Gefilte fish and matzoh ball chicken soup ... truly the only acceptable first Passover courses and the only ones you’ll ever need. Fluffy matzoh balls floating in chicken broth is the tradition that guests will expect and cherish.
Because the broth is so important, this year I was determined to find a better way to make my chicken soup full-bodied with a fabulous flavor, yet clear. I wanted to make a broth that would be the perfect companion to bring out the best in the matzoh balls and sliced carrots. I may even add a few of the new “no yolk” Passover noodles, too.
I researched for days on the Internet, and there was plenty. I finally narrowed down the most important yet easy steps for my own perfect broth. Most professional chefs agreed that including chicken thighs is an important ingredient for better flavor. You also can add skinless, boneless chicken breasts that can be used in the soup or for later use. This method also cuts down on the fat from other chicken parts. I can still remember my own bubbie always adding chicken feet for flavor and those round yellow yolk eggs. Of course, there’re the onion, carrots, celery, sometimes parsnip, turnips and two to three bay leaves. Some chefs recommended browning the chicken parts and vegetables before adding water, but I left this step out for myself, although I can understand how that might enhance flavor.
The best tip was to start out with cold water. Add chicken and vegetables, bringing the soup to a simmer. Then, lower to barely a simmer; just a few bubbles reaching the top as the soup ever so gently simmers for a few hours. And don’t even think about stirring! That’s what makes your soup cloudy, releasing small particles of fat and other things from the chicken parts. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. You can tilt the pot lid or no lid — that didn’t make much difference. As for adding fresh parsley and dill, my own preference is to add it simply as a garnish just before serving. Parsley stems can sometimes be bitter and the leaves can cloud the soup. Dill is still one of those love/hate herbs. After you reach your desired flavor, strain, strain, strain. Use a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth to help achieve a clear broth.
Now for the gefilte fish course: Tri-color terrines are becoming more and more popular. Use the raw frozen fish loaves and you could serve this to the most discriminating bubbie with pride. I’m including a new recipe that I tried. It’s only two layers with an unusual twist, and it got absolute rave reviews from my tasters. I know most of my guests will say “Let’s just do soup, fish and go straight for the desserts!” But tradition seems to almost demand serving an entree course of brisket and/or poultry, a starch and vegetables. Plan ahead with containers for leftovers and “doggie bags”!
If all these courses sound daunting to you, and you can afford to pay for help to serve and clean up, by all means contact Beck-n-Call at 410-472-2526. If you’re lucky enough to be an invited guest, here’s a great creative gift to bring; a pareve box of “The Chocolate Ten Plagues.” Order online at raisingthecandybar.com or call 847-677-5777.
Ilene Spector is a local free-lance writer who contributes a monthly Food Talk column and bi-monthly cooking columns to the Baltimore Jewish Times.