Here is our homemade Hungarian chicken soup recipe, the way I learnt it from my grandmother who learnt it from her mother, who learnt it from her mother, so for us it is the ‘perfect Hungarian chicken soup’. This recipe is our family heritage recipe. My great grandmother is 105 years old (at the time of writing in 2012), and we would always gobble up the best Hungarian chicken soups made by her. But her chickens were really free range, in the old fashioned sense of the word: running freely, eating worms, etc. but also being fed – in Egyek, a small rural village in Hungary (in the county of Hajdu Bihar).
Hope you will like the photos of the soup recipe – illustrating the chicken soup varieties made by Hungarian housewives of various regions in Hungary! You can also see which is my favourite Hungarian recipe website: no question, No Salty! (nosalty.hu)
As you can see I am a huge fan of chicken soup, the smell and the look of Eastern European chicken soup with lots of beautiful vegetables, makes me feel instantly at home. There is nothing more welcoming than a great bowl of chicken soup on a cold day with shiny golden rings on the surface, clear rich soup with a colourful array of vegetables.
Many families in Eastern Europe tend to use the less attractive parts of the chickenfor a good chicken soup. You do not have to if you cannot even bear the thought of cooking the gizzard or the heart of the chicken or the neck or the testicles of the rooster…
My grandma would occasionally mix chicken pieces (chicken legs, breast, the back of the chicken, gizzard, wings, even the lower part of the legs and the neck of the chicken) with pork or beef pieces and cook them with the bones too to make them stronger in winter time when we need more minerals and other tasty pieces for a better health condition.
Ingredients of the Hungarian Chicken Soup
For our family style home made Hungarian chicken soup recipe you will need the following ingredients (if you cannot find all, do not worry, you can still cook an excellent chicken soup in Eastern European style!)
The chicken soup is made with almost all available vegetables, most typically 1 pot of Eastern European chicken soup (consequently Hungarian chicken soup) goes with
1 whole chicken (OK, I admit it, my granny would cook the head of the chicken too… as I don’t get these parts at the supermarkets or even at butchers nowadays, I only cook thighs, the back and the wings, but the cheap chicken back makes the soup really good, believe me). Besides the chicken (cheer-keh) or hen (tiook), you will need:
- 1 onion
- 1 tomato
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1-2 peppers (the Hungarian ball peppers are half size of the big supermarket green / red / orange peppers and are pale yellow with thinner skin, but with a very nice characteristic taste). Warning: when the chick soup is ready, take out the peppers carefully as the seeds can make the soup bitter. If you are not an experienced cook, use the peppers with the seeds cut out in advance, rather than a whole pepper.
- 4 carrots (in our family, everyone wants to have more carrots in the soup. You can try to cook it with more, but it will make the soup too sweet)
- 3 parsnips,
- 5 stalks of flat parsley (with the leaves),
- 1 celeriac (the root part of the celery stalk) – if you cannot get celeriac in your shop, just use 4-5 stalks and remove it when the chicken soup has been cooked
- 1 kohlrabi (optional)
- 2-3 mushrooms (optional).
- potato: some housewives also put a potato into the pot, it is optional
- cauliflower (optional)
- a little piece of savoy cabbage (1-2 leaves – optional)
- seasoning: the seasoning is usually salt and pepper, and many Hungarians use bouillon or soup stock cubes to add more flavour (especially if there is not enough fresh vegetables available). Some Hungarians use a bit of paprika as a colouring (optional: but if you do use paprika, please note that using Hungarian paprika is a must if you are making Hungarian dishes, as any other paprika tastes something else than Hungarian paprika). Bay leaves (2-3 leaves) – optional. Ground (!) caraway seeds – optional.
- if you want to make a meat soup rather than a chicken soup, you can use 3-4 types of meats, like 1 turkey thigh, 2 chicken backs, a handful of beef (possibly with the bone) and a half pound pork (with bones). Otherwise, chicken is perfectly enough.
How to Cook Hungarian Chicken Soup?
If you have the fresh chicken and the fresh vegetables all in your kitchen, we can start cooking. You will need a big pot of about 4-5 litres (0.9 – 1 gallons). That is huge, you might say, but you can always freeze the soup if it is too much for you: and you will have your ever best bouillon readily waiting for you in the freezer!
Prepare the vegetables for cooking: let’s go through all the ingredients of the Hungarian chicken soup one by one:
- 1 onion: peel and wash
- 1 tomato: just wash (but you can peel it too)
- 1-3 cloves of garlic: peel and wash
- 1-2 peppers: if you are an advanced cook, just wash the peppers and make sure they stay in one throughout the cooking. If you are not an experienced cook, use the peppers with the seeds cut out in advance, rather than a whole pepper. When the chicken soup is done, lift out the pepper carefully and throw it in your compost waste.
- 4 carrots: peel and wash, we usually do not slice as the cooking time is quite long and the slices would be a mash
- 3 parsnips: peel and wash, we usually do not slice as the cooking time is quite long and the slices would be a mash
- 5 stalks of flat parsley (with the leaves), washed
- 1 celeriac (the root part of the celery stalk) – peel and wash, cut in half. If you cannot get the ball shaped root celeriac in your grocery store, just use 4-5 celery stalks and remove them when the chicken soup has been cooked
- 1 kohlrabi (optional) peel and wash, cut in half
- 2-3 mushrooms (optional). peel and wash
Prepare the chicken
The best bet is to buy a whole chicken, unless you feel nausea by the thought of touching anything but the pre-packed chicken thighs or wings. If you are OK to deal with a whole chicken, you can just wash it without taking it apart (assuming you have a pre-cleaned chicken, no intestines, etc.). If you are on a diet, or you do not like greasy meals, you can skin the chicken, but it will take away those nice rich golden rings from the top.
