Now that we’ve covered that chicken fat is good for you, as much as I hate to do it, we have to talk about soup. It’s a necessary evil when you’re sick. Soup is warm, easy to digest, and restorative. But it’s also prescriptive and that’s why I really don’t like it. We have soup when we’re sick, when we’re cold, when we want to clean out the crisper, when we don’t really want to eat at all. Soup is not the food we want to eat when we want to enjoy life but when we’re recoiling from it.
When you’re sick – like really sick, I don’t expect you to go to the effort of making this for yourself. I don’t think you could unless you’re a highly functioning sick person. You have to do a bit of shopping with a special trip to the butcher to pick up the chicken carcasses and a whole chicken, though you could also be one of those “I have my life together” people and have the chicken bones stashed in the freezer or better yet, a supply of your own chicken stock ready-to-go. Unless you’re that person, this post is really for your *caretaker to read.
This is the soup to eat when you’re sick and trying to get back to normal life. I didn’t grow up with matzo balls in my chicken soup and never really gave much thought into what they were until I was in university. When I finally got around to making them for myself I realized they were a refined version of what I’d already been doing to my soup, which was crumbling in as many soda crackers as would fit in my bowl. Matzo balls, it turns out are cracker dumplings. After this epiphany, I thought I could probably sub out the matzo meal and replace it with the soda crackers that I was familiar with having in my soup. Between the chicken fat and garlic in the soup, and the chicken fat and rosemary in the “matzo” balls, this is an aromatic bowlful, which should have you returning to full health and proper food in a couple of days time.
Chicken Soup with “Matzo” Balls
Makes approximately 3 litres
For the Chicken Soup Base
2 pounds chicken carcasses
2 carrots, unpeeled and roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, unpeeled with the root-end removed, halved
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled and halved
1 bunch parsley, stalks only
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 parmesan rind, approximately 3” (optional)
water to cover
For the Chicken Soup
1 small chicken
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
200g carrot, finely diced
270g parsnip, finely diced
20g celery, finely diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the “Matzo” Balls
(makes 17-18 balls)
20 (57g) unsalted soda crackers
2 tablespoons chicken fat (skimmed from the cold soup base)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
To start, make the chicken soup base, which is really just a chicken stock with a few more assertive flavours such as garlic and fennel seeds. If you’ve made chicken stock before it’s likely you’ll ignore this recipe entirely and just use your own and that’s okay. Chicken stock is personal and largely comes down to what you feel like throwing in the stock pot. To make this stock, just like any other chicken stock, throw all ingredients into a large pot and fill with cold water so that the water comes just a couple inches above the contents. Heat to just barely a simmer for at least 3 hours. Don’t bother skimming the top. When you’re done, strain the stock into a large vessel, be it a heat-proof bowl or another pot and allow to cool before refrigerating over night. Discard the stock ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 400°F.
While the stock is simmering, remove the back from the chicken, and toss the back in with the rest of the stock ingredients. If you’re doing this on a different day than the stock, freeze the back for later use. On a quarter-sheet pan lined with parchment paper, place the chicken breast side-up and coat it with the olive oil. Sprinkle on the thyme and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the juices run clear. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan. Once it has cooled enough to handle, place the chicken on your board and pour any of the roast drippings into your chicken soup base. Remove the meat from the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Dice or shred the meat into soup-spoon-sized pieces and store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the soup.
To make the matzo balls, blitz the soda crackers in a food processor or blender until you have fine crumbs. If you wanted, you could also use the more traditional matzo meal in place of the soda crackers. In a small bowl combine the cracker crumbs with the rest of the matzo ball ingredients and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the matzo mix for approximately 30 minutes so the crackers can fully absorb the wet ingredients. Roll the mixture into small balls with your hands and drop carefully into a large pot of boiling water, being sure they don’t stick on their initial drop to the bottom. Turn the water down to a simmer and cover for 40 minutes by which time they will have plumped to almost double their original size. Strain out the matzo balls and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To assemble the soup, in a large pot add the chicken soup base along with the carrots, parsnips, celery, and garlic. Simmer the vegetable gently in the base until just tender. Add the diced chicken and season the soup with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the matzo balls and serve.
*Note to caretaker: the choice of mug makes all the difference in the world to the sick person, so choose wisely.