Meyer Lemon and Fennel Chicken Soup with Fennel-Scented Matzo Balls

Savory Recipes, Winter • 27 Jan 2013

We’re deeply enmeshed in winter’s creviced bosom. She’s unleashed her fury, slinging her embittered malediction upon us. The flu, viruses and colds have reached epic proportions and with spring out of reach, we fall, depleted and thrashing, into winter’s calamitous abyss.

When I’m ailing and fighting off winter’s indignant curse