Cooking the chicken
Place the chicken or chicken (and meat) pieces in the 4-5 litre pot and fill it up with cold water. Add the salt and pepper (and the bouillon and bay leaves if you are using them). As for the water: do not fill the pot to the brim, instead, leave about 5-8 cm (2-3 inches) free at the top as the vegetables will need some room too.
Place the cleaned vegetables in the pot too after a few minutes. Bring it to the boil then let it gently simmer for about 2-3 hours on a low heat (1-2 on my cooker where the max is 6-7). As we say in Hungarian, the liquid of the chicken soup should be ‘pearling’ forming little ‘pearls’ of bubbles, but not heavily boiling. This is a slow cooking soup with lots of benefits. It is gorgeous and all you have to do is cleaning a couple of vegetables then letting the whole soup cook. See more tips below how to make Hungarian chicken soup in a homemade fashion.
Cooking the Pasta for the Hungarian Chicken Soup
Try to pick some pasta that is of elegant small pieces. I would warmly recommend using Hungarian pasta but obviously it is not exported to many countries, so you cannot enjoy this delicious soup pasta specialty easily. The closest I have found in the UK (not in the US though) is a Polish soup pasta in the shape of a string (tiny thin strings, with only a few minutes cooking time).
The pasta that we prefer to use in our family is called gooseneck pasta (ludgege) or snailshell (csiga) pasta. Our best pasta came from my great-grandmother, Nano, until she could make it into her 90s (now being over a 100 years old she cannot see well enough to make these miniature beauties). In the photo you can see the tiny simple tools for making Hungarian gooseneck pasta. You can buy this kind of classic soup pasta in Hungarian grocery shops (not in all). You can read some of the pasta history on IzsakiTeszta.hu
Another soup pasta Hungarians like is the simple string (like the Polish) or the one called ‘mulberry tree leaf’ (eperlevel).
How long do you cook the chicken soup?
Check your soup after half an hour / an hour: did it lose a lot of liquid? Then add some more. Is everything cooked? If you have not sliced up your vegetables (according to the instructions above), and you are cooking bigger chunks of meat, you will surely need another hour or so to have your soup cooked. However, if you are only cooking small chicken parts and your vegetables are in smaller pieces, you Hungarian chicken soup may be ready in 1.5 hours.
Check your soup after 2 hours: is everything OK? Is there enough liquid? Are the vegetables nicely formed (not falling apart)?
After about 2.5-3 hours if all the vegetables are soft, your soup is done – supposing that you are cooking a whole chicken and whole vegetables.
You can serve it as it is, or, as many Hungarian housewives do, you can gently (really gently) lift the meats and vegetables out and place them on a separate plate. Then pour the soup through a sieve to get a more consistent, clearer liquid (it is great for freezing too). Some people throw away the ‘unnecessary vegetables':
- cooked pepper is usually inedible, and the seedy part is quite bitter – remove it as it is, as a whole pepper, otherwise the seedy part will fall apart and ruin your fantastic, amazing and awesome Hungarian chicken soup
- cooked onion: thrown away by some, while others like it and eat it (like my husband) (I don’t)
- cooked tomato: thrown away by some, while others like it and eat it (like me) (my husband doesn’t)
- cooked celeriac: thrown away by some, while others like it and eat it (like me) (my husband doesn’t)
- etc. It is totally up to you and your guest, so it is really good to serve them nicely arranged on a plate. Most would happily have a combo of the soup, the carrots, the meat and the soup pasta. I like mine with the cooked parsley and tomato. You can serve the soup with a bit of tomato puree too (just the tip of the spoon, not much!)
Miscellaneous tips for the best Hungarian Chicken Soup Recipe:
- make sure the chicken you buy is fresh, possibly organic, free range chicken – the higher the quality of the chicken meat the higher the quality of your chicken soup too
- make sure that the fat gland / oil gland of the chicken’s tail has been removed by the butcher – if not, cut it out yourself: it is a soft oily cushion at the lower end of the chicken’s back.
- do not cook old hens, their meat is chewy and will make the soup bad. If you are not sure, just buy organic chicken (a whole chicken)
- do expect to get some / much froth forming on top of the chicken soup pot. It is not a lovely sight, but do not start to clear it away: it is ugly, I admit it, but it will naturally go away as the Hungarian chicken soup keeps cooking (the froth will subside)
- do not cook the soup on a big heat, just at a moderate heat (usually I cook it at a setting of 1 or 2 out of 6-7)
- many magyar housewives filter the soup at the end. You don’t have to but it definitely has its advantages (one thing is a must though: removing the pepper as a whole carefully!)
- some Hungarians cook the soup pasta in the soup. I do not, because I usually put a box of the soup into the freezer. I prefer to cook the soup pasta separately for this very reason. It is also easier to filter the soup if the pasta is cooked in a separate bowl. (light tiny pasta pieces, if you cannot get Hungarian soup pasta in your shop, try to buy some Polish pasta)
- you can serve the soup with some flat leaf parsley pieces as a decor
- we do not use fancy spices like thyme, marjoram, oregano, etc. in the soup. Neither do we use vegetables like broccoli, leek in the classic Hungarian chicken soup recipe, but I am sure it wouldn’t hurt.