Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 23 - Matzo Ball Soup, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, and How to Cut up a Chicken

Happy Passover! It would be ridiculous not to take the opportunity to make Martha's Matzo Ball Soup on Passover, right? Meanwhile, though Jewish I am, religious I am not. So there is no seder to which to bring this soup, just a goyishe (i.e. gentile) boyfriend to feed. This is my first shot at Martha's Chicken Soup recipe, not to mention my first attempt at matzo balls from scratch. Wheee!

How to Cut up a Chicken (p. 110)

So remember my trip to Costco a couple of weekends ago? One of my purchases was a frozen chicken duo. And I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to use one. I didn't have enough time to defrost it the "right" way (in the fridge) or the patience to do it the "still OK" way (in a succession of cold water baths). I left it on the counter in the morning and hoped it would thaw in time. Which it didn't. When I went to cut it up, it was still a little icy in the middle, but not terrible.

The cutting-up-the-chicken tutorial is very good and very clear. It helps to have eaten enough chickens to know what the anatomy is, where the joints are, what the pieces look like when butchered professionally. In my excitement to finish the lesson, I ended up cutting it into too many pieces (I halved each breast when I should have left them whole). But I don't think that had any effect on the outcome. And this was good practice for the fried chicken I'm going to be making next week for Tracy and her kids!!

From an economical standpoint, knowing how to cut up a chicken is valuable because whole chickens have the lowest per pound price. It doesn't take that long, and it's so straightforward that I almost think I could do it without the instructions next time. Yet another empowering lesson from Martha Stewart. :-)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Matzo Ball Soup (p. 46)

I'm not going to lie. This recipe involved pretty much every pot and bowl that I own. But hang in there. It's worth it!!

It starts out normal enough. Throw the chicken pieces and a variety of veggies and herbs into a big stock pot with water. (I threw in the giblets minus the liver and the whole back of the chicken too. I figured, why not?) Boil, then simmer until the pieces are cooked, which happens pretty quickly, between 7-15 minutes. Remove pieces now, so that the chicken isn't overcooked, take meat off the bone, and put bones back in. Simmer for another hour.

See, I never knew that you could overcook chicken in the pot. I thought that the longer it sat in there, the moister it would get. Strangely, the chicken meat I pulled off the bone seemed quite dry and flavorless. Was it that it had been frozen? Hmmm...

In the normal chicken soup recipe, this meat is reserved so it can be added back into the soup later, but Matzo Ball Soup doesn't include it. So while the soup was simmering, I decided to do something with it. To compensate for the dryness and flavorlessness, I turned it into a curry chicken salad, not a Martha recipe, a Jeff recipe, which involves mayo, curry powder, celery and raisins. FYI, I tried an Alice Waters olive oil mayo recipe for the chicken salad, and it just doesn't hold a candle to Martha's mayo.

Back to the soup:

Once the stock is done, you put it through a sieve. This is the step that always shocks me. All those vegetables getting thrown away! (I was raised in a house where you wasted nothing!) The truth is, those vegetables have been sapped of all goodness, so they are, in effect, garbage. But it feels like a crime to chuck all those beautiful chunks of carrot and parsnips and celery...

Now that you have clear broth, you can start making the matzo balls. The thing that makes these matzo balls magical is that the eggs get separated. The yolks go into a bowl with chicken fat, stock, parsley and matzo meal. And the egg whites get whipped hard (to stiff peaks) and then stirred into the matzo meal mixture, which gets refrigerated for 30 minutes. See, there's all this air puffed into the matzo balls! How brilliant is that?! We're so used to those dense, heavy, impenetrable matzo balls, but these are not even in the same galaxy!

Meanwhile, you have two pots on the stove, one is heating a watered-down, salted-up stock for cooking the matzo balls, the other is the soup broth, which is getting reheated with carrot "coins" added.

The matzo balls cook to perfection! Salty, flavorful, and brilliantly light! And the broth is a total work of art!! All those vegetables and bones and chicken leave behind the brightest, clearest flavors, honestly like nothing you've ever eaten. There was a sweetness to this broth that blew us away. (Parsnips? Carrots?) The carrot coins are so simple but so delicious, just barely tender. This simple-looking bowl of soup, which used every pot in my kitchen (Oy, the cleanup!) was the most delicious and complex taste sensation you can imagine. Heaven!

Who would have thought that a shiksa like Martha Stewart would have the quintessential recipe for Matzo Ball Soup?

There are two other chicken soup recipes to go, the original and a Spring Vegetables variation. I can't wait to make them!!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Roasted Sweet Potatoes (p. 313)

Yup, still roasting vegetables. Again, a fabulous result. They browned perfectly, cut into spears. (Martha asked for wedges, but we didn't know what she meant so we went for spears.)

Jeff: A
Martha: A

FYI, I also roasted a chayote squash, one of my favorite vegetables, not mentioned in the book. The chayote is very watery, so it probably didn't need to be roasted as long as I roasted it (20 minutes). But like every vegetable I've used, it tastes great in the roaster!

Straight A's again!

What is the nice Jewish boy cooking tonight? Why, Pork Medallions, of course. :-)

Until we eat again...

FNBF said it was the best he'd ever had...

The chef and his Balls

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