The Holiday of Passover has inspired Jewish cooks for centuries. Flourless tortes, kugels, noodles made from potato starch, sponge cakes with matzoh cake meal, all kinds of twisting and turnings to …
The Holiday of Passover has inspired Jewish cooks for centuries. Flourless tortes, kugels, noodles made from potato starch, sponge cakes with matzoh cake meal, all kinds of twisting and turnings to avoid using ingredients that are forbidden to eat for seven days.
My family has so many traditions centered around the seder meal, including fermenting beets in the dark pantry from Purim to Passover, that it was really hard for me to decide what to write about this year.
However, in my own mind, the center of good Jewish cooking, and the star of the Seder meal was and is superb chicken soup and kneidlachor matzoh balls. For Passover, I make matzoh balls studded with chicken cracklings and touched with a hint of ginger.
Everyone thinks they know how to make chicken soup (“throw” in a chicken with some root veggies and oilla!) but this is not the case at all.
Years ago, I had a conversation with one of Ciprianni's star chefs who told me that the mark of a great chef is his chicken soup. So rather than give you my recipes for superb seder dinners (just go to Yotam Otolenghi--His recipes are incredible) I am going to tell you how I make chicken soup.
This is one of the rare instances that I am not going to talk about how my mom and grandmother made their soup, because somehow, I think I have perfected their recipes. Not just their ingredients, but their method. My Mom made great chicken soup, but she seemed to like adding “flanken” meat because my father loved it. I think that addition, forgive me Mom for saying this, destroyed the delicacy of the broth.
Perfect chicken soup is clear, light…but not watery and full flavored without being at all heavy. It has specks of dill and tiny bits of clear celery. I started adding thinly sliced celery because my good friend Jeryl Abramson of Woodstock fame, suggested it.
Great recipes are often classic but evolve and grow like myths that are created, not by one storyteller, but by being repeated and repeated and slowly changed, but not that much that they aren't recognizable.
No one owns a recipe like Chicken Soup. It is a product of being transmitted over and over again, and changed, and perfected.
So here, I submit, my perfected Passover Chicken Soup.
There are some preliminary rules:
1) Never boil the soup. Simmer only.
2) Never cover until soup is done
3) Do not put all the ingredients in at once.
4) Always make your chicken soup the day before, so it can sit in the fridge overnight, and you can skim the congealed fat off the top the next day. Save that fat for your matzoh balls or for frying anything.
5) Make enough soup so that you can freeze some to use as a base for cooking other dishes and also to heat up with egg drop and swiss chard or any leafy green veggie for a nutritious and low fat lunch. Get an enormous soup pot. Double the recipe and you'll have gifted yourself hours of prep time in the future. I keep chicken soup on hand in the freezer in pint containers because it can be used as a quick base for any soup anytime.
Large Koshered Chicken (Koshered chicken is brined. Pelleh poultry in Bethel has big fat soup chickens. They are Koshered Murrays chicken, always hormone free and delicious. Get a fat one and you won't be disappointed. If you use an unbrined chicken, just add more salt)
3 Leeks, trimmed to the lighter green, split and rinsed clean under running water. Make sure you clean between the leaves.
Half bunch Celery, sliced in very thin slices. I use a mandolin to get celery paper-thin.
8 Peeled Carrots
4 Parsley roots
Large Turnip or several small ones
Rutabaga if desired or small peeled sweet potato (optional) The sweet potato gives the soup a golden glow and, removed early from the soup, makes a perfect snack for the cook or a young child.
Parsley, Dill, Large piece of Fresh Ginger, Salt to taste
Rinse chicken and place in cold water in a large pot that has ample room for all the vegetables. Add some salt unless you are using a brined chicken.
Bring pot to a simmer and start to skim off anything that floats to the top. Keep skimming with a slotted spoon or soup skimmer until broth is clear. Add ginger and simmer until you can smell that beautiful ginger fragrance.
Add six of the peeled carrots, and all remaining vegetables except the parsley and dill. Simmer for 2 hours.
Take out the chicken and set aside some slices to be added to soup plates if desired. You can return the rest of the chicken to the pot and add the parsley and dill and continue simmering another hour.
Strain soup in collander. Press vegetables but not too hard, to get out the liquid but not turn the broth cloudy.
Return broth to pot and place in fridge to congeal fat.
Next day add remaining carrots in slices for serving. Start to simmer.
Form matzoh balls and cook half hour in salted water until they double in size in salted water and add one by one and carefully to clear chicken broth with the sliced carrots. Simmer 1/2 hour or until ready to serve. Serve soup with sliced white meat chicken, one or two matzoh balls and garnish with chopped fresh dill.
There are many ways to make matzoh balls. My family likes them dense and not too soft, so I do not separate the eggs. When I do, they complain.
But if you like your matzoh balls light, follow my recipe but separate eggs, beat egg whites fluffy and glossy until they hold their peaks and fold in before setting aside to rest in the fridge.
Make the batter in the morning, cover tightly and place in fridge to rest for at least 2 hours, then form in balls (I use an ice cream scoop for uniform sizing and shape in wet hands before dropping in salted water to cook.
(The Basic Batter gets tripled in my house)
4 Large Eggs
I Cup Matzoh Meal
1/4 Cup Chicken soup cooled
1/4 Cup Schmaltz (Chicken Fat) You can use the congealed fat skimmed from top of your soup, melted and cooled or buy schmaltz (or render the fat from chicken fat you have removed from chickens, as I do). I make my own chicken fat and save the cracklings. Crushed, the added flavor to the Knaidlach is worth the added cholesterol for some of us. (You can just add oil if you want, but not olive oil. A milder taste is better. But Schmaltz is best.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp or more ground ginger or freshly grated
Whip up the eggs with the cooled soup and schmaltz in mixer and add the rest of the ingredients. If you want to separate the eggs, whip the whites and add at end, folding as you would a cake, gently.
Place in fridge for a few hours and form into balls after the mixture is cold and the matzoh meal has absorbed all liquid.
Best practice is to make soup the day before and cook matzoh balls just before the seder. Enjoy and Happy Holidays.
Perfect chicken soup is clear, light…but not watery and full flavored without being at all heavy.