Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chicken Soup with Spinach and Pelmeni

I think making chicken stock is pretty easy. Admittedly, I’m probably doing it all wrong, but that doesn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you, either. Chicken stock, according to the super chefs quoted in this San Francisco Chronicle article, is a Herculean task. I wouldn’t pit my stock against Thomas Keller’s, but I think my amateur efforts a) taste really good, and b) are reasonably low-maintenance.

I actually make two types of stock. The first is what I call “American” chicken stock, based on recipes I gleaned from cookbooks and blogs. This involves simmering chicken parts or roasted chicken carcasses with aromatics for 3-4 hours. I often freeze batches of this to use in stews, sauces and pureed soups. The other type is Russian chicken stock (broth, if you want to split hairs) as my mother makes it, and which I once vaguely described here. This involves simmering a whole chicken in a pot with just a few aromatics added toward the end of the cooking time. Russian home cooks don't really make chicken stock for later use; it's usually served immediately as part of a meal. My mom puts chunks of the cooked chicken and either cooked rice or tiny pasta shells in a bowl, tops with ladlefuls of stock, and garnishes with chopped dill and parsley. This type of stock is richer and more concentrated than my American version. It's also my submission to the comfort-food themed Monthly Mingle over at What’s For Lunch Honey.

The last time I made my mom’s chicken stock I decided to forgo the rice and chicken meat for pelmeni and spinach. Pelmeni are Russian meat dumplings, not unlike ravioli or tortellini. Frozen pelmeni are sold in every Eastern European grocery. It’s a pleasure to slurp fat, brothy dumplings and silky spinach out of an oversize café au lait cup a cold January weekend.


1. Take a whole chicken (between 3 and 4 pounds) and put it in a stock pot or a Dutch oven. Cover with cold water. On medium-high heat, with the pot partially covered, bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water begins to boil, turn the heat down to a very low simmer.

2. At this point, you will need to skim the foam that will form on the surface. Get a slotted spoon and a bowl and remove the foam every 4-5 minutes for 20 to 25 minutes. You will have murky, grimy-looking stock if you skip this step. This is by far the hardest part of this exercise; the rest is easy.

3. Once foam stops forming, add 1 small, peeled onion, cut in half, a couple of bay leaves, and a handful of black peppercorns to the pot. Then let the chicken simmer for about an hour and a half. (If you must have your chicken rare, take it out of the pot as soon as it’s cooked through. Remove most of the meat when the chicken is cool enough to handle; add the bones back in and keep simmering.)

4. In the meantime, finely dice 2 medium carrots, a large celery stalk and two cloves of garlic. Twenty minutes before time’s up, add the celery and carrots to the pot; keep simmering until the vegetables are soft. At about 90 minutes from the time the stock came to a boil, carefully remove the chicken from the pot but don’t turn off the heat.

5. Add the minced garlic and kosher salt to taste to the stock; stir. Keep in mind that salt really bring out the flavor in stock.

6. Add pelmeni to the pot. Don’t add more than you’re planning to eat—leftover dumplings will get soggy. Five-six dumplings per serving should be enough. A few minutes before the pelmeni are done-- they will take about 8 minutes-- stir in a couple of cups of baby spinach leaves. I love spinach; so I usually add more, but it’s up to you.

7. When the spinach is wilted and the pelmeni are cooked, remove the onion and turn off the heat. Serve. This is great topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

8. Eat the cooked chicken with leftover stock ,or use for blinchiki or hachepouri.


Yelena said...

I have really enjoyed reading your blog- it brings back my nostalgia for the foods of the Soviet Union. We actually make Russian style broth in a slightly different way, adding carrot and onion after the foam subsides, then about 15 minutes until the broth is fully cooked, we add green onions, dill and sometimes parsley. After the soup is cooked, we remove everything, strain the broth and serve garnished with chopped dill and scallion.

Anyway, keep up the great work and I would definitely keep including the personal anecdotes. They really help to tie the recipes together and make them unique as well as putting a face on a period of history that is now gone. Thanks again!

Yulinka said...

Yelena--Thanks for your kind comment. Glad you like the blog! Broth with scallions and herbs sounds really good. I may try it next time.

MeetaK said...

I enjoy a good soup as comfy food and this looks great!

Yulinka said...


MisbehavinAngel said...

My Father is from Russia, my Grandma never spoke anything but broken Russian/German. I grew up in Germany but live in US now. I love to cook, and lately I have been just cooking more Russian foods than anything. I always like to research recipes on the internet, on how to improve, if they should be improved. I ran across your blog, I was thinking of making pelmeni tomorrow. I have been making pelmeni for 35 years, yet every now and then I think I might be able to change recipe or find more info on
I love to find blogs like yours, because it tells me there are still young women out there who take the time to cook a good and hearty meal. Pelmeni is a labor of love, and yours look so delicious. It also encourages other young women to cook. And I did learn a trick from you, adding spinach...I love spinach in any shape or form, and I also cook a lot of Greek and Turkish foods with spinach recipes...
I have never thought of adding the spinach to my broth...Bravo you stumped an old kitchen maid!

Yulinka said...

Misbehavinangel--I have to admit that I don't make my own pelmeni. I buy them at the Russian store. I hope you still like me. :)

But I do make my own chicken stock, which should count for something.

MisbehavinAngel said...

Ha, you are funny. Of course it counts for something.
I have bought ravioli in the past, but there is just no substitute for homemade pelmeni/vareniki. And while I often dive in enthusiastically, after a few hours I wish I had chosen something different to cook. Then I just think of all the meals I will have, and it carries me through to the end. And the steaming plate of pelmeni in front of just icing on the cake.
In honor of you I will add some spinach in my broth today..I am so looking forward to that.

And I love Nutella...not in my pelmeni

My your kitchen utensils sing a happy song today!

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