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Wednesday 7 November 2012

Sluttishly Savoury: Mama B's Jewish Penicillin Soup

"One thing is certain... indisputable... undeniable... YOUR MOTHER'S CHICKEN SOUP IS THE BEST!" Mama B 

My mum cooks the best food I've ever tasted - and no, I'm not just saying that because she's a) my mother, and b) reading this. She's neatly side-stepped all the, um, less desirable bits of the Jewish mother stereotype (the 'Why-haven't you-found-yourself-a-nice-Jewish-doctor-to-marry-already-and-when-are-you-going-to-give-me-grandchildren-and-why-are-you-wearing-the-green-dress-I-bought-you-is-there-something-wrong-with-the-purple-one?' bits), and instead, epitomises all that's good about Jewish family life. To sum up: she's great.

And because I can feel a nasty cold brewing, my thoughts turned last night to the one thing that cures everything when my mum isn't around: chicken soup. Every family has their own recipe, and everyone thinks theirs is best - but obviously they are all wrong. This is the definitive version. This is the ULTIMATE chicken soup. This is Mama B's Jewish Penicillin. I messed around with the matzo balls (so sue me), adding raisins, pine nuts and dill in a nod to the cookery of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Middle East. Mighty fine they turned out, too.

This is not a recipe to be hurried; the soup needs to cool in the fridge to develop a layer of fat - and you need that fat to make your matzo balls. It's worth the wait, though - plus it freezes well, so you won't have to faff about next time you want some!

Mama B's Jewish Penicillin soup & Laura B's matzo balls with raisins, pine nuts and dill (serves 6-8)

You'll need:

For the chicken soup
  • 1 medium-sized chicken (or the equivalent amount of chicken pieces - thighs work well)
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 parsnip or baby turnip, chopped
  • 1 large onion, peeled and halved
  • Large bunch of dill and parsley, tied up with string
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough cold water to cover the chicken
For the matzo balls
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp schmaltz (don't panic... just read on!)
  • 4 tbsp soda water (or try 2 tbsp soda and 2 tbsp of your clear chicken soup)
  • 125g matzo meal 
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts (toasted in a dry pan - not strictly necessary, though, if you can't be bothered WASHING ANOTHER BLOODY PAN)
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!

The soup...
  1. Trim your chicken if there's a lot of loose fat, and rinse it. Place it in a large pan, breast-down.
  2. Cover the chicken with cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Turn down the heat, then simmer for an hour, skimming regularly. 
  4. Add the other ingredients and simmer for a further two hours (or longer - it won't hurt!). Do your salting and peppering now. 
  5. Strain the soup through a sieve or colander. Keep the chicken and veggies for later.
  6. Pop your strained soup in the fridge until a layer of surface fat (schmaltz) has appeared. Leaving it to cool overnight is usually best, if you can wait that long!
  7. Remove the schmaltz, and set aside for using in your matzo mix.
The matzo balls...

  1. Beat the eggs, then add all the other ingredients. The mixture will be gloopy but not thick enough to make into balls (yet!).
  2. Put it in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Just before you take your bowl out of the fridge, get a large pan of boiling, salted water on the go.
  4. Roll walnut-sized blobs of your matzo mix into balls. 
  5. Drop the balls into your pan of boiling water. Ensure none are sticking to the base of the pan, then leave them simmering in a covered pan for 30-40 minutes. Drain before plopping them into your soup (see below). 
  6. I like to keep one or two uncooked matzo balls aside to bake in the oven (this is commonly called Passover Bread). Simply pop them on a baking tray and stick them in a medium-hot oven for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
To serve...
  1. Reheat the soup when you're ready to eat - either serve as a clear soup, or shred the chicken and throw it in with the leftover veggies. Mama B removes the herb bundle, but if you fancy some chopped dill in yours, I'd add fresh at the last moment. 
  2. When the soup is simmering, add your cooked matzo balls.
  3. Serve with Passover bread on the side, if you've made some. Give yourself at least two extra matzo balls. Jewish mothers the world over insist


  1. Oh, this looks delish. I don't have a Jewish mother but I do have an Italian one, and they do sometimes share some key traits, one of which being the EAT-ALL-OF-THIS-FOOD-I-MADE-YOU'RE-TOO-SKINNY variety. Now, *finally*, I can give HER a recipe that she'll love instead of the other way around. :)

    Plus I got to find out what Matzo was. I like the sound of Matzo.

  2. Oh how utterly delicious! I've always wanted a proper recipe for Jewish chicken soup - sadly, my cold is in full annoyance mode now and I'm too knackered too cook properly. Next time Gadget! And, for the moment - Sipsmith Damson Vodka!

  3. It makes me very happy that schmaltz is a real thing.

  4. Awe! Schmaltz....interesting. I'm not jewish but have very close friends who are and I love being able to cook for them. Thank you!


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