Sunday, April 15, 2007


Chicken Soup
Homemade-from-scratch chicken soup. [Click to embiggen.]

It’s a cold, blustery Sunday: comfort food weather. For there is nothing to keep you warm, both body and soul, than Comfort Food on a windy, rainy Sunday.

Beef stew? Hot oatmeal? Chili? Spaghetti and meatballs? Everyone has his or her own idea of the perfect Comfort Food. But today, for us, Comfort Food took the form of a pot of Chicken Soup with Matzohballs, the perfect Blustery Sunday Lunch.

“Matzohballs? Is Elisson out of his feckin’ mind? Isn’t Passover over and done with?”

Yes, indeedy. To the Passover question, anyway. But chicken soup is a year-round dish, and matzohballs are good any old time. Besides, after having to eighty-six a cauldron of SWMBO’s finest chicken soup - owing to my stupidity in leaving it out overnight - I felt that some penance was in order.

And thus it was that I started a fresh cauldron yesterday.

You take a whole chicken - minus the giblets - and put it in a huge-ass pot. Got some chicken feet? Put ’em in. (If not, about half a dozen drumsticks will work almost as well.) Add six quarts of cold water. Peel and coarsely chop three carrots, a yellow onion, and a couple of parsnips and add ’em to the pot. Throw in a dozen chopped parsley stems, a few sprigs each of cilantro and dill, ten whole peppercorns, and four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced. Bring it up to a gentle simmer - you do not want to ever bring it to a rolling boil! - and let it sit for about three hours. Some crud will rise to the surface; skim this off periodically.

Now, fish out the chicken. Let it cool. You can use the meat for enchiladas or chicken salad.

Strain the stock (I use a coarse strainer, followed by a fine-mesh China cap) and chill it down by putting the pot in a sink full of ice water. When it's reasonably cool, stick it in the fridge overnight.

Next morning, take the stock out and scrape the chicken fat off the surface. Save this.

Put that stock back on the stove and throw in another chicken. Bring it up to a simmer. Meanwhile, it’s time to make the matzoh balls.

Break six large or extra-large eggs into a large bowl and beat with a wire whisk. Add three tsp. salt. Now take that chicken fat you just scraped off the stock and melt it; add six tbsp. of the melted chicken schmaltz to the eggs in the bowl and mix well. Add 1½ cups of matzoh meal. Now add 6 tbsp. of that nice chicken stock and stir the whole mess well with a wire whisk. If you want Extra Fancy-Schmancy Matzoh Balls, chop up a handful of fresh parsley and dill and add this to the mixture. Cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, getcha a big pot of lightly salted water and set it on the stove to boil.

When that 15 minutes is up - and that pot of water is boiling - take the matzoh meal mixture out of the fridge. Wet your hands and grab out enough dough to form a ball about one inch in diameter. Drop it gently into the boiling water; in moments, it will bob to the surface. Wet your hands again before making the next one.

Some people have struggled for generations to figure out the secret of the Perfect Matzoh Ball: not too heavy and rubbery, not too light and insubstantial. They use seltzer instead of water or stock. They separate the eggs and beat the whites to a froth, folding them into the batter. This is all bullshit.

The secret to the Perfect Matzoh Ball is just this: Don’t fiddle-fuck around with ’em too much. If you spend too damn much time rolling them in a vain attempt to form perfect spheres, you will overwork ’em and they will be as dense as Dwarf-Star Matter. I don’t mind dense matzohballs - hell, I grew up eating sinkers - but when you try to cut into one with the edge of your spoon, it’s likely as not gonna shoot across the room like a Nike missile. Just roll ’em quickly and drop ’em in the water. It ain’t brain surgery.

Let those babies boil for about 40 minutes with the lid on the pot. When they’re done (they should be cooked through), fish ’em out with a slotted spoon. Set aside to cool.

After your soup (remember the soup?) has been simmering with that chicken in it for about 90 minutes, throw in a couple of peeled and diced carrots and parsnips and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. (I added a little cilantro and dill just for fun.) Simmer for another half-hour, then fish out the chicken. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat off the bones, shred it or cut it into chunks (your preference), and add the meat back into the soup. Gently add the matzohballs and simmer until they’re warmed through.

Now getcha a bowl and ladle out some of that nice, hot soup. One matzohball? Two? Three? It’s a rotten day outside - go wild!

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