My Mother’s Healing Chicken Soup (Russian Bouillion)

Recipe by Julia Zouev. Styling and photography by Tanya Zouev.

Many of us don’t realise how important our family heritage is. Growing up, we take most things for granted and as teenagers and young adults we usually stray far from our parent’s intentions for us and from “how things should be done”. I can tell you from my own experience, that the apple never falls far from the tree. No matter how hard we to try to get away from the way things were done at home, you will still unconsciously move towards them as you grow older. As age and wisdom set in, what was once annoying and unappealing, becomes familiar and comforting. Without realising it you will eat the same kind of food you ate growing up, and if you are a parent, you will usually raise your own children the way in which you were raised.

When I was a child I naively assumed that everyone did the same kind of things at home as I did and ate the same type of food. As I grew up I realised this was far from the truth and to my surprise I found that every family did things differently. The way my mother made lasagne for example, was going to be very different from the way my best friend’s mother cooked it. Or whilst a family we knew took overseas holidays each year to places like Disneyland or Paris, my own made the yearly pilgrimage to somewhere more local, a caravan park in Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes, some three hours from our Melbourne home.

I spent much of my early adult life disliking most of the food I grew up with and had watched my parents eating. As I grew older I gained more interest in it and last year when I went Paleo, I realised how wonderful so much of it was. Suddenly the broths, pickles and stews that I’d turned my nose up became desirable and I wanted to know how to make all of it. As a result I’ve spent much of the last eighteen months taking as many opportunities as possible to cook with my 82 year old mother, and to learn as much I can whilst I’m still able to.

One of the dishes I remember most vividly about my childhood is my mother’s healing chicken soup, “bouillion” as it has always been known in my family. For as long as I can remember, the moment anyone was coming down with a cold, my mother would fly into a frenzy, racing to the shops to buy a whole chicken to cook in a stock pot along with a parsnip, celery, carrot and herbs. Fresh dill was always mandatory, a flavour I became used to very young. The stock pot would simmer away on my mother’s stove, being checked on every now and then to skim the surface and to inspect the chicken. In the past I’d always eat the broth with fine rice noodles, though these days I prefer angel hair zucchini noodles instead.

When the bouillion has cooked and cooled, strain it through muslin once or twice to get a lovely clear broth. And just as the chicken soup legend goes, it will make you feel better when you’re unwell. This isn’t just a myth, the soup, also famously known as Jewish Penicillin, is healing. In Sally Fallon’s own words from her book Nourishing Traditions, “Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily, not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons, stuff like chondroitin, sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.” Broth is anti-inflammatory, nutritious, comforting and delicious, especially my mum’s.

The healing properties of broth go so far back that even the South American people have an ancient saying, “A good broth will bring back the dead”. Whilst I haven’t tried to do that yet, I can definitely vouch for the fact that bouillion most certainly helps me feel better when I’m feeling under the weather.

Prep time: 20 mins, cooking time: 60 mins. Serves 4.


one large organic chicken, washed inside and out
one large onion, cut in two
one large carrot, cut in two
one medium parsnip, cut in two
one stick of celery, cut into several pieces
four or five dill stems
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
filtered water to cover chicken


1. Place the vegetables and dill in the bottom of a deep medium sized stock pot. Place chicken on top and season lightly. Add water to just cover the chicken.

2. Bring to the boil, then turn heat right down and simmer for 90 minutes, barely covered.

3. Let broth cool, take out chicken and shred the meat to your liking. (I use just the best parts to eat in the broth and the remaining meat and bones I use again in my next batch of bone broth.)

4. Strain the broth through muslin twice.

5. To serve, make the noodles of your choice, heat the broth and pour over.

* This broth also makes fantastic chicken stock.

Photography and styling notes:

A simple soup calls for a simple treatment. I’ve used a black Japanese stoneware bowl with a vintage spoon and a napkin by Iveta Sarta. The background is made of recycled fence palings and the only light used is window light. Camera used is a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24-70mm f:2.8 zoom lens.

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