Friday, June 19, 2015

On the Menu: Chicken Matzo Ball Soup

I love matzo ball soup. Perhaps, it is because I am Pennsylvania Dutch and have a love of all things dumpling-like imprinted on my DNA. Perhaps, it is because I have had matzo ball soup lovingly prepared by a Jewish Grandmother. Either way, the bar for this soup recipe is set pretty high.  After studying the recipe and its ingredients/preparation, I began to wonder how a recipe so iconic could appear to be so simple to create.  I grew suspicious of the recipe. I imagined a scenario where I was humiliated in front of a tasting panel of Bubbes because a key ingredient or integral step had been purposefully left out of said recipe. To borrow from the Yiddish, I was schvitzing even before I began. Oy vey.
Pressing forward, I prepared my grocery list. Glancing at the bottom of the recipe card, I noticed a box entitled, “Talking Chicken”. This box contained the instructions on how to make your own chicken broth. Seriously? I thought I was just going to get a couple of cartons of chicken broth (which, I admit, made my imagined panel of Grandmas hang their heads in resigned disappointment). Now, because I wanted to be as true to the recipe as possible, I had to schlep a five pound chicken home. Again, I say, oy vey.
Thank goodness the grocery store had whole chickens, complete with the required giblets, already cut up.  The recipe card had hinted that this was something I might have to do myself. Since hacking away at a whole chicken with a cleaver while possibly sobbing was not something I wanted to do that afternoon, I was grateful.  As an aside, I should admit that I am absolutely repulsed by raw chicken.  I try to never, ever touch it…ever. So, after donning rubber gloves, I used two set of tongs to place all the chicken pieces and giblets into the stock pot. Then, I washed my hands twice. Just to be sure all remnants of raw chicken were gone. The only other ingredients in the pot were water, one stalk of celery, one small onion, salt, and pepper. After bringing the stock to a boil, I simmered it for two and a half hours.
After it was cooled, I removed the chicken and vegetables, froze the meat for use in later recipes, and strained the broth.
Sometimes in life, the simplest things turn out to be the most extraordinary. In this case, the extraordinary can be described in three words: homemade chicken broth.  I never expected there to be that much difference between this broth and store bought, but I was wrong. So, so wrong.  It was less salty, yet so much more flavorful and more…chicken-y. Try it yourself.  You won’t be sorry.
When it came time to prepare the matzo balls, my daughter actually did most of the work.  She beat the eggs and added the matzo meal, butter, salt, and pepper. I chopped the parsley and added the chicken broth.  Then, we both mixed… and mixed…and mixed.  It seemed to take an inordinately long time for the ingredients to fully combine.  But, finally we were successful and we placed the mixture in the refrigerator to set for thirty minutes.
 I am noticing a pattern with these retro recipes.  You must have patience. There are no short cuts. There is no microwaving. There is no sense of urgency or time constraints. The cooking is leisurely. It unapologetically takes as long as it takes.  It is a long journey from preparation to tasting but, so far at least, it has been well worth the effort.
After the required chilling period, we took generous spoonfuls of the matzo dough and rolled it into balls, a dozen in all.  The balls were then dropped into the simmering chicken broth and cooked for about forty five minutes.  The resulting soup was a hit with everyone who sampled it.  My imaginary panel of Bubbes would have been proud. Mazel Tov.

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