprived of some of the fixin’s for gravy.)

But chicken soup, minus the richness of organ meats and without a traditional helzel, is practically a desecration, and don’t let The New York Times (per Julia Moskin’s “A Superior Chicken Soup;” Nov. 29, 2016) try to convince you otherwise.

Helzel (Yiddish for “little throat”) is sort of a fowl-based, Ashkenazi Jewish version of haggis. Wikipedia says it’s “sometimes called ‘false’ kishke,” which seems harsh but is the literal translation of an alternate Yiddish name. Kishke is stuffed cow intestine, which I was relieved to learn is common to all Central and Eastern European cuisines and can’t be blamed on my people.

My mother, a daughter of immigrants, was more inclined to torture us with ravishing descriptions of what she ate in her own childhood than to cook such mythic meals for us, but she did, thank God, make that soup, including the poor slandered falsa kishke. Mom herself called it a gargeleh, which is another way of saying “little throat” in Yiddish.

Should you find yourself fortunately in possession of all the required components to make yourself the very best soup, do this:

Carefully remove the skin from the chicken neck, and set aside, along with some chicken fat and the liver. Put the chicken, its neck, feet, cleaned gizzard and heart into a large pot, cover with cold water, add salt (see note) to taste and vegetables of your choosing. Bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, take the reserved neck skin and sew it into a little bag with all-cotton thread. Fry some sliced onion in a bit of chicken fat and season to taste with garlic and black pepper. Mix a couple of spoonfuls of matzoh meal into a thick batter with a bit of cold water and add the fried onions. Stuff the little chicken-skin bag with the mixture, stitch the top closed and add to the simmering soup. Cook until the meat is tender, 45 minutes to an hour.

Take the liver, sprinkle with a little kosher salt, broil quickly and enjoy while you’re waiting for the soup. You can of course give it to your favorite child instead.

If you just have a craving for chicken soup, and no access to giblets, try this:

For the soup:

Chicken thighs and drumsticks, bone-in with skin

Garlic (minced, chopped or whole peeled cloves)

Fresh whole peeled ginger

Coarse salt

Turmeric

Whole coriander seeds

For serving:

Thinly-sliced bok choi (leaves and stalks)

Thinly-sliced hot peppers, seeds removed (they’re bad for your liver)

Directions: Add chicken to a large heavy-bottomed pot, skin down, and cook over very low heat until fat begins to render and there’s a fair bit of liquid in the bottom of the pot. Increase heat to medium and cook until skin is golden. Stir occasionally to ensure that the pieces don’t stick to the pot.

Add garlic and a whole piece of ginger to taste, a teaspoonful of turmeric and a teaspoonful of whole coriander seeds. Stir well and let spices become fragrant in the chicken fat and juices. Add cold water to cover and salt to taste; bring to simmer, lower heat and cook until meat is tender and the soup has a beautiful glazed appearance.

Put some sliced bok choi and hot peppers into each individual bowl, and add broth and chicken meat that you’ve pulled off the bones. Eat in good health!

Note: I’m generally not over-precious about ingredients, but I can’t cook or bake with anything except Diamond Kosher Salt. Morton’s is not equivalent. I now order that most basic of all pantry essentials via the internet.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar lives in Lebanon.




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