Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Roast chicken soup with knaidlach

Making your own stock is really easy. Good quality bought stock is fine for general cooking purposes, but for soup you really need to make your own.

Knaidlach are just little dumplings, made from matzo meal. There is a lot of debate about the best way to make these, including all sorts of ridiculous magical ingredients (club soda, ginger ale etc.), and endless family anecdotes about Auntie So-and-So, whose knaidlach were like cannonballs, as opposed to Auntie-Such-and-Such, whose knaidlach were as light as a feather. Actually, they’re very easy to make, and it’s quite hard to go wrong. My recipe is adapted from the one which appears in Evelyn Rose’s Jewish Cookbook. If you want to, you can add other embellishments – some chopped parsley, a bit of ground ginger or whatever.

Stage 1: making your stock
  1. Put your roast chicken carcass and the juices from the roasting dish in a large pot. (Don’t worry if the juices are oily.) Set aside any leftover meat from the bird (breast, legs, oysters from the back) but remove any skin and bones to add to the pot. Cover the carcass with water (but only just). Bring to the boil, reduce to minimum and simmer for at least an hour.
  2. Allow to cool, strain the stock through a colander or sieve into a large bowl, cover and leave in the fridge. Discard the carcass. The next day you should have a bowl of jellified stock, covered with a thin layer of solidified fat.
Stage 2: rendering your chicken fat
  1. Skim the fat off the top of the bowl and place in a small saucepan, for which you have a lid. (This chicken fat is the original schmaltz which has made its way into the English language with the meaning sentimental.)
  2. Place the saucepan over a low heat, and as soon as it starts to spit, place the lid over it, but leaving it slightly off so that the steam can escape as any water trapped in the fat evaporates. Once the fat has stopped spitting (probably after about 10 minutes), pour the fat into a small bowl, leave to cool, and transfer to the fridge so that it solidifies completely. This chicken fat was a basic cooking ingredient (as were a range of animal fats across Europe, including goose, pig and beef fat). It’s not the healthiest cooking medium, but helps adds flavour to the knaidlach below.
Stage 3: making your knaidlach

2 eggs
3 tablespoons of chicken fat
4 tablespoons of chicken stock
1 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of ground almonds
10 to 12 tablespoons of medium matzo meal (in Spain, I use breadcrumbs, which are sold in all supermarkets and bakeries)

  1. Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt and set to boil.
  2. Beat the eggs thoroughly with a whisk. Stir in the rest of the ingredients with a spoon, leaving out the last two tablespoons of matzo meal, just in case. The mixture should now be just stiff enough to easily be formed into balls. If the mixture is too loose, then add some more of the matzo meal. If it is too stiff, then add a little more stock. (It’s important that the mixture is not too stiff at this stage.)
  3. Once the water in your pan is boiling, reduce the heat to medium, roll the knaidlach mixture into marble-sized balls, and add them to the water as you go. Once you have added all the knaidlach to the water, cover the pan, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes before adding to the stock (see below).

Putting it all together
  1. Heat the stock in a large pan. Using a slotted spoon, remove the knaidlach from the water in which they have been cooked, and add to the chicken stock. Simmer gently for another couple of minutes and serve.
(You can add carrots and other things to the stock if you want, but I think it is best served just the way it is.)

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