Two weeks ago Hannah left work early, feeling like she’d been hit by a truck. Every limb ached, her throat was sore and she was rapidly becoming extremely congested. Stumbling out of a cab, she climbed the three flights to her apartment and fell into bed still wearing her work clothes. When her boyfriend Josh heard she was sick, he came over right away to make her some tea and tuck her in. He stayed the night to take care of her. She warned him, “Stay away, I don’t want to get you sick!” But Josh just smiled and said, “No can do.” (Note to Hannah: Marry that boy!)
Several days later Hannah was back on her feet, albeit still coughing and speaking with a scratchy voice. Just as she returned to work, Josh complained of a very sore throat. Hannah felt terrible, knowing she was the source of this viral crud. She called me up and asked me what she could cook for him that would help him feel better.
That’s easy. Matzo ball soup.
Over the years I have tried dozens of recipes in hopes of perfecting chicken soup. I have made it with noodles, rice and dumplings. They’re all good but for my kids, nothing could compare with matzo balls for comfort. I’ve experimented at great length in perfecting those too, and though I am not Jewish, I would proudly serve my matzo balls to anyone.
Studies show that chicken soup reduces upper respiratory cold symptoms, probably by inhibiting the movement of white blood cells. In any case, it works!
Here is my favorite recipe for chicken noodle soup, which can be made in 90 minutes. It’s adapted from an Edna Lewis recipe, and once you try it, you’ll never make it the old way again. If you want to substitute matzo balls for noodles, make them first – the mixture needs to chill before you boil them.
This is some serious Girl Game right here.
Best Ever Chicken Noodle Soup
Adapted from Edna Lewis
Makes about 4 quarts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), breast removed and split, remaining chicken cut into 2-inch pieces
(Note: I cut up my own chicken, but if you don’t know how or don’t own a cleaver, any butcher will do this for you. I sent Hannah to Whole Foods, where they happily complied.)
2 medium onions, cut into medium dice
3 quarts water
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot , peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium rib celery , sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups egg noodles (3 ounces), preferably wide
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
1. Heat oil in large soup kettle. When oil shimmers and starts to smoke, add chicken breast halves; sauté until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add half of chopped onions to kettle; sauté until colored and softened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside. Add half of chicken pieces; sauté until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onions. Sauté remaining chicken pieces. Return onions and chicken pieces (excluding breasts) to kettle. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes. You should have lots of brown fond on the bottom of the pan – that’s where much of the flavor will come from.
2. Increase heat to high; add water along with both breast halves, 2 teaspoons salt, and bay leaves. Return to simmer, then cover and barely simmer until chicken breasts are cooked and broth is rich and flavorful, about 20 minutes. Make sure you’ve scraped up all the brown bits into the broth – it should be a nice brown color.
3. Remove chicken breasts from kettle; set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove skin from breasts, then remove meat from bones and shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bone. Strain broth; discard bones. Skim fat from broth, reserving 2 tablespoons. (Broth and meat can be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days.)
4. Return soup kettle to medium-high heat. Add reserved chicken fat. Add remaining onions, along with carrot and celery; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, along with broth and chicken; simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, 10 to 15 minutes. Add noodles and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings, stir in parsley, and serve.
Adapted from Martha Stewart
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat, at room temperature
(Note: I have found that the best matzo balls are made with rendered chicken fat. Do not substitute! Empire sells it in a tub or you can buy it from a butcher or large supermarket.)
7/8 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and chicken fat until combined.
2. Whisk in water and salt.
3. Add matzo meal and whisk until combined.
4. Chill mixture for 90 minutes.
5. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.
6. With wet hands, form one and a half inch balls and set on parchment lined baking sheet.
7. Using a large spoon, slide each ball into the boiling water. Keep in mind that the balls will double in size, so be sure you use a large enough pot.
8. After 3 minutes or so, when the balls rise to the top, turn the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.
9. Carefully remove matzo balls onto plate. I like to keep the matzo balls separate and add them to the soup just long enough to heat before serving. This prevents them from disintegrating in the soup.
Now baby that sweet boy and give him whatever he wants. By the way, this strategy would not go amiss in the early stages if things are going well. I have always found that the feeding of men makes them very commitment minded.