It's cold and flu season, and nearly everyone I know is sick or has just been sick. As a result, I live in constant anticipation of catching "it." Is my throat sore, or am I just thirsty? Is that a sinus headache or a hangover? Do I have a fever, or am I just allergic to work? Today really did feel like the onset of something so I decided to break out the emergency chicken-soup kit.
Back in the 90's, I was going to open up a food cart selling Jewish soul food (always ahead of my time). To help in my research, my mother compiled all the recipes for matzo ball soup from herself, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmother. It is no longer in pristine condition, but nothing as useful and important as this should remain unmarred. I usually choose my matzo ball recipe based on yield and time commitment, so tonight, solo and lazy, I followed Grandma Elma's in the top right corner.
Grandma Elma made a coveted and impenetrably guarded chicken barley soup, a recipe she took to her grave. My mother, her daughter in law, thinks her secret was "too much salt." I don't remember Grandma Elma's matzo balls, probably because nobody would ever let her make anything but her signature soup. Her matzo ball recipe is as basic as it gets:
2 Tbs chicken fat
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup matzo meal
1 tsp salt
let stand at least 1/2 hour
There is no indication of cooking time, I guess that everyone knows you boil matzo balls 30-40 minutes, the shorter the cooking time the denser they will be. I switched out the water for club soda, because I had it. I also added the slightest amount of dill to the mixture, and should have added extra pepper and even the tiniest amount of nutmeg.
While the balls cooked I heated up the broth with carrots and onions. I made this stock in the early fall. It was very rich and authentically Jewish tasting, so I labeled it so:
Grandma Elma didn't like that many people, but she did like me. And if she were alive I think she would endorse my stock. The secret was chicken necks.
Here's the thing: you make matzo ball soup or chicken soup for other people, you don't make it for yourself. If you yourself are sick, you open up a can of Progresso. You don't go to the trouble of making yourself homemade matzo balls. Why? Because you can't be bothered to think of things like, "it would really be special with just the tiniest amount of nutmeg" or, "I don't have any schmaltz, better render some before I get started." Who are you trying to impress?
I didn't have schmaltz. I did have some duck fat. The matzo balls were overcooked, and could have used that nutmeg, but delicious anyway. I ate this while doing my W-2's for Half & Half, the very last step in finishing up 2010 and the business.
The china, incidentally, was Grandma Elma's. (Grandma, if you're reading this somewhere: Yes, it's true that most the salad plates smashed in the shipping, and I have accidentally broken most of the dessert bowls, but I'm pretty sure I can order Noritake replacements on the internet).