Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.
Is packaged matzo ball mix good enough for Passover?
Last year, after decades of making my own matzo balls, I used the kosher for Passover packaged mix from Streit's (which simply contains matzo meal, salt, pepper, onion, garlic). I still had to add eggs and oil, but the results were better than any I've ever made. I'm a convert. No more scratch knaidlach for me.
Whether you make your own or use Streit's mix, form and refrigerate the balls the morning of the seder. A few hours before dinner, poach them in plenty of generously salted water (or they will be bland), then keep them warm in a colander, covered, over simmering water. Introduce them to the soup just before serving.
As for soup, I've never had good chicken soup from a mix. In a pinch, I've been known to gussy up canned broth thusly: Start with low-sodium broth. For each quart add a quartered onion, a large carrot cut into large pieces and a couple of ribs of celery (the supermarket salad bar is a good source for small amounts of carrot and celery). Add some whole peppercorns, parsley sprigs and a few peeled cloves of garlic and simmer for an hour. Strain the broth. (At this point, to get a little fancier, you could put the broth back on the stove, add some neatly diced carrot and celery and simmer until the vegetables are tender.) Garnish with dill.
HOMEMADE CHICKEN SOUP
Make this chicken soup the day before the seder. After it's been refrigerated overnight, it will be easy to skim off the fat.
For the broth:
4 to 5 pounds cut-up chicken (see note)
1/2teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 11/2
teaspoons table salt)
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, cut into large pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
6 sprigs dill or parsley or combination of both
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
For the finished soup:
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
Chopped fresh dill for garnish
1. Place chicken pieces in large stockpot along with peppercorns, salt, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat over medium until the liquid starts to simmer. Adjust heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, occasionally skimming any foam and fat that rise to the top.
2. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove breasts (if using) and reserve for soup. Simmer soup for another 45 minutes, then remove and reserve the thighs. Leave wings, drumsticks and/or backs and feet in the pot. Add the onion, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaves, Continue to simmer for another 11/2 hours, stirring and skimming occasionally and adding the dill and/or parsley for the last 10 minutes.
3. Remove pot from heat. Remove and discard all the meat, vegetables and herbs. (They will have given up all their taste.) Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Taste for salt. Refrigerate the soup and, if desired, skim off excess fat when it solidifies.
4. About 45 minutes before you plan to serve the soup, bring it to a low simmer. (If you don't have 3 quarts, add a little canned chicken broth.) Shred as much of the reserved breast and thigh meat as you desire and add to the soup. Add the diced carrot and celery, and simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes, then add the cooked matzo balls and, if desired, some of the reserved breast and thigh meat. Simmer for 5 minutes more and season to taste. Garnish with dill. Serves 8 to 12 as a first course.
Note: Don't just use chicken breasts to make soup; wings, backs, even feet will give a fuller flavor and better texture. Best bet: ask the butcher to cut up whole chickens.