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Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
(recipe, Nigella Lawson)
Yes, this is quite a bother to make (although it's time-consuming rather than laborious, which is a significant distinction), but there is nothing more comforting to eat. This isn't tribal sentiment; for all that it's known as Jewish Penicillin, I wasn't raised on it, but eating it makes me feel I should have been, that indeed we all should have been.
- 2 small or 1 large boiling or roasting chicken(s) (see Note)
- 1 unpeeled onion, halved
- 1 rib celery
- 2 carrots, peeled and chunked
- A few stalks of parsley
- A few peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp. schmalz, margarine, or butter, melted (see Note)
- 3 Tbsp. water or soup stock
- Scant ½ cup medium-grind matzo meal
- Pinch of salt and a grind of pepper
- Make the soup: Put all the soup ingredients in a large stockpot, cover abundantly with water, and bring to a boil. Skim to remove all the gray scum that will float to the surface, then let cook at a simmer for about 3 hours. Just keep tasting; when the broth tastes golden and chickeny, it's ready.
- Remove the chicken and, if you like, leave the soup to get cold so you can remove any fat that collects on the surface. That way you accrue some schmalz, too.
- Reheat the stock and serve it as a plain soup, or add a few carrot sticks — from about 2 carrots, say — and cook them in the soup, adding some torn-up pieces of chicken to warm through at the end. I like to add freshly chopped parsley.
- Make the matzo balls: Whisk the egg in a large-ish bowl, then whisk in the melted schmalz (or whatever). Carry on whisking as you add the water or soup stock, the matzo meal, and salt and pepper, and mix together into a rough paste; if it's too stiff to feel that it might be malleable later, add a little more water. Put in the refrigerator to chill for an hour (or leave overnight if you wish).
- When the dough is ready to be cooked, dig out small lumps of paste and roll them into walnut-sized balls between the palms of your hands. Cook the dumplings in boiling, salted water and simmer for about 40 minutes (you can just cook them directly in the soup, but I'll do anything to preserve the soup's unstarchy clearness). The matzo balls are cooked when they rise to the surface. Add them to the soup, and ladle out generously into waiting bowls.
A boiling chicken yields up flavor like nothing else, and its flesh needs long cooking, so it doesn't go stringy after hours of boiling. If you can't get hold of a boiling chicken, then you'll have to use a roasting one, but don't cook it for more than an hour and a half. You can then take the meat off the bones, put the carcass back in the stock, and carry on cooking it, though you may still need to bump up the flavor; in which case, I'd recommend a slug or two of concentrated chicken bouillon or broth.
Schmalz, or chicken fat, is available at any kosher butcher's; failing that — dietary laws considered — it should be goose fat or margarine. But at the risk of offending the laws of Leviticus — and forget risk; it's a dead certainty here — I use butter. But, you know, schmalz is not hard to make; just pluck out the gobbets of chicken fat that cluster just inside the cavity and melt them in a small pan over low heat. That should be more than enough to provide the two tablespoons required here.