The Most Gratifying Dish...

"Almost every culture has its own variation on chicken soup, and rightly so - it's one of the most gratifying dishes on the face of the Earth." Yotam Ottolenghi (Source)

It’s fitting that it is Sunday as I write / post this. Growing up, the midday meal on Sunday was always, always chicken soup. The task of making the soup passed from my Grandmother to my Mother. Once I left home, chicken soup did not routinely appear on my own dining table until I had a family. The hosting of family events moved to my home and I inherited the giant soup pot needed to make enough for firsts, and seconds, and "take homes". Eventually, my brother became the maker of chicken soup for family events – and he still makes it regularly for his own family especially in the “brrrr” and “eey” months - September to February.

The recipe has never been written down. It begins with a soup pot and water to which were added full chicken legs (skin on - and sometimes chicken backs, necks if any were on hand). The water was slowly brought to a simmer and this was the absolute most important stage of the soup-making – the cook was not allowed to be distracted. As the water and the chicken warmed, a foamy scum would rise to the surface. Google “foamy scum on chicken soup” if interested in the science. I once heard Julia Child say it was not necessary to skim that off, but in my family we always did, using a little strainer. Once that stage ended, we added carrots in large chunks, celery, a bundle of parsley, salt and whole peppercorns. A whole onion with a layer of skin was added – this gave the soup a warm hue. Also added were thick slices of kohlrabi. (In time, we became privy to the "secret" that both grandmother and mother added some chicken broth powder. We never tracked down the product they used, and as far as I know it no longer exists.)

The soup was served as a broth with noodles – and for family occasions, the noodles were very special - handmade csiga (cheegaw) – the Hungarian word for snails - so-named because of the pasta's inexact resemblance to the creature inside the shell. This pasta was painstakingly made by my grandmother, and then my mother. I can recall helping a few times, but by and large it was a time consuming task my mother undertook as a family occasions approached. My father created a tool that sped up the cutting of the pasta into little one inch squares. He also made the grooved little boards that were used to turn /roll the wee pasta squares. The final step was to spread the “little snails” onto a floured sheet spread over an un-used bed – and there they stayed for several days until thoroughly dry. Now csiga can be purchased at local delicatessens, but they are clearly machine made and a pale imitation of home-made.

 Home-made tools

Home-made tools

It has been over three years since we ate the last of the handmade csiga, and while I know how to make it and have inherited every single tool, I admit I have not yet been motivated to take on that family tradition. The soup was eaten as clear broth with the csiga. A platter brought to the table served up the “soup chicken”, carrots and kohlrabi that everyone could add to their bowl as they wished.  Mind you, the soup chicken was often the second course – eaten with boiled potatoes and a paradicsom martas – a sauce made of sour cream, flour and a sort of tomato passata (which was home cooked in tomato season and bottled into old beer bottles for use year round).  Oddly, I used to find that sauce to be a bit tart and sprinkled sugar onto it!! Was that weird? I just Googled chicken and sugar – and shockingly there are quite a few recipes that enhance the chicken eating experience with sugar! Who knew!?

It’s a mystery why chicken soup can be so comforting. We make it very often, and for some time have favoured the LooneySpoons version. In this blog post, I am announcing that a new chicken soup recipe has taken the number one spot. It is much closer to the food memory of my childhood. The soup begins with schmaltz – which I could not find, but the internet claimed that goose fat was an acceptable substitute. I have now make this with both duck fat, and also (once I found some) with goose fat. Initially, I could not find matzo meal and so made griz gomboc (greeze gumbowtz) which are Cream of Wheat dumplings - common in Hungarian cuisine. 

Try this recipe for Chicken Soup with Herbed Matzo Balls (or griz gomboc) and if it doesn't leave you feeling comforted, satisfied and gratified, I’ll eat my… soup.

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