Guest Chick Day! Lizzie Pierce and I have known each other for *mumble mumble* years and I’m squeeing that not only did she agree to be a guest, but she’s divulging her Jewish Penicillin recipe (and can also be considered for Easy Breezy Freezy)! She is a writer, blogger, amateur chef/baker, and passionate (if a little insane) high school English teacher from points South. Alas, she has yet to be published, as the company that paid her for her writing ended up folding shortly thereafter. She can be found spouting recipes and her opinions on various books and restaurants at http://bitesnbooks.wordpress.com/ and will eventually proudly have her name displayed on the cover of a wonderful work of YA literature featuring no vampires whatsoever. At least if her three children ever give her the time to finish writing it…
It’s a long post but well worth it. And one commenter will win a copy of Mr. Sunday’s Soups. MMmmmmm…. Soup’s on, Lizzie!
I was raised by a Jewish mother. She certainly doesn’t fit all of the stereotypes (though I have to admit, today we took my parents out to lunch and my mom? She pulled a wet wipe out of her purse to clean her hands rather than going to the bathroom to wash them. When did my mommy get old?), but she did raise us with one very important stereotype – one which has, in fact, been proven as truth rather than just a bubbe-meise, or grandmother’s tale – chicken soup is the perfect medicine for what ails you. Preferably with some matzo balls thrown in there.
While I realize that it’s summer (and, seeing as how I live in the south, it’s about 987 degrees outside), feeling yucky is feeling yucky no matter the weather. And comfort is comfort, no matter how unseasonable it may seem. As such, tonight’s dinner was matzo ball soup, and to heck with the miserable and overwhelming heat and humidity! We have air conditioning!
Now to make a proper matzo ball soup, clearly one needs a recipe handed down by old Jewish grandmas. Or, you know, anyone who knows how to toss chicken in a pot with some veggies, because guess what? Much like some other items that seem as though they might be tough to make (homemade pie crust, I’m looking at you!), homemade soup is so very easy. And it tastes so much better than that junk in the can. Sure, I’ve been known to toss some packaged chicken noodle into a pot in a hurry, but I’m always disappointed, as are my kids. Trust me on this one. Seriously, I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Homemade chicken soup is one of the easiest things to make.
So… to the recipe! Amounts here are total approximations, by the way. I am giving you what’s in the recipe, and I follow it mostly. I just kind of modify it a bit…
About 3lbs bone-in chicken (you can use parts, you can buy a small fryer, do this however you’d like. But make sure the skin is on. You will skim off the fat later but it adds more chicken-y goodness to the soup if it cooks with it for a bit)
7-9 cups water (figure between 2.5 and 3 cups of water per lb of chicken. Don’t worry – if it ends up too concentrated as it cooks down, you can always add a bit more water and cook it a little longer. DO NOT overwater it the first time you’re making this, because you don’t want to end up with super-watery soup)
2 carrots (I use more. We looooooove our soup carrots! If you don’t like veggies cooked in soup, feel free to fish them out at the end. That being said? Don’t leave them out of the recipe entirely. You need them for flavor or the broth will be very one-note. Trust me on this one)
2 celery stalks (again, we love our celery in soup and add more. If you don’t, just make sure you fish it out at the end. Don’t leave it out of the cooking process!)
1 large yellow onion
1 parsnip (note: this is not in the original recipe. I happen to like tossing the parsnip in for flavor. You can put it in or leave it out, whatever you’d like)
Fresh dill (optional; some people say you can’t have a real matzo ball soup without fresh dill. I am not one of those people. I would rather not eat soup at all than have to eat it with dill. My least favorite herb *shudder*)
Fresh parsley (also optional; I really like it – it adds something nice. I’ll tell you a secret, though: dried works too)
Salt and white pepper
Potato in case of emergency (I’ll get there, I promise)
Matzo ball ingredients, such as they are:
Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix
2 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
Rinse your chicken and toss it into a big pot. Bigger than you expect you will need, because trust me it is always better to have your soup pot too large than too small. Soup doesn’t boil over a too-large pot. And it’s really difficult to get cleaned up from the stove. But I digress… Peel your onion and toss that in. We don’t like to eat the oniony bits that have been cooked in the soup, so I just leave it whole after peeling. That way I can easily fish it out down the road. If you cut it in half or quarters, though, you’ll have soft bits of onion in the soup when you’re finished. It’s all down to what you prefer. Peel your carrots, celery, and parsnips (if you’re using it), cut off the ends and make slices of about half inch of each. Put those into the soup pot (clearly it’s not an exact science. If you like your slices bigger make them bigger. If you like them smaller, make them smaller. If you hate cooked carrots and celery and are just putting them in there for flavor, just cut them in half so you’ll be better able get ‘em out later. Add your water, then add salt and white pepper to taste and give it a quick stir.
Quick note here: I kind of hate that expression when used at this particular point of a recipe. To taste? How the heck do I know how it’s going to taste? I sure as heck don’t want you to taste it at this point – salmonella is NOT part of my recipe! But the point is that you should add some of each. More salt than pepper. I generally do about one regular pinch of white pepper and 3 fat pinches of salt at this stage.
Now. You may notice that, to this point, there’s not much to making this soup. Toss chicken in a pot. Chop a few veggies. Pour some water and seasonings. That’s it. Now’s where it gets really tough, right? Yeah, not so much. See, now is when you put the pot onto your stovetop, turn it on high, and bring it to a good, rolling boil. I generally let it boil for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then turn it down to a simmer for another hour or so.
