This soup was... well we can call it a labor of love. You might have noticed a bit of a theme to our posts this weekend. Alex has been sick with a head cold and in a fit of wifely good intentions I bought a ton of ingredients (we're talking 3 lbs of pork neck bones, a whole chicken, 3 lbs of chicken parts, herbs, veggies, etc.) on Friday to make some homemade stocks and soups to help him feel better. I don't know about you, but I love soup when I don't feel well. I made an everyday Chinese chicken and pork stock on Friday (although we haven't quite figured out what kind of soup we are going to make with it yet) and I figured I would make some homemade chicken stock or chicken noodle soup too.
Then I had an epiphany at spinning Saturday afternoon - we're in NYC, matzo ball soup is the only appropriate cold remedy. Of course that required another trip to the grocery store to buy matzo ball soup ingredients (like leeks and rendered chicken fat, although if I had really thought about it I would have realized that making homemade chicken stock provides you with more than enough chicken fat). Strangely enough, Zabars didn't have any rendered chicken fat. They had a zillion different kinds of rugelach, babka and other Jewish baked goods, as well as a selection of kosher meats, but no rendered chicken fat. So I went to Fairway and they came through with all of the matzo, matzo meal and rendered chicken fat I could ever need. But by the time I found a recipe, hit Zabars and Fairway and got home it was late afternoon. And when I looked at the recipe I realized that the stock needs to simmer for 3 hours, and then the matzo balls need to chill for 30 minutes and then simmer in the finished stock for 45 minutes... And when you considered how much prep work, etc. we had to do, that meant we wouldn't be eating dinner until 10 pm. Oops. So I started the broth on Saturday night and let it hang out overnight in the fridge and finished the soup on Sunday. Never having made matzo ball soup before I'm not sure if this was an entirely typical recipe (or if I picked a recipe that was inordinately and unnecessarily complicated for matzo ball soup) but I knew that the recipe sounded interesting. All of the matzo ball soups that I have tried have not included anything beyond the matzo balls themselves in a relatively mild chicken broth. But I liked the idea of including the poached chicken and herbs in the soup. And since I was the one picking the recipe I went with the chicken matzo ball soup. I briefly considered making this Leek and Ginger Matzo Balls in Lemongrass Consomme, but I decided that was taking things a little bit too far. Generally for my first attempt at a classic dish I want to stick at least a little closer to the traditional version.
More (including the recipe) after the jump!
The best thing about this recipe was the matzo balls. They took forever to make, but I thought they were lovely and tender, but not so light that they felt fluffy and insubstantial. They also picked up a nice amount of flavor from the parsley and dill. I'm a big fan of herbs in my matzo balls, although I don't think their addition is entirely traditional. I also thought the broth for this soup had a pleasing richness, while still maintaining a level of mildness that is perfect for chicken noodle soup or matzo ball soup. It was slightly dill-y, so if you're not particularly enamored of the taste of dill you might want to dial back the amount of dill slightly and leave out the dill garnish entirely. As far as the carrots and the chicken went, I was pretty indifferent to them to be perfectly honest. The carrots were a little mushy (I don't really like cooked carrots to begin with) but they had nice flavor. I had originally considered throwing out the carrots that were poached in the broth and throwing in some thinly sliced baby carrots while the matzo balls were simmering but I decided to stick with the recipe. The chicken was just... shredded chicken. The problem with poaching chicken like this is that it makes for excellent broth, but sometimes the chicken itself ends up flavorless (for obvious reasons). I only ate the white meat and it's possible that the dark meat would have been better but whatever. As far as our first experiment with matzo ball soup goes, I would call this one a success. I don't know when and if we will conduct another experiment, but I would say that it is a distinct possibility that a year from now I will get the urge to try again and to play with the recipe a little more!
Spring Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
3 medium leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds), top 2 inches of dark green parts discarded, then halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thirds
5 large carrots (about 1 pound), cut into thirds
2 celery ribs, cut into thirds
1 (4- to 4-1/2 pound) chicken (giblets and liver removed)
1 small head garlic, halved crosswise
1/3 cup sliced fresh ginger (unpeeled but skin scrubbed); from one 1/2-ounce piece
15 long fresh flat leaf parsley stems
15 long fresh dill stems
12 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 quarts cold water
For matzo balls:
1 cup matzoh meal, plus 1 tablespoon
1/3 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat
1/2 cup chicken broth (reserved from recipe below)
4 large eggs, separated
Dill sprigs for garnish
Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating them to remove all sand and grit, then lift out and transfer to an 8-quart stockpot. Add all remaining broth ingredients to pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, skimming foam occasionally, 3 hours.
Stir together matzoh meal, parsley, dill, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl.
Work rendered chicken fat into mixture with your fingers until incorporated, then stir in 1/2 cup broth from chicken and yolks. Mixture will be stiff.
Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl until they just form soft peaks.
Stir one-third of egg whites into matzoh mixture to lighten, and then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Chill, covered, 30 minutes. If after chilled, matzoh is still not firm, add 1 tablespoon additional matzoh meal.
Transfer chicken from broth to a cutting board to cool. When cool enough to handle, tear chicken into shreds, discarding skin and bones.
Remove carrots from broth and once cool, cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Line a large sieve with a double layer of dampened paper towels. Pour broth through sieve into a 5-to 6-quart pot, pressing hard on and discarding solids. Return broth to a simmer. With dampened hands, gently form chilled matzoh mixture into roughly 1-inch balls, gently dropping them into simmering soup as formed (this should yield about 20 matzoh balls; moisten hands as necessary to prevent sticking).
Simmer matzoh balls, covered, until just cooked through, about 45 minutes (To test: Halve one matzoh ball. It should have a uniformly moist interior; if uncooked, it will be dry in the center). Stir carrots and chicken into hot soup to warm through before serving.
Garnish with dill sprigs.