Tuesday 19 April 2011

Chicken Soup and Other Stories

Every Passover there is great competition over the Kneidlach - the Matzo Balls. “Grandma so and so’s are too heavy!”, “last year they were too small!” Aunty Frumpchas are like bullets! So on and so forth. Recipes are discussed in hushed tones and there is mounting anxiety as the day grows nearer, as to the outcome of this year’s specimens.
Recipes are passed down from mother to daughter like a rite of passage, an honoured, secret knowledge that comes with womanhood. So when my time came to finally be trusted with the secret of my Mother’s, an accomplished cook, fluffy little Matzo Balls, I was filled with great anticipation and took care that I should listen to her every word. “Telma’s Kneidl”, she confided in me. “That is my secret”. What! The box of instant mix that you can find in a large Tesco’s kosher section. Add an egg! That is it!
But you know what? They work. So I kind of accepted that this is how things were going to be. And many years later, when I had children, and wanted to restore them to health from any ailments with “Jewish Penicillin” and nurture them with nourishing little matzo ball dumplings, I too turned to the packet variety. That is until I looked at the ingredients. Hydrogenated palm oil? The very stuff that is resulting in the destruction of rainforest and wiping out the Orang-utans and Monosodium glutamate? I don’t think so. I was determined to set about making my own. And it turned out to be dead simple. The first recipe I tried was brilliant and I have never looked back. No instant, processed, re-hydrated Matzo balls for my kids!
As for the chicken soup. I like to embellish mine with a little sprig or two or fresh coriander. The fragrant lemonyness of the herb brings the soup alive. Clearly, there are chicken soup recipes from nearly every country in the world but for Passover I try to stick to the version of my forefathers. I am not about to start putting lemongrass, ginger or chilli into a soup containing Kneidlach but I feel this very small nod in the direction of Thailand is an acceptable step in evolution. Instant Matzo Balls are not.
1 cup matzo meal (Rakusens’s Medium is good)
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons melted schmaltz (the fat that you skim off the top of your chicken stock)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (optional)

Measure and mix dry ingredients into a bowl. Individually break the eggs into a clear glass, discarding any with blood spots, and then pour into a second bowl. Add schmaltz to the eggs and stir gently with a fork until the yolks are broken and the fat just mixed. Pour egg mixture into the dry mixture and gently mix with the fork. DO NOT OVER MIX. Treat it like a muffin mixture; if you over mix they will be tough. Place in the fridge for 1 hour. Put a couple of ladles of your chicken soup into a separate saucepan. Season and bring to the boil. Reduce to a very gentle boil. Remove a teaspoon full of the batter at a time and using wet hands roll into small balls. Drop into the hot soup. Keep the balls fairly small as they will swell hugely. When all the balls are in the stock leave it to simmer until all they float to the top. Keep the temperature low at a rolling simmer for 5-10 minutes or so and your matzo balls will be ready. DO NOT STIR AT ANY TIME. Remove carefully and serve in a bowl with the remainder of your hot soup.
Chicken Soup

Personally I get Chicken Bones free from my butcher. I ask for as many will fit into my largest pan. A lot of recipes use a whole chicken, but now a days that you don’t usually get given the giblets and neck, there is really not enough flavour in one chicken and it can get costly, especially when I only ever recommend using free-range chicken. I use up lots of vegetables in my stock as well – shallots or spring onions, the stalks from the parsley or thyme, the end of the leeks and bits and pieces in the fridge that need using up, so the list below is only a suggestion.
Chicken Bones, as many as you can fit in your largest pan
2 Onions, Roughly chopped
2 Leeks or the green ends of the leeks
2 Carrots, sliced
6 stalks of Celery, roughly chopped
Parsley Stalks / Thyme Stalks
A Handful of Peppercorns
Several Fresh Bay leaves
A few extra carrots, leeks and celery for serving
A handful of coriander
Put the chicken bones into your largest saucepan. Add the vegetables and cover with water. Place the pot over a high heat and bring the water to the boil. Skim off the foam as it accumulates. When it is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours over a low heat. Strain the stock, discarding the bones and vegetables. Bring back to the boil and skim off the fat (schmaltz) for your Matzo Balls. Add some extra vegetables to serve in your soup. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper and reduce until the vegetables are cooked and the soup tastes good. Adjust seasoning. Serve with Matzo Balls and Coriander.


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