Very important note: make sure that it continues to simmer and move, though not really a rolling boil. You want to see at least some minimal amount of bubbling going on throughout.
While the soup is simmering, you need to continue to stir occasionally, and here’s another step that gives you a choice. Most people make their soup to serve that night, though, so alas, you’re going to have some work here. You see, all that good chicken fat that adds so much flavor to your soup? It collects on the surface as oil. You also get foam on the top of the soup from the bone marrow (I know, I know, more than you wanted to know, sorry). If you’re not planning on serving the soup until the next day, skip this step entirely and read the note at the end of the recipe to learn what to do. There’s your choice.
Every time you stir the soup, first skim that foam and oil off the top with a big metal spoon. I like to keep a bowl or mug next to the pot and collect the fat/foam in there. As it gets filled, I empty it out into the sink (yeah, a no-no. You are supposed to empty your fats and oils into a can and freeze it before discarding. VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW! This could save your drain. Honestly? I’m just lazy) and bring it back over for more. The easiest way to get the oily deposits off the top of the soup is to chase them over to the side of the pot and sort of strain it against the pot using the edge of the spoon.
Also during the period when the soup is simmering away for an hour, you can get the matzo balls started. First off, let’s get something out of the way. I’ve made matzo balls from scratch. I’ve used all different sorts of recipes. Made the sort that are so light they fall apart when you put them in the soup and the sort that are so heavy they could be paperweights and everything in between. Nothing I’ve made has ever been nearly as perfect as the mix. If you’d rather make them from scratch then feel free to find a recipe somewhere. I’m sure there are loads on the internet. I apologize for not having one. Just mix one packet, two large eggs, two tablespoons of oil with a fork. Put the bowl into the fridge. Don’t bother covering it. Don’t bother going back to check on it. Just put the bowl in the fridge and then go off and play a game with the kids or read a book or whatever. But do NOT forget to stir the soup occasionally. Otherwise you end up with little burnt bits all over everything. And a strange smoky flavor to the soup. Not so much in a pleasant way. I’m just saying.
When your hour is up, your soup should be completely skimmed of all fat and the chicken should be cooked through. At this point, use tongs or a couple of large wooden spoons to remove the chicken from the soup and put it into a large bowl. Then fish out anything that you know you will NOT want to keep in the soup to eat (I personally remove the parsnip and onion). Turn the heat down to low. Set the bowl o’ chicken to the side to cool. Some people love to keep loads of chicken and veggies in the soup, some prefer just broth and matzo balls, some like it somewhere in between. Feel free to do whatever you prefer!
At this point, you need to grab a spoon and taste the broth. If it’s not salty enough, add a bit. If you think it could use a bit more white pepper, go ahead and add a dash. If it’s too salty, though, grab your emergency potato! Potatoes absorb the salt from a soup. Use the tater wisely, because the more you use, the less salt there will be in your soup. But just wash and peel that potato, cut up however much you want to add, make sure it is cut fairly small so that it cooks through in the remaining time, and toss it in there! If you find that the soup is just way too chicken-y, pour in another couple of cups of water. If it’s too watery, I’m sorry. You over-watered the soup and I’m not really sure what you can do short of adding a little bit of bouillon to it. Not something I like to do, but if your soup tastes like water instead of chicken, I guess you need to do something.
While your chicken cools, follow the directions for cooking the matzo balls post-refrigeration. I use a small cookie scoop to form them while the water is boiling. The shape doesn’t have to be perfect, but the size does have to be fairly uniform. I generally spread out a sheet of wax paper on the counter and just go to work scooping up the mix and dropping the unappetizing looking balls onto the paper. When the water comes to a boil, I put them in (carefully! Gently! The water will splatter!), cover the pot, turn it down to low and set the timer for 20 minutes.
Then wash your hands and, if you’re going to want lots of stuff in your soup, get to work taking apart the chicken. Make sure you use a fork and knife or at least two forks to help you with this. I just dove right in with both hands tonight. My fingertips are mildly burnt now. On both hands. OUCH! Cut your chicken up into bite-sized pieces and put them back into the pot. Make sure you keep a trash can nearby for tossing the garbage bits. Trust me on this one. You will likely end up with more chicken leftover than you actually need for the soup. Use it for sandwiches, chicken salad, whatever makes you happy. I had a TON leftover tonight. Not sure why. Thinking chicken pot pie later this week. Mmmm…
Once you have the chicken back in, stir the soup again to make sure everything is mixed through. Taste the broth for seasoning/flavor again and adjust as needed. When the timer beeps for the matzo balls, use a slotted spoon to transfer them right into a soup pot. Add your herbs if you so choose, and enjoy! Freezes well, but it rarely lasts that long in our house.
Note: If you’re making a soup but don’t plan to serve it until the next day, you can skip the whole skimming step. Instead, store the soup overnight with the broth in one container and all the stuff you’d like to keep in another container (after the hour-long simmering phase). When you take it out in the morning, the fat will have risen to the top and completely solidified. It will take you no time at all to get it off the top. Super easy!
Then just combine everything back into a pot and while it’s heating back up, you can make your matzo balls. Make sure you let the matzo mix sit in the fridge for at least about 45 minutes, though. It makes them a bit lighter…
So yes, I’m a bit long-winded. But actually the soup itself is excessively simple to make, and it tastes so far superior to prepared soups. Plus? It has healing properties!
What’s your favorite family recipe to make when you or a loved one is feeling ill? I’d love to read about it! Comment by Tuesday and you could win a copy of Mr. Sunday’s Soups!