This year here in Chicago, winter has seemingly taken a powder and spring has fully sprung with blooming daffodils, magnolias, robins, and regular temperatures in the 70′s and 80′s. It’s not even April yet when we get our usual 12-24″ sudden blizzard just in time for the Cub’s home opener.
Regardless of the glorious weather some of you may still be suffering the effects of your winter cold or virus in which case I’ve got just the cure. Nothing, I mean nothing is more wholesome, clean tasting, satisfying, and rejuvenating than a heaping bowl of Jewish Penicillin, also known as Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup. I also add noodles and would add kreplach too but then the bowl would be too damn crowded. So get a bigger bowl you’re probably thinking although the truth is I haven’t mastered making Kreplach that aren’t tough as shoe leather… yet. Any good tips are certainly welcome.
I learned this recipe in part from my ex-mother-in-law who would add hard boiled egg yolks to this soup for the annual Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Years) feast. Full disclosure, my dad was a Croatian catholic, and my mom is a German lutheran, so I hail as far away from the land of Israel as Brooklyn, NY is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin but I have always loved the richness and traditions of good Jewish cooking. From braised Beef Brisket cooked low and slow with tomatoes and onions, to my ex’s noodle kugel with raisins and cinnamon. I am also thoroughly addicted to good chopped chicken liver on a fresh poppy seed bialy. All of these foods are as firmly linked to the many holidays and traditions as roasted turkey is to Thanksgiving, albeit with far more religious significance. The great irony in all this is that mom has recently moved into a lovely nursing home run by Orthodox Jews. All of the food is strictly kosher but the administrator, Abe informs me that if my mom has a sudden craving, he’ll smuggle in some bacon just for her.
When you make this please, please try to find shmaltz. It is the secret curative ingredient that has mystical medicinal properties. Chicken base or bouillon works in a pinch, but trust me, it just ain’t the same, and it won’t get you better.
So here are the ingredients and the recipe:
1 3 lb. fatty whole chicken or capon
3 Tbsp. schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
1 large sweet onion
salt, fresh ground pepper
1 pkg. of Matzoh ball mix
1 bag of egg noodles
( Addendum: 04/13/2003 — A new procedure I’ve added to this recipe thanks to America’s Test Kitchen is as follows. It’s a bit more complicated than the original but well worth the effort and results in a far more complex and ”chickeny” broth. The first step involves cutting the whole chicken into it’s various pieces; legs, thighs, wings, breasts, back, and neck. I realize this is added work that you can ask your butcher to do, but everyone who wants to learn to cook should cut up a chicken at least once in your life. Next, brown all chicken pieces in a cast iron enamel dutch oven. Once all pieces are thoroughly browned remove chicken skin. This can be saved to make “gribiness” which is Yiddish for heart attack inducing, extremely delicious, chicken cracklings. Add water to pot per step one and reduce schmaltz to 2 Tbsp.)
1) Put the chicken in a stock pot and cover with water and add a decent punch of Kosher salt. Add 3 Tbsp. of smaltz which to the uninitiated is simply rendered chicken fat which can be found in your nearest kosher grocery store. Add 1 whole large peeled and quartered onion, 3 cleaned whole celery stalks complete with leaves, and 2 big whole peeled carrots (I now add two whole peeled garlic cloves) .
2) When the stock pot begins to boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour or until chicken is done and the meat begins to come apart from the bones. While the chicken simmers use a large spoon to skim off the scum which comes to the surface of the pot.
3) When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot, cover with foil and allow it to cool in the refrigerator. Strain stock through a fine sieve and discard vegetables, fat, and solids. Refrigerate stock in covered pot.
4) After the stock has cooled, skim solidified fat from the stock and reheat.
5) Remove all meat from the chicken carcass being certain to discard all bones, cartilage and gristle. Cut the chicken into nice-sized toothsome chunks and set aside.
5) Clean 5 stalks of celery, remove leaves and chop celery into bite-sized pieces. Peel 4 large carrots, halve lengthwise if they’re the fat bulk type and chop into bite-sized pieces. Peel 3 large parsnips and roughly chop into bite-sized pieces as well. Finely mince a handful of fresh dill and a handful of italian parsley. Add all vegetables to simmering stock. Taste the stock and correct seasoning as needed with salt and freshly ground pepper. (One of these days I want to create a white table cloth version of this recipe with vegetables brunoise, tiny 1/8th inch dice, and clarified broth strained through cheese cloth.)
6) When vegetables are cooked add chicken and heat through.
7) Prepare Matzoh mix according to package instructions and chill. Boil Noodles and then walnut sized Matzoh balls in salted water until done. The matzoh balls will triple in size. Put in containers and refrigerate until needed. (Lately I’ve been using half schmaltz/half oil as the fat component in the mix in addition to finely minced fresh dill and 3 or 4 drops of yellow food coloring for that Katz’s Deli look.)
When ready to serve, heat Matzoh balls and noodles in soup and serve with fresh bialys, sliced new pickles and a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry or Cream soda.
So there it is. Genuine Jewish Penicillin. Homemade Chicken Mazoh Ball Noodle Soup! Best eaten when you have a bad cold or any other time for that matter, and you will feel better before you know it. Gezunta heit, and may the dogs be with you.