September 14, 2011

Stock, Soup, Consommé...and Matzo Balls!

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

When I read through this month’s Daring Cook’s challenge — all 27 (!) pages of it — I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. There was so much to digest, and I didn’t know where to start.

As the saying goes, start at the beginning. So I did. And as I began to lay out the challenge logically, I began to relax. (A glass of wine didn’t hurt, either.)

The challenge was broken into four parts. First, make stock. A stock is the strained liquid that results from simmering vegetables, meats, fish and seasonings in water. We were to take that stock and turn it into a soup, which is essentially a dish made by combining the aforementioned stock with ingredients such as meat, vegetables, or noodles. Third, we were asked to prepare an accompaniment to the soup, such a bread, cracker or dumpling.

Finally, if we chose to — and what kind of a challenge would it be without attempting the most challenging aspect of it  we had to take our stock and transform it into a consommé. Consommé is a richly flavored, clear soup that’s made by filtering impurities out of stock. It's technically challenging, something that's taught in culinary school.

Starting at the beginning, I decided to make chicken stock. I had a clear goal in mind for that stock — I was going to turn it into chicken soup with matzo balls. Yes, matzo balls were my chosen accompaniment. I’ve always loved how they soak up the delicious chicken broth, and how their light, airy texture contrasts with their rich and satisfying flavor.

I’d never attempted making matzo balls at home. For one, I don’t live too far from New England Soup Factory, which makes a mean chicken noodle soup with matzo balls. Plus, I’d heard that homemade matzo balls often turn out as dense as hockey pucks. This challenge seemed like as good a time to give it a try.

Finally there was the consommé. This was where things got scary. In order to filter the impurities out of the stock, you have to make a so-called raft out of beaten egg whites. Depending on the recipe, the filtration process may also involve raw or cooked meat, or gelatin. The idea is that the egg whites thicken over the stock and trap any impurities as the stock bubbles through. Even if you filter perfectly, there’s a good chance of destroying your efforts if you’re not really careful about getting the liquid out of your pot.

I looked into a number of recipes for consommé and finally settled on the one I should have started with to begin with — the one by Julia Child. Julia’s recipe is intimidating in its own right.

“Clarification is a simple process if you remember that the stock must be perfectly degreased, that all equipment must be absolutely free of grease, and that you must handle the stock gently so the egg whites are not unduly disturbed,” says Julia. Have you ever managed to “perfectly” degrease your stock or clean a pot so that it was “absolutely” grease-free? Me either. Still, her recipe sounded straightforward and required fewer ingredients than most of the others.

The result was astounding. Where the stock had been cloudy, the consommé was crystal clear. It may not seem like much, but the food geek in me thought it was pretty darn cool.


Begin at the beginning with the chicken stock. The base of my stock was chicken wings. Wings are cheap and have a nice ratio of meat to fat to bone.

To the wings I added carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns, parsley, and thyme. You can add other herbs and veggies here, but the ones I used are pretty standard.

Chop up the veggies, throw them in a pot, and cover with cold water.

Bring the ingredients to a boil and skim off the grayish foam that floats to the top.

Simmer the mixture gently for about 3 hours.

Then strain through a sieve. Press down on the meat and vegetables to get as much flavorful liquid out of them as you can. Taste the stock and add salt and pepper to taste.

To cool the stock quickly, transfer it to a container and submerge in ice water.

You won’t believe how rich and flavorful homemade stock is compared to store-bought.

To turn the stock into soup I added sliced carrots and thin egg noodles.

The main event of the soup was the matzo balls. That meant matzo meal and chicken fat. You can substitute vegetable oil for the chicken fat, but chicken fat gives the matzo balls their unmistakable flavor.

To make the matzo balls, combine the matzo meal, eggs, chicken fat, salt, pepper and seltzer in a bowl. The seltzer is the key here, it’s what makes these matzo balls light and fluffy.

