How did I get over all this? Chicken soup of course, but not just any old chicken soup...Matzo Ball soup. That's right, a recipe from Jewish culture that is the ultimate comfort food; the cure all of any ailment (or so we pretend to believe). I was introduced to many foods related to Jewish cuisine when I lived in Brooklyn, New York...Noodle Kugel, Bagels, Lox, Matzo Ball Soup, Pastrami, Corned Beef, etc, etc, etc. Basically, in the five boroughs of New York and Long Island, you were either Catholic or Jewish; and the big influences in foods were Italian, Irish, Slavic or Jewish. That was the true meaning of America's "melting pot" back then; and even today, New York is still the number one area to see that meaning of immigration. But I digress....
Homemade Chicken Stock is an essential main ingredients for this soup; you want all the richness of flavor from the chicken, vegetables and seasonings, cooked together to create perfection. When I say "chicken carcass" in the recipe, basically you want to buy a whole chicken, remove the legs, thighs and breasts; what is left is what goes into the soup pot. Remove as much skin as you can too. Oh, and why leave the onions unpeeled? It will give your stock a nice, golden coloring.
Homemade Chicken Stock
3 to 4 lbs of chicken carcass (legs, thighs and breasts removed)
3 large celery ribs, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large leek, washed thoroughly and chopped; include most of the green section as well
2 medium onions, unpeeled, but remove the root end
1 (8 oz) container whole mushrooms; dirt brushed off
6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 whole bay leaves
1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
5 quarts cold water
Place all ingredients in a large stock pot (10-12 quart); bring to a boil on high heat and skim off any frothy residue. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours.
Secure cheese cloth inside a large plastic bowl and strain the stock into the bowl; discard all the solid material captured in the cheese cloth. Place the plastic bowl inside the freezer for one hour; the fat will solidify and then can be easily removed. The stock is now ready to be used, can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes about 4 1/2 quarts.
Traditionally, to make an authentic soup, "schmaltz" should be added. Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat; not the skin of the chicken, but the gobs of gelatinous fat underneath the skin. The chickens you find at the local supermarket are bred to be lean, so the amount of fat you'll need ( 2 cups) is about impossible to get off the chicken. You might be able to find a local butcher who can help you obtain what you need; but don't worry about it if you can't.
2 cups chicken fat, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Place fat and onion in a large skillet, over low heat; let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The fat will melt and begin to brown; when it is all a golden brown; remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to remove all the crisp bits (gribenes). The liquid left is the schmaltz; the gribenes can be used in the matzo balls, or other recipes. Strain the schmaltz through cheese cloth to remove any excess gribenes or residue to get a clear liquid.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
Now lets get to the star of this show, the Matzo Balls. Matzo is a crisp, dry unleavened bread made with three ingredients: flour, water and salt. It is primarily eaten during the Jewish Festival of Freedom, Passover. To make the Matzo Balls, the Matzo is crushed into a coarse powder called matzo meal. There are two types of balls, "floaters" and "sinkers"; floaters are large, light and fluffy, sitting gently in the soup; sinkers are denser, smaller and tend to sit at the bottom of the soup bowl. To make the "floaters" add seltzer water to your recipe; to make "sinkers" use chicken stock instead.
How to Make Matzo Balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp Schmaltz (or vegetable oil if you don't have Schmaltz)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp seltzer water (floaters) or chicken stock (sinkers)
Option: add 2 Tbsp gribenes
Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
This will eventually make about 10-12 one inch balls.
Place three quarts of chicken stock into a large pot (6-8 quart) and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. While the stock is heating up, begin rolling your matzo ball "batter" into one inch balls. Hint: wet your hands with cold water each time to keep the "batter" from sticking. When the stock is boiling, gently add the balls one at a time; cover the pot and cook for 30-40 minutes; they're ready when they triple in size and are floating in the simmering stock.
Options: you can add some thinly sliced carrot when you first begin bringing the stock to boil and let it continue to cook with the matzo balls.
Garnishes: sliced green onion or fresh dill.
So there you have a little adventure into Jewish cuisine. Enjoy!