Friday, April 15, 2011

Matzo Ball Soup, finally!

Matzo Balls were for a long time the only food that was too intimidating for me to make. I had tried puff pastry and all manner of sweet and sour yeast breads (I even taught a class in Gingerbread House Making, staying one step ahead of my class: things worked out). But matzo balls? Perhaps I had heard one too many stories about how difficult it is to make light matzo balls. Fearing that they would be heavy and sink to the bottom, I never tried to make them until about five years ago, when I learned from a step by step photo recipe the ridiculously simple secret to making the light fluffy matzo balls: don’t overwork or compress the batter as you work. When I mentioned my discovery to a friend, she frowned: “I don’t like light fluffy matzo balls,” so I assume she compresses her batter as she works. In either case, then, light and fluffy or compressed and heavy, here is the recipe.
Matzo Balls (yield 10 balls – don’t double the recipe; for more, simply make another batch). Ingredients: 4 large eggs; ¼ cup canola oil (or melted butter); ¼ cup water (or plain seltzer); 1 teaspoon salt; ½ teaspoon sugar; ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; 1 cup matzo meal; ¼ cup finely chopped Italian parsley; a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg (optional).
In a large bowl, beat eggs, and mix in oil (or butter), water, sugar, salt, and pepper (plus nutmeg, if used). Add matzo meal, stirring until thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least one hour. When ready to shape the balls, mix in parsley.
Bring a large pot of water (salted) to boil. Meanwhile, moisten hands with cold water. Take a walnut-sized amount of batter in your wet hands and lightly roll into a ball – don’t compress or overwork it if you want your matzo balls to be light and fluffy. Put it on a large plate. Make the remaining balls in the same way – you should have 10 or so approximately one-inch matzo balls.
Drop the matzo balls into the boiling liquid. Cover the pot, lowering the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then remove. (For the firmer matzo balls, pack batter more tightly and roll repeatedly between palms, you should cook them uncovered.) Then remove with a slotted spoon, and place directly in delicious warm chicken broth. Here is the recipe:
Simple Chicken Soup: I like to make my chicken soup the day before I make the Matzo Ball Soup, so I can chill and defat my broth. Here is a good basic recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, which is my favorite basic cookbook (there is also a revised edition).
Ingredients: 3 to 4 pound chicken (whole or cut up – a cut up chicken will cook faster); 1 large onion, cut in fourths; 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, both roughly chopped; ½ teaspoon thyme; ½ cup Italian parsley; 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Place all the ingredients into a large pot, and add 13 to 14 cups water; heat on high. When the water is just about to boil, lower heat to the point where only a few bubbles at a time rise to the surface. Skim off any foam that accumulates, and cook gently until the chicken is done, 45 minutes to an hour, partially covered.
Cool the soup slightly. Then strain with a colander while pressing the meat and other solids with a spoon to extract more flavor into the soup. Put the chicken aside and use as you wish (for enchiladas, chicken sandwiches, etc.). You can use the stock immediately or refrigerate (skim the fat that forms on the surface before using). Use refrigerated stock within 3 days, or freeze stock for up to 3 months.
For matzo ball soup (6 to 8 servings): In about eight cups of your chicken stock, simmer 4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, until tender (about 20 minutes). When the matzo balls you made are done, remove them from the pot of boiling water with a slotted spoon, and gently place them in the soup. Ladle into individual bowls.

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