Mix the ingredients together then put the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Shape the matzo mixture into 1-inch balls and drop them into salted boiling water. You can also cook them in chicken stock, but I didn’t have enough extra stock to do that. At first the balls will sink to the bottom of your pot.

Then they’ll gradually float up to the top. And they’ll expand.

The matzo balls take about 30 to 40 minutes to cook. When they’re done, you’ll have these beautiful, light, flavorful dumplings.

Put a few matzo balls in a bowl with your chicken soup. Add a few sprigs of dill. Adding the dill at the end, rather than while you’re heating your soup, prevents the dill from overpowering the flavor of the stock.

Serve immediately, if you can wait that long!

Now the consommé. Defrost the soup if you’ve frozen it. Skim off all the fat from the top.

Add one cup of the stock to a bowl. Beat in the egg whites. The mixture didn’t get particularly frothy when I beat in the egg whites. I think the point is just to make sure the egg whites are thoroughly mixed into the stock.

In the meantime, bring the rest of the stock to a boil in a saucepan.

Add the hot stock to the bowl with the stock/egg white mixture, beating the mixture the entire time. Add everything back to the saucepan and heat it.

Slowly but continually run a whisk through the mixture until it comes to a simmer. The egg whites will begin to turn white and get thicker and you want them to circulate throughout the liquid.

Stop stirring the moment the liquid comes to a simmer. You’ve now got a thick layer of egg whites, called a raft, floating at the top of the saucepan. You want to leave it undisturbed so it can catch all the particles floating around in the stock.

After 5 minutes, move the saucepan to the side of the heat so that one edge is barely bubbling. After 5 minutes, move the saucepan a quarter turn. Do this two more times, until all the sides have had a chance to barely bubble, for a total of 20 minutes.

Line a sieve with several layers of damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Gently ladle the stock and egg whites into the sieve. Do this gently to disturb the egg whites as little as possible. The cheesecloth should catch all of the egg whites, letting the clear stock through into the bowl.

You should now have a beautiful, clear, consommé!

Chicken Stock, Chicken Noodle Soup with Matzo Balls, and Chicken Consommé

Chicken Stock

5 pounds chicken wings
3 celery ribs, cut into large chunks
4 carrots, cleaned and cut into large chunks
2 onions, quartered (skin-on is fine)
1 garlic heat, halved horizontally
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ bunch parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 quarts cold water
Salt, to taste

1.      Add chicken wings and all vegetables and herbs to a large stockpot.

2.      Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

3.      Gently simmer uncovered for 3 hours. Skim off froth as necessary.

4.      Pour stock through a sieve, into a large bowl. Discard the solids. Add salt to taste.

5.      Cool stock quickly if you are not planning to use it right away. (You can do this by transferring the stock to a container and putting the container in an ice bath). Refrigerate or freeze. Once the stock is cool, you can skim the fat that rises to the top.

Makes about 3 quarts.

Note: Stock may be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for up to three months.

Chicken Noodle Soup

2 quarts chicken stock
8 ounces thin egg noodles
1 carrot, thinly sliced
Fresh dill

1.      Heat stock in a saucepan.

2.      Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat. Add the carrots and egg noodles and cook until the noodles are tender.

3.      Ladle soup into bowl and garnish with dill sprigs.

4.      Place matzo balls in bowl, optional (see recipe below)

Makes 2 quarts

Matzo Balls

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

½ cup matzo meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp chicken fat or vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp seltzer

1.      Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2.      Bring 1 ½ quarts well-salted water to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

3.      Reduce the flame. Run your hands under water so they are thoroughly wet. Form matzo balls by dropping spoonfuls of matzo ball batter approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them loosely into balls.

4.      Drop them into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes.

Makes 8 to 12 matzo balls

Chicken Consommé

Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

This recipe requires that all of the equipment used be absolutely clean and grease-free.

