An Ode to a Classic Grandma-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

In the days of our analog kitchen lives—before we had digital access to millions of recipes—when we wanted to make a particular dish, we relied on cookbooks we liked or people we knew. Most recipes came from family and friends, and soup was always one of the most significant, versatile, and beloved hand-me-downs. This was especially true of old-world versions like chowders, pasta fagioli, borscht, tomato soup—and the most revered of all heritage recipes, chicken soup.

Inherited chicken soup recipes, from Vietnamese pho to Italian stracciatella, are either connected to a cook’s family background or a window into their own appetite. And they usually come with a story attached. (To honor her departed aunt Renee’s chicken soup, the cookbook author Julia Turshen placed an obituary in the New York Times that read simply, “I will take care of the soup.”)

Beyond flavor, chicken soup packs a double emotional whammy: Making it is meditative, and eating it is reflective. Here is the story of two cousins ​​who shared a belief that our world needs more chicken soup—and then did something about it.

By Valerie Zweig as told to Francine Maroukian

Five years ago, I got laryngitis twice in six weeks.

I knew what I needed.

Although there’s a supermarket on the ground floor of my apartment building, I wasn’t well enough to shop for ingredients, stand in line, and then make my own chicken broth. So I went to a local restaurant and showed them a note asking if I could order their noodle soup. I drank the decent broth, but I was left wishing for a curative and comforting bowl of matzah ball soup.

No one could deliver what I needed. And it was so basic: I wasn’t feeling well. I needed homemade broth and fluffy matzo balls brought to me waiting at home in my pj’s. Was that so hard? At Passover dinner with my family that year, I was telling this story, and it hit me: I knew I wasn’t the only person who had this need (good soup when you’re sick) coupled with that paradoxical experience (surprising difficulty) getting it).

“I have a crazy idea,” I said to my cousin Taryn. “Why don’t we go into the chicken soup business?”

I had gone to culinary school after college, using my knowledge to promote chefs and restaurants, and later develop brands, concepts and culinary programs for restaurants and hotels around the world. Taryn also had a restaurant background, focusing on fast-causal concepts and food-and-beverage programs for sports and entertainment venues. Together we not only had foundational hospitality-industry skills, we understood how the food business works and what people expect from their hospitality experience.

Most important was that Taryn and I had grown up sharing big family meals and understood the comfort and joy that connecting over food can bring. Recreating those shared memories became our mission.

We were about to embark on a delivery business built around a dish that has a lot of pressure attached to it: People don’t order chicken soup just because they’re hungry. There’s usually something else going on. Maybe they’re tired, or feeling the need for some TLC. Maybe they’re heartbroken or homesick. Maybe they’re seriously under the weather.

The soup needs to make the problem better, whatever it is.

And because gifting was part of our vision, there was the extra pressure of that. A delivery of chicken soup is a way to say, I want to comfort you. So we knew we had to make soups that could stand up to that: Is this good enough to send to someone you love?

We named our original delivery business Prescription Chicken, because chicken soup has the power to make people feel better. (Our bags are even printed to look like doctors’ prescriptions.) When we launched a line of soups to sell in grocery stores, we called it Chix Soup Co. That’s our way of communicating that we’re a couple of chicks running a company that only makes chicken soup, so you can bet we’re obsessed with making the best.

Although we’ve expanded production to fill the need for a homemade-style chicken soup in premium specialty markets across the country, our delivery efforts in our hometown of Washington, DC will always be the heart of our business. During the initial Covid crisis, it was support from our local community that made it possible for us to deliver more than one thousand chicken soup meals to health care workers.

We make our soup at a much larger volume these days, but the tenets are the same. There’s a romantic notion about a pot of soup bubbling away on a stove, and while our early, experimental years are behind us, we build that bubbling-pot feeling into every batch. This is scrappy coking! Bones? You bet. Whole veggies, peels and all—throw them in. Skins, stems, ends—the magic comes from allowing these staple ingredients time to blend and develop.

Making chicken soup is not an exact science. You get out of the way and let the ingredients do their work over the long, slow simmer. And over time, you might find yourself tweaking the recipe reflecting your own idea of ​​what tastes good.

That’s one way you know when the soup is done: When—after two or three hours, depending upon the efficiency of the stock pot, your stove, the state of the vegetables—tastes like your idea of ​​how chicken soup should taste.

Valerie and Taryn’s Grandma-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

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