Monday, October 3, 2011

Bragging Rights (and a recipe for Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls)

I rarely brag about my cooking.  People compliment me all the time and I appreciate it.  But for me cooking is less about accolades and more about sharing and nurturing (see here for more on that).  I'm genuinely happy when someone enjoys something I have prepared and I truly love sitting down to a home-cooked meal with people I care about deeply.  But, if I'm being really honest, I have to say that I make really good chicken soup. 

Really.  Good.  Chicken.  Soup.

Asked to bring it to dinner chicken soup.

Rarely have any leftovers chicken soup.

Yet I only tend to make it on Jewish holidays.  I don't know why or how this evolved because not only is chicken soup unbelievably simple to prepare, it's relatively inexpensive to make and freezes well.  Moreover it's pretty much universally loved.  In the spirit of the Jewish New Year (Happy 5772 to you who celebrate) I resolve to make chicken soup more often.

Since I'm being honest here I also have to confess:  many people have asked me for my recipe and I have shared it (but with a few sins of omission).  So, in the interest of getting people to try to make homemade soup, I'm willing to share the unabridged recipe here for the first time. 

The keys to this recipe are sweet and flavorful root vegetables, leeks in addition to onions, a bit of an Asian twist (ginger), good quality dark meat chicken and time

Don't be tempted to skimp on cooking time.  A full 3 1/2 hours will develop a golden soup with rich sweet flavor.  Bragging rights included.

Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
Yields about 3 quarts of soup and 18 matzo balls

For the Soup

3 leeks, white and green parts rinsed and roughly chopped
2 small-medium onions, peeled and quartered
4 or 5 average sized carrots, washed and coarsely chopped
4 -5 stalks celery, washed and coarsely chopped
2 parsnips, washed and coarsely chopped
2 small turnips, washed and quartered
3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3" piece of ginger, peeled
4 lbs organic, free range chicken with skin and bones (I prefer to use only dark meat as I find it more flavorful but I defer to your personal preferences)
1 bunch fresh dill
A few sprigs fresh parsley
12 cups water (enough to cover everything and then some)
Salt and pepper to taste (after cooking)
2-3 carrots sliced into thin rounds (for serving)
A few extra sprigs of dill, fronds separated (for serving)

  1. Combine everything in a large stock pot.  
  2. Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a strong simmer (you want some, but not many, bubbles breaking the surface) and cover. 
  3. Allow to cook for 3 1/2 hours.  
  4. Allow to cool.  Strain out all of the solids (read: everything).  Be sure to press on the vegetables, etc. to get every last bit of soup and flavor our.  Reserve the chicken if you'd like.  I find it isn't very flavorful but some people like to add it back into the soup.  Sometimes I make chicken salad with it.  
  5. It's best it you can refrigerate the soup long enough for any fat to solidify at the top (it can easily be scraped off this way and reserved for the matzoh balls).  I generally cool it overnight and serve the soup the next day.  Soup is always better the second day.
  6. To serve, add in the carrot rounds and matzo balls.  Reheat over medium heat and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle gently into bowls (the matzo balls are fragile) and top with a few dill fronds.

For the Matzo Balls*

8 large eggs, separated (whites beaten to stiff peaks and set aside)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (or chicken fat if you have any from the soup)
1/2 cup seltzer (bubbly not flat)
2 tsp salt (to taste)
Pinch or 2 of freshly ground black pepper
1 TBS  finely chopped fresh parsley
1 TBS  finely chopped fresh dill
2 c matzo meal

  1. Combine egg yolks, oil, seltzer, salt, pepper and herbs in a bowl and stir well. 
  2. Add in matzo meal and stir to combine thoroughly.  
  3. Gently fold in the egg whites, taking care NOT to deflate them.  
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Bring 2 large pots of well-salted water to a boil (you want room for the matzo balls to expand and move around).
  6. Handling the mixture as little as possible (using two spoons or a 1 1/2 TBS ice cream scoop) form the mixture into balls that are about 1" in diameter.  This is key - manhandling will RUIN the consistency.  Don't worry if they are a little ragged-looking - you will be rewarded with fluffy matzo ball goodness.
  7. Drop them into the boiling water (half in each pot).
  8. Once all of the matzo balls have been placed into the water lower the heat to low and cover.  Allow the matzo balls to simmer for 35-40 minutes until done.  
  9. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow to cool if not serving immediately.  
  10. Store in an airtight container overnight and reheat with the soup as directed above. 

*A note on matzo balls:  There are two schools of thought on matzo balls:  dense and fluffy.  I am firmly in the fluffy camp.  I like when the matzo balls barely hold together and just float atop the golden pool of the soup.  Even better  I love the little pieces that break off and are left in the bottom of the bowl to be slurped up in one last bite in a most un-ladylike fashion.  So if you're looking for something more dense and golf-ball like you're outta luck here.