5 cups cold stock
Salt and pepper
2 egg whites
Optional (I didn’t use any of the optional ingredients):
            ¼ cup or 2 ounces of absolutely lean, scraped, or minced beef
            ¼ cup minced green leek tops of green onion tops
            2 Tbsp minced parsley
            ½ Tbsp tarragon or chervil
1/3 cup Madeira, port, or cognac

1.      Degrease the stock thoroughly; any fat particles will hinder the clarification process. Taste carefully for seasoning and oversalt slightly if stock is to be served cold; salt loses savor in a cold dish.

2.      Beat 1 cup of stock in the mixing bowl with the egg whites and add optional ingredients for richer flavor. Bring the rest of the stock to the boil in the saucepan. Then, beating the egg-white mixture, gradually pour on the hot stock in a very thin stream. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set over moderate heat.

3.      Until the stock reaches the simmer, agitate it slowly and continually with a wire whip so that the egg whites, which will begin to turn white, are being constantly circulated throughout the liquid.

4.      Immediately once the simmer is reached, stop stirring. The egg whites now will have mounted to the surface. Gently move the saucepan to the side of the heat so that one edge of the liquid is barely bubbling. In 5 minutes, rotate the saucepan a quarter turn. Turn it again in 5 minutes, and once more for a final 5 minutes.

5.      Line a sieve with damp cheesecloth and place it over the bowl. The sieve should be of a size so that its bottom will remain above the surface of the liquid which is to be poured into the bowl.

6.      Very gently ladle the stock and egg whites into the cheesecloth, disturbing the egg whites as little as possible. The clarified stock will drain through the cheesecloth, leaving the egg-white particles behind. Allow the egg whites to drain undisturbed for 5 minutes, then remove the sieve.

7.      Stir the wine or cognac into the clarified stock. (I actually forgot this step, but the consommé was still delicious.)

Makes 1 quart



  1. What a gorgeous consomme! So crystal clear - I can just imagine the flavor too. Love the pairing with matzo balls, very homey!

  2. I have hear of matzo balls with chicken soup and have been intrigued your version looks so special and the consommé is perfection great work on this challenge. I can tell that you enjoyed it a lot. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  3. We agree, there sure was a lot of reading involved in this challenge, but all for a good cause...

    And yes, it was pretty darn cool to see a product that looks like something a restaurant chef would send your way - although overall we didn't quite succeed.

    Well done on a great result!

    Stay JOLLY!

  4. Your consomme looks AMAZING - you did such a good job on it!! And YUM - I haven't had matzah ball soup in AGES and it looks delicious!! YUM!

  5. Consommé looks wonderful! I love matzo ball soup too. Great job!

  6. What a fabulous job on this challenge! The consomme looks beautiful, and the matzo balls look perfectly fluffy! It looks like you had a lot of fun with this challange, and the results look anf sound great!

  7. I love the taste of dill in dishes - your soup sounds delicious - and the stock is so clear - good challenge!

  8. What a beautiful yummy looking soup. Matzo balls are more complicated than I thought they'd be, but look how awesome they came out! That's definitely on my to-do list, but maybe in an off-calorie month. ;) Great idea, too, with cold season ramping up and matzo ball soup being the perfect cure for it.

  9. Wow great job on the consomme, it looks perfect! The chicken matzo ball soup looks delicious too. Excellent job on this month's challenge!

  10. Beautiful consomme and a delicious looking soup! Good job.

  11. What a great post. We came to love matzo ball soup while living in Los Angeles but since we've moved it's not that common here. I've never tried to make it but now I have a great plan to follow!

  12. Oh I love your step by step photos. The consomme is so pretty and your matzo ball soup makes me want to make it soon.:)

  13. Your consomme looks great! I've never had Matzo balls before, but I would love to try them one day.

  14. I don't know what Matzo is but they look great and your consomme looks amazing. well done

  15. Well done on the Matzo ball soup! I love your line about "food geek in me thought it was pretty darn cool" - pretty much sums up how I felt about my consomme as well :)

  16. Wow! A perfectly clear consommé with a gorgeously rich color. It’s a gourmet chef’s dream come true.


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