Skimming the scum

Chicken soup is to the Jews what the blood of Christ is to the Catholics. You cannot come from the Russian Diaspora without knowing about the bird of youth.
Mrs Gold, in 1953, took her big Kosher hen into the public baths in Whitechapel, and behind closed doors scrubbed it under the hot water tap. Then, like my mother, would take the clean bird home schlump it on her knee and pull out the feathers, one by one. The naked fowl was then carried to the gas stove and turned round and round over a fierce flame like a chicken on a spit, until the last feather had been incinerated, the smell of singed plumage is still one of my olfactory favourites.
Every Jewish cook will say their chicken soup is better than yours, every Jewish chef will have their own ritual passed down from the ancestors, my mother was born in 1922 so her broth came from the 1890’s and beyond. I’ve written endlessly about the recipe and the simplicity of it.
1 big onion
1 big carrot
2 sticks of celery
1 big squashy tomato
1 bunch of parsley.
Salt and pepper
The big bird is placed in a big saucepan.The big bird is covered with clean water. The water is brought to the boil and then, wearing an apron and using a big silver soup spoon, ( which I still have and use every day ) the skimming begins. As the water boils scum and debris rises to the surface, SHAH it off. Add a little water, bring back to the boil and SHAH off the protein. Add a little water bring back to the boil and SHAH off the fat. Keep SHAHING until the water is as clear as the River Sluch flowing from Salihorsk through to Slutsk, then add all the other ingredients. When the water starts to bubble place the big bird in the big saucepan on the back burner, turn the light down to the lowest it will go and cook for at least four and half hours. Serve with ‘cnadles’ -matzo meal dumplings – or ‘lock shun’ – vermicelli – or soft cholla bread or on it’s own, slurp that hot Jewish penicillin and wish for long life.
Now the theory is the more you SHAH the cleaner the soup will be. The longer you take to patiently spoon away the fat, the sweeter the broth will be.
Every culture has learnt how to patiently stand over a steaming pot. The Italians say that Risotto requires patience and opera, lovingly adding stock into the rice and stirring gently, when the liquid is absorbed another ladle full of stock is added and the gentle stirring continues. A sag-aloo requires a contemplative relationship with the herbs, spices, spinach and potatoes. Even a cauliflower cheese requires a loving spoonful of flour as the grated cheddar oozes into the sauce. So the composure and calmness required to clear a chicken soup of scum is not confined to my tribe alone. Cooking for many with few resources takes patience and ingenuity and we peasants know how to do that. For ain’t it the way that them upstairs always employ them downstairs to do their kedgeree for them. Upstairs chewing the fat whilst downstairs are nibbling on the gristle.
But now it appears the peasants are contemplating a volte-face. Silver spoons in hand knicked from the upstairs dining room, those pesky peasants are standing by as the scum comes to the surface. Watching as our bungling PM lies his way round John Lewis, is it time to SHAH off the scum? As Jair Bolsonaro blames the Brazilian people for his bastard corruption it’s time to SHAH. As Narendra Modi callously campaigns whilst thousands and thousands and thousands of his people die from Covid it’s time to SHAH. As the 19th president of Syria Bashar Hafez al-Assad turns his country into a hell hole it’s time to SHAH.
I could go on, but you get the gist. The shit is coming to the surface, the oleaginous arseholes are losing their grip and are being found out. The corrupt fat controllers are quivering in the face of the Greta’s and the Alexandria’s, the Joanah’s and the Eric’s. The paternalistic pricks, with their savage sense of entitlement are being challenged, and we watch as their scum comes to the service like sebum released from the uropygial gland of a dying bird, I say unequivocally, wouldn’t you, that it is most definitely time to SHAH.
For what have we got to lose? Our planet is shuddering under the weight of all that unholy shit, so with a smile and a song, let us pick up our ladles and with the patience of whichever Saint you choose;
Skim, skim that scum
Skim out loud, skim out strong
Skim for good things not bad
Skim for happy not sad
Skim, skim that scum
Let the world sing along
Skim for love there could be
Skim for you and for me
Skim skim that scum
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just skim skim that scum
Just skim skim that scum
Just skim skim that scum
Skim, skim that scum.

1 thought on “Skimming the scum”

  1. I shall try one day but the last time I attempted a chicken stock from the carcass of a cooked chicken, I burnt the pot! Needless to say, no stock!
    But yes, the scum is there for all to see but so many do not see or maybe, will not see?


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