Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Matzo Balls, Macaroons, & Aunt May, Redux

I was just about to start a batch of these matzo balls, (4/20/16)  when I realized that I had never added to this recipe, that for an absolutely sublime version of this soup, I substitute duck or goose fat for the chicken fat, and  homemade duck stock alone, if there is enough, or mixed with homemade chicken stock. And remember, no matter how your soup turns out, who's on the chairs around your table ( and why ) is more important than what's on the table.

From 2013...
Some of you will notice this is a slightly edited version of an older post. But for the last several days at work, we've had a steady stream of customers getting ready for their Passover meals. Next week the Easter shoppers will start, but right now I'm comparing recipes with a lot of good cooks for the primo matzo ball soup recipe So I stopped on the way home to pick up a canister of matzo meal. It's time.

With these matzo balls, who needs Easter Ham?
Aunt May used to feed me matzo ball soup secretly in the kitchen before Easter dinner. I loved the soup, and I hated the Easter ham and sweet potatoes that were always on the family Easter dinner table. My Aunt May was actually my Jewish step-grandmother who had married late in life into a slightly deranged Italian -French- Catholic family who always had an “American” Easter dinner. Ham, sweet potatoes, asparagus. Aunt May was afraid I’d starve since I’d sit tight-lipped in front of my mother’s baked ham. I don’t know what Mom did to that chunk of smoked pork, but it was always dry, and no amount of pineapple glaze could save it in my eyes. Big hunks of meat were a dangerous thing in my Mom's hands. She was great with fish chicken or ground meat, but give her a ham, or a rib roast and there was a good chance it would be barely edible when she got done with it. 

Not that Aunt May was a perfect cook, either. She actually didn’t cook much, but I loved her matzo ball soup. On the other hand, her macaroons for Passover were so bad we used to hide them under the seat cushions until her visit ended. Sadly, she passed away before I had the sense to gather any of her recipes, but my mother had the matzo ball recipe since it was something her picky daughter would eat. No one, even to be polite, ever asked for that macaroon recipe, although I suspect it was off a cake meal box. Those Passover macaroons were truly vile. Good thing the Easter Bunny had brought some goodies for us to polish off after the dishes were done, and even Aunt May liked a decent dark chocolate egg.

These matzo balls are a bit of a compilation of recipes: Aunt May’s recipe uses the eggs separated and the whites beaten stiff, plus chicken fat (schmaltz) and chicken stock. I’ve added the chives, parsley, the longer resting time and the extra salt in the cooking water. Just like with pasta, these absorb water, and the salty water really helps boost the flavor! My friend Amy has also reminded me to not to lift the lid once you are boiling them. Because these are lightened with egg whites, you don’t want to handle them very much when forming. Compressing and hand forming them will make them rather stodgy. To keep them light and airy when I form them, I use this approx. 1” OXO cookie scoop and just gently roll them off my wet fingers into the pot. They puff to about 1-1/2”.

Puffy, gently chicken-y, and made with love, these taste like just the thing a Jewish “Auntie” would be happy her Italian granddaughter serves each year on her Easter table.

All of you, please, hold your family during Passover and Easter, and if you really want them to know they’re loved, serve them these.

Recipe notesI make my own chicken stock, unsalted, and I make it double or triple strength. If you don’t want to make your own, buy a good brand of boxed, unsalted stock and cook it down to half its original volume, or cook it with some whole chicken legs and seasoning to make it taste homemade. Use part in the matzo balls and the rest add to the chicken stock in which you’ll serve them. You can sub a neutral oil for the chicken fat, (please don’t use melted margarine) although I save the fat that I skim from the aforementioned homemade stock to use in cooking. Obviously, if you keep kosher, you’ll need to adjust the ingredients used here to suit your dietary needs.

Everybody’s Matzo Balls
Makes 28-30 balls

1 cup matzo meal
4 large eggs, separated
¼ cup strong chicken stock
¼ cup chicken fat (schmaltz)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. finely minced chives
1 Tblsp finely minced parsley, leaves only
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To cook:
4 quarts of boiling water in a pot that has a cover
2 Tblsp of kosher salt

To serve:

3 quarts of good strong chicken stock
The matzo balls
A few chives for garnish

Beat the egg whites in a medium bowl wit a hand mixer until soft, shiny peaks form when you lift the beaters. Set aside. In a second bowl, whisk together the yolks, the chicken stock, the chicken fat, the salt, the chives, the parsley and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix well. Add the matzo meal, and combine it completely.

Simple steps, here.
 Take 1/3 of the egg whites and mix it thoroughly into the matzo meal mixture. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Take ½ of the remaining whipped whites and fold it in gently until no white streaks occur. Be sure to get all the way down to the bottom of the bowl. Take the last of the whites and again, gently fold in until there are only a few white streaks. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 4 hours and as long as 12.

When you are ready to cook the matzo balls, bring a gallon of water to a boil in a large covered pot, and add 2 Tblsp of kosher salt to the boiling water. Using the 1” cookie scoop  (or a small spoon), portion out little balls of the matzo dough and drop onto your wet fingers and then roll them off your fingers into the boiling salt water. Keep a bowl of water close, and wet your fingers as needed so they don’t stick. When they rise to the surface, stir very gently with a slotted spoon to turn them over, lower the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. They will puff to about 1-1/2”.  No peeking! Remove with a slotted spoon, and either chill, covered well, or place directly into soup bowls.

Do not lift the lid until done...or Amy will get you!
At serving time bring the 3 quarts of chicken stock to a simmer and taste for seasoning, add salt or pepper as needed. Drop in the matzo balls and simmer in the stock for about 10 minutes, if you’ve made the balls ahead and chilled them. If you are serving them straight from boiling, place in bowls, and ladle the hot chicken broth over and garnish with chives.

Makes 28 -30 matzo balls, and will serve anywhere from 6 to 10 people depending on what else is in the meal.

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