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Jewish Penicillin: How do you cook the onions in your chicken soup?

My husband and I have different childhood chicken soup experiences: my mom always left the skin on the onions and cooked yellow onions whole stuck with cloves in the soup (said the skin gave both flavor and color) - my husband's mom cooked small peeled pearl onions in her soup. we both decided we prefer my mom's approach. what's your memory?

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  1. My mother didn't make it, but I do and I agree with your mom (minus the clove)!!

    1. I have to say... I've never even heard of this Jewish Penicillin, but the whole onion with cloves sounds fantastic in a soup!

      3 Replies
      1. re: GulaSocordia

        Both of my grandmothers used whole yellow onions with the skin on and so do I. No cloves, though.

        1. re: GulaSocordia

          I am curious, where do you live?

          We always do whole onions, no cloves.

          1. re: magiesmom

            For my stocks, I use quartered onions, with skins. If I add shallot, the skin stays on as well. My Jewish mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were more into convenience foods. They used bouillon cubes or canned broths. I much prefer making stocks from scratch. I use cloves as well, but just toss them into the pot. I live in Canada but my Jewish ancestry is Russian and Lithuanian.

        2. Whole onion, with or without skin and NO CLOVES. Other ingredients are carrots, garlic, celery, dill, parsley and parsnips. And, of course, chicken with bones, extra wings if you have them and water just to cover.

          8 Replies
          1. re: EllenMM

            Ellen is obviously my long-lost sister, because that's exactly how my mom made it too.

            1. re: acgold7

              "Ellen is obviously my long-lost sister"


              1. re: ButterYum

                when there was money, my mom used a whole kosher pullet, usually cut in 6 or 8 pieces - carrots, parnsip, celery with the tops, dill, parsley, onion with cloves, salt and pepper - never garlic (which she used copiously and to great effect in making trash fish like carp into a gourmet meal). That old chicken yielded the most tender and tasty meat, served with her horseradish. Yum!!

                1. re: teezeetoo

                  A pullet is a young, only partially grown chicken, not an old one.

                  1. re: JMF

                    your right JMF - that's why I remember it as an "occasional" add-on because I believe the "old lady hen" was called a fowl and it was cheaper than the pullets - but nothing was tastier than the tender pullet in a chicken soup!

                    1. re: JMF

                      Well, technically, as hens go, they're young, under a year old.... which seems young until you consider that the average supermarket chicken is only about six weeks old. So compared to "normal" chickens, they're quite old and have much more pronounced flavor. Mom used them exclusively and I did once until I figured out how hard they were to find and how expensive they've become.

                      My Mom would never have put cloves or bay leaves in soup... for her, these were things that the "goys" used....

                1. re: EllenMM

                  Thanks for all the sisterly support. Perhaps this is a reminder that it's chicken soup weather.

                2. Onions and cloves give a really lovely flavor to soups and stews and braises.

                  My mom made chicken soup by opening a red-and-white can....

                  I usually throw the peels in with the quartered onions if I'm just making stock (yes, especially for color - onion skin is a great all-natural dye) -- but if I'm going directly to soup, I peel them. and cut them into smaller pieces.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Sounds like my mom. Surprisingly I make all my own soup. My fiancé has a couple of cans of his favorites for when he is sick.

                  2. Grandma B made her chicken soup by first adding water and salt and the chicken to the pot and letting the bird get a jump start on cooking. Then, she added a large dice of carrot, yellow onion (no peel) turnips, garlic cloves and fresh dill stalks until the vegetables were tender and the bird was cooked. The chicken was deboned and shredded while a pot of water boiled for noodles. Egg noodles. The noodles never went in the chicken pot. She would serve us a bowl by placing the pre cooked room temp noodles in your bowl cover it with hot soup broth and add the shredded chicken portion on top. I always added black pepper for kick. Basic chicken noodle soup, not a bit of vegetable was actually in your bowl. Comforting and a simple dish.

                    I've never heard of adding whole cloves, but I'm def. going to give that studded onion/clove thing a go in the next pot of chicken soup I prepare.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: HillJ

                      it's pretty common in red-meat (pork and beef, particularly) braises, but I've never tried it in chicken. In beef dishes, it adds a nice dimension of flavor -- but you can't taste it and identify it as cloves, but you can tell when it's not there.(kind of like bay...)

                      Let us know how it goes.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Will do. On winter mornings in NJ a cup of soup (just broth even) is my breakfast...and the clove/onion thing would be a wonderful pick me up before a bike ride!

                    2. my memory is whole onions (no cloves but sounds good, may have to try that) - well I guess skin on onions that were halved to be exact. . . .

                      now that I'm in charge of my own "penicillin" (which I just made and need) - I really up the garlic and now add grated ginger at the end. It isn't my "normal" routine but I find that when my head is stuffed, I love it that way.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: thimes

                        A lot of folks believe the garlic is good for your immune system, too.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          My Mom was a believer...and I'd never doubt the word of Mom.

                      2. I'm a shiksa, but I do make a lot of soups. Unless I am making just stock, I always saute my veggies first. It brings out a sweetness and depth of flavor that I like. Mom never did, though, and she made great soups. She was of Russian/German heritage. Never saw her put onions in with their skins on.

                        1. For the stock I use whole onions cut in half as I agree they add a nice color. I also use a whole head of garlic cut in half, celery, carrots, thyme, ginger root, bay leaf and tons of bones and tips I stock pile in the freezer.

                          For the actual soup I like to sauté chopped onions in butter, add some sliced carrots and celery and sauté some more. After a bit I will add garlic, pinch of red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant. I add that all to my stock along with cooked chicken and maybe some turnips or parsnip. I let that simmer and then depending on the starch I will add one of the following-rice, noodles or matzo balls.

                          1. Diced onions sauteed in olive oil, or schmaltz if is available before adding onions to the chicken stock. Olive oil is readily available in our home because we are a combination of Hebraic and Italian cultures.

                            Vivi, ama, ridi e specialmente mangia bene (Live, love, laugh and especially eat well).

                            Buon appetito!

                            1. Have discovered that whole allspice are subtly different (and to my taste better) than cloves for chicken soup.

                              1. Just curious - why leave the skins on? Do they add flavor?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: wincountrygirl

                                  The onion skins are mostly for color...

                                  1. re: Gio

                                    onion skins give things (including cotton and wool) a lovely golden-brown color.