How to make an all-star chicken soup with just the right amount of salt

The size of the ingredients in Molly Yeh’s “chicken soup with stars” might surprise you


By Molly Yeh, The Forward

The most gratifying requirement of being a Jewish mother is having a chicken soup practice. This soup doesn’t have to be an original recipe or contain secrets that make it the best. It honestly doesn’t even have to be that great — you just need to make it, because no matter what, your kids and your kids’ kids will both need it and love it.

When it came time for me to develop my personal practice, I harked back to a time in middle school when I would bring a red plaid thermos of Campbell’s chicken and stars soup for lunch every single day. Pouring little cups of that steaming hot soup dotted with those soft, comforting noodles in the middle of my school day made me feel like I was cozy at home. Since it wasn’t the “normal” PB and J, it was a one-way ticket to nerddom, but I loved those soupy stars so much more than the idea of sitting at the popular table. (And so my personal brand was born?) These days I make very big, very thick cutout star noodles, as if those tiny noodles of my past have grown up with me.

Sunday afternoons are when I make my soup. It’s my workout rest day, so instead of riding the exercise bike when Bernie takes her nap, I build a stock and get it simmering while I stamp out as many noodle stars as I can before she wakes up. If Bernie’s earliest memory is waking up to a house that smells like chicken soup, I will feel like I have succeeded as a parent.

I load my soup with big slices of vegetables, because vegetables saturated in soup are Bernie’s favorite, and bigger slices are quicker to chop, easier for her to eat with her hands, and less likely to disintegrate into mush if the soup simmers for an extra long time. Like any good Jewish chicken soup, this is heavy on the dill—but the nutmeg and lemon are the sleeper hits, infusing even more depth into an already flawless food. Contrary to some “rules,” I cook my noodles directly in the soup instead of in a separate pot of boiling water, because, well, I honestly like it for all the reasons they tell you not to do it. (The noodles get mushy! The broth gets cloudy!) I love mushy noodles. I love the way the cloudy starch from the noodles thickens the soup so much that I sometimes also dump in any excess dusting flour instead of throwing it out. It makes you feel like you’re at a deli where the soup has been simmering all day long, or even since yesterday. 

Serves 4 to 6

One 3½-pound (1.6-kilogram) whole chicken

2 medium yellow onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped

2 medium parsnips, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 1 cut into ¼-inch slices

3 large carrots, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into ¼-inch slices

3 large celery stalks, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into ¼-inch slices

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 thyme sprigs

6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, 3 whole and 3 chopped

12 dill sprigs, 6 whole and 6 chopped, plus more for serving

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, plus ground black pepper

Kosher salt

Zest and juice of half a lemon

A few passes of freshly grated nutmeg

Egg noodle stars

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 large eggs

¼ cup (60 grams) water

For the soup base, in a large pot, combine the chicken, quartered onion, parsnip chunks, carrot chunks, celery chunks, garlic, thyme, the 3 whole parsley sprigs, the 6 whole dill sprigs, the bay leaves, and the peppercorns. Add cold water to cover and come up just below the top of the pot, about 5 quarts. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, about 1½ hours (or longer if you have the time — up to 6 hours, topping off with more water if the stock dips below the chicken and veggies), skimming off any scum (there won’t be much) and, if desired, some fat.

While the stock simmers, make the stars: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and nutmeg, add the eggs and water and mix to form a dough. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thick, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, and cut out stars with a bite-size star-shaped cookie cutter (or other small cookie cutter!). Dust the stars with flour so they don’t stick together and set them aside on a sheet pan. Reroll the scraps and repeat to use up the rest of the dough. (If you don’t have the patience for all these cutouts, you can also just use a knife to cut long skinny noodles.) Set aside until ready to use.

Carefully strain the stock, discarding all of the solids except for the chicken. You should have 3½ to 4½ quarts of stock. Set the chicken aside to cool briefly while you put together the rest of the soup. Return the strained stock to the pot and bring it to a simmer. Add the chopped onion, sliced parsnip, sliced carrots, sliced celery, chopped parsley, chopped dill, noodles and 1 tablespoon salt, and simmer, covered, until the vegetables and noodles are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the chicken off the bones and chop it into bite-size pieces. Season the chicken with salt and, when the vegetables and noodles are tender, add it to the soup along with the lemon zest and juice, nutmeg, and ground black pepper. Taste and add more salt if needed. This is important: The amount of salt in a chicken soup can mean the difference between unappetizing chicken tea and the elixir of bubbe love that it should be. So don’t skip this step, and don’t rush it either. Taste your soup. If it doesn’t make you smile reflexively, add more salt, about a ½ teaspoon of it, and give it a few good stirs so it can dissolve. Taste and repeat as needed until it tastes good.

Garnish with fresh dill and serve.

As a mushy noodle fan, I store the soup all together and look forward to the next day when the soup will taste even better and the noodles will be even softer. I recognize that not everyone loves a mushy noodle, though, so if you’re in this category and you expect to have leftovers, cook the noodles separately in salted boiling water to your desired doneness and store the drained leftover noodles separately as well. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

From “Home is Where the Eggs Are,” by Molly Yeh. Copyright © 2022 by Molly Rebecca Yeh. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.