Friday, February 02, 2007


Chicken Stock and Knaidlach = Matzo Ball Soup

You do not have to tell me - I already know that it is not Passover and that I'm not Jewish. My angelheart Eric and I have, however, been hankering for matzo ball soup since (a) our (still recent) lunch at Pitchi Poï in the fourth arrondisement in Paris, and (b) last year's Passover at which the divine poetess Suzanne's father's wife made a deliciously light soup. There is certainly a restorative positive externality to good chicken soup, which Claudia Roden calls "Jewish penicillin" because it cures all, a medicinal and spiritual reliever. Though we were not exactly feeling poorly before consuming the soup, we felt incontrovertibly better after each golden spoonful. This was partly because we were able to satisfy a craving, and also because the stock and knaidlach had been made at home.

Making chicken stock could not be easier: Boil chicken, clear scum, add veggies, then let simmer for a few hours. I would have wound up with more stock had I not forgotten the buoyant nature of the veggies and not therefore assumed the soup pot was full of liquid. I still ended up with just over two quarts, which was enough for the soup and three or so cups for future recipes that require chicken stock. Now that I have made it once, I think I should make it weekly because there is nothing like having homemade stock, for you can see what has gone into it and you know what you're adding to the recipes. And short of raising the chickens and growing the veggies myself, this tastes (in the best of possible meanings) very homegrown. (I don't mean to sound condescending, for I am not the great hero Levin of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina toiling and making produce from his own land, but this brings me a step closer to understanding the romanticism with which some people view the world agrarian.)

I turned to Claudia Roden's ground-breaking (because of the scope and research into the subject in addition to her fine writing) The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. (I often turn to Ms. Roden whether or not I'm thinking of what to make with what my angelheart Eric and I have on hand, if not for her in-depth focus but for her nourishing and informative prose. Everyone who is seriously interested in food should at least have The Book of Jewish Food and The Book of Middle Eastern Food, though I also have others of hers.) I admit to altering but a few things for the stock. I used 1 chicken carcass and 6 chicken wings where Ms. Roden suggests 1 stewing chicken weighing 5 lbs (around 2.5 kgs) or one chicken carcass and two packages of giblets weighing 1 lb (500 g). I also increased the level of liquid because I used a big pot, so that also allowed me to double the dosage of ingredients. Additionally, I added fennel because I forgot to get leeks and turnips from the market, and I used black pepper instead of white. Towards the end of the simmering period, the fennel was really coming through, and I was childishly excited about the faint, sweet trace it would leave in the soul-warming soup.

The recipe below yields 2 quarts (2 litres).

Chicken Stock
(adapted from Claudia Roden's recipe for Chicken Soup in The Book of Jewish Food)

Chicken in any of the combinations above stated (just be sure that there are bones to yield a gelatinous substance that insulates and protects the stock when frozen or left the chill and flavor; the giblets lend an "essence of chicken" flavor)
1.5 large onions, quartered
4 carrots, cut into big chunks
2 fennel bulbs, quartered
4 celery stalks, cut into big chunks
4 sprigs of parsley

1) Put the chicken in a soup pot, which is filled with water.
2) Bring to a boil and remove scum.
3) Add vegetables, parsley stalks, salt, and pepper.
4) Simmer, covered, for at least 2.5 hours (I went just over 3 hours on account of the added volume, but not much over because I have a cast iron pot that retains heat really well).
5) If using a whole chicken, take it out after an hour so as not to overcook it. Remove meat from it, then add carcass to the pot.
6) Once simmered enough (again, at least 2.5 hours), strain the broth into another vessel. If you are concerned about the fat on top, soak it up with a paper towel, or make the stock (or broth if going on to make a traditional chicken soup) one day in advance, let chill in the fridge overnight and then remove congealed fat from the surface in the morning.

At this point, I put three cups into the fridge to cool completely and then freeze for future use. The remainder was left covered on the stove top while I prepared the knaidlach.

Now, there is an art to making knaidlach, and I certainly have not yet learned it. I found it was very difficult to shape the mixture into balls because it kept sticking to my palms, so I wound up using spoons, resulting in irregular shapes, akin to ovals, or, if being blunt, flat rhomboids. There is hardly anything in this mixture, which yields light and fluffy knaidlach, but one could also add chicken fat, ground almonds, beef marrow...I'll try a variation next time.

(from Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food)

2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup (75 g) medium matzo meal (I ground matzos in a blender)

1) Beat egg whites until stiff.
2) Fold in the lightly beaten yolks, followed by the matzo meal and salt until unified.
3) Chill, covered, for 30 minutes.
4) Roll into 3/4" (2 cm) balls, if you can manage it.
5) Drop balls into plenty of boiling salted water.
6) Simmer for 20 minutes.

Matzo Ball Soup

1) Boil desired amount of homemade chicken stock.
2) Add matzo balls, and boil for but one minute if balls are already warm (if not, reheat in the water that they were boiled in before adding to stock - they absorb a lot of liquid).

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What a beautifully written article! The soup looks as nourishing as I'm sure it tasted! The quality of the chicken makes all the difference too.
Freya x
Hi Shaun,

The soup does indeed look delicious and nutritious. Lovely. I bought Claudia Roden's Jewish cookbook for my mum a year or two ago and keep delving into it when I'm at my parents. Great book!

Thanks for calling in at my blog. I'll be back here!

Tolstoy and Roden in one post--I always like visiting your space. Very nice post.

Freya - Yes, the chicken makes all the difference. The carcass I used came from a chicken I roasted with shallots, tarragon, and orange, so it added depth of flavor to the stock when simmered. The stock is indeed nourishing and bolstering. Do you make your own?

Kathryn - I find my nose in Roden's books all the time. I fear that the readers of this blog will get tired of my forays into the worlds of Roden and Day-Lewis, but I can't help myself. I feel, too, that if I can make food from their intimidating-looking (though approachable) texts, then anyone can.

Jasmine - Yes, it is nice to make the odd literary reference every now and again to show that I do actually have a life of reading outside of cookery books. Admittedly, though, I read less literature than I used to, now reading more for my politics research and for cooking. Thanks for the lovely comment...I love stopping by your blog, too.
Thanks for stopping by. Did you know that I lived in Long Beach before I moved to Canada? I miss it a lot. I always bought my matza ball soup at the Katella Deli.
Randi - It is so great that you stopped by. As I will be making frequent visits to Los Angeles and to my `hood, Long Beach, I will be sure to check out Katella Deli. I also keep meaning to go to Caunter's in Hollywood - maybe I'll finally go this month, what with it being Passover and all.
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