Like many Americans, I have fond memories of family dinners that began with a savory bowl of steaming chicken noodle soup. There’s no mystery to its preparation; the chicken does all the work as it simmers unattended. But there are a few important basics to keep in mind.
Use lots of bony pieces, such as wings and backs, and dark-meat cuts such as legs and thighs. (An acquaintance recently complained that no matter what she does, her soup doesn’t compare with those at restaurants. It turns out that she uses boneless chicken breasts, lots of water and no salt--no wonder her soup lacks flavor.) If your butcher can get you a stewing hen, it will need more time to simmer but will produce a superb soup.
Supporting flavors come from aromatic vegetables--onions, carrots and celery. Garlic is a great addition, as are leeks, parsnips or parsley roots, when you have them. Include a few herbs or spices, such as thyme, bay leaves and parsley stems for the French bouquet garni. Dill gives an Eastern European flavor, ginger root and cilantro an Asian accent and cumin, turmeric and plenty of pepper a Middle Eastern touch.
If you want noodles or rice in your soup, cook them separately so the starch they give off won’t cloud the broth.
Levy is the author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Hungry Minds, 2000).