My sister-in-law Susan Baerwald cooks a fabulous seder every year for about forty people. I contribute the soup and the matzo balls which is no easy task for that amount of people but I’ve gotten it down to a science. The soup is reminiscent of my Grandmother Sarah Levinson’s Russian version with some very subtle dill flavoring. It is a clear broth and I do it in a very large amount and freeze the extra in small containers so that I can have the frozen homemade stock to use in other recipes.
I have always made fluffy matzo balls from a recipe right off the Manischewitz box of matzo meal. As I became more aware of the dangers of saturated fat, as in the schmaltz (chicken fat) used in the matzo balls, I cut down on the fat considerably and the fluffy balls turned into heavy golf balls instead!Â So I went on the internet and asked friends about their favorite matzo ball recipe and came up with Mimi Sheraton’s wonderful Knaiclach from “From My Mother’s Kitchen. ” These matzo balls are fail-proof and delicious.
Classic Chicken Broth
A classic chicken broth is prepared from a whole chicken, but can be prepared from less expensive ingredients such as chicken backs and necks. My mother taught me a few tricks to a clear, flavorful broth. First the ingredients must be cooked at very slowly at a slow simmer — if the soup boils too fast, it may become cloudy. The other trick is to use a little frozen or canned broth to start off the flavors.
1 large chicken, about 5 pounds, rinsed well and cut up into 8 pieces (liver and giblets removed and saved for another use) or 5 pounds of chicken backs and necks
2 Quarts water (approximately)
3 Cups defatted chicken broth
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery, cut into 2-inch lengths, including the tops
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 large leek, cleaned and cut into 1-inch lengths (white part only)
3 sprigs fresh dill
3 sprigs fresh parsley
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
10 to 12 matzo balls (see recipe below)
1. Place the chicken parts in the bottom of a large heavy, narrow stockpot.
Add the water and broth (the liquid should cover the chicken completely) and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10 minutes, removing and discarding any scum that comes to the surface with a large spoon.
2. Add the carrots, onions, celery, parsnip and leek. Place the dill, parsley, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaf in a piece of cheesecloth, tie up with kitchen twine, and submerge in the soup along with the salt. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer very slowly for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
3. Allow the soup to cool slightly. Remove and discard the cheesecloth bag of herbs and spices, squeezing out any excess liquid into the soup.
Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and save them for another use. Strain the clear soup into a container. Cool and then refrigerate the liquid so that the fat can be easily removed.
4. When ready to serve, remove the accumulated fat, and reheat the soup. Add the hot matzo balls and serve.
The broth can be served with cut up pieces of the chicken without any skin and the vegetables.
The vegetables can be pureed with some of the liquid, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served as a thick and delicious pureed soup.
An easy way to remove excess fat from soup immediately is with a gravy strainer. It is a pitcher with the spout based at the bottom. The strained broth is poured in, the fat quickly rises to the top, the broth is poured off from the bottom, and the fat remains in the pitcher and can be discarded. For a darker colored broth, leave the brown skin of the onion on and the skin will give a rich brown tone to the broth.
Save chicken backs and necks and freeze them along with other good soup flavoring enhancers. When you have collected enough ingredients, thaw and prepare the soup.
The herbs and seasonings are tied up in cheesecloth to allow easy removal from the finished soup.
Use a heavy, tall, and narrow stockpot so all the chicken parts and vegetables are covered with the liquid and evaporation is slow.
Yield: 10 to 12 matzo balls
This recipe is a slight variation of one from Mimi Sheraton’s in “From My Mother’s Kitchen.” It is best to prepare the batter the night before to allow time to chill. An electric mixer comes in handy if doing the recipe for a large group.
6 Tablespoons cold water or chicken broth
3 heaping Tablespoons schmaltz (solidified chicken fat)*
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
pinch of white pepper
2/3 to 3/4 Cup matzoh meal
1. Beat the eggs lightly with the cold water or broth. Add the chicken fat and stir until the fat dissolves. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine.
2. Gradually beat in the matzo meal, 2 tablespoons at a time, proceeding slowly as it thickens so you do not add too much. The mixture should be as thick as cream of wheat or light mashed potatoes. Place in a covered container and chill for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
3. Half an hour before serving bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
4. Shape the matzo balls the size of golf balls, dipping your hands in extra matzo meal. Gently drop the balls into the boiling water, and cook over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Test a ball to see that they are cooked through but still fluffy and then remove the balls with a slotted spoon and serve in the hot chicken soup.
(Chicken Fat rendered with Onions)
Yield: 2 Cups
Ask the meat department at your market to save chicken fat for you since it is not always available.
1 pound chicken fat
1 large onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt to taste
1. Cut the chicken fat into small pieces and heat in a deep skillet over low heat until half the pieces are melted.
2. Add the onion and continue to cook until the onions turn golden brown.
3. Add the salt, strain the liquid, and discard the cracklings that remain.
The cracklings are called grebenes and are delicious but also very high in fat and calories.
4. Place the strained liquid into a jar, cover, and chill until ready to use. (The fat will keep for several months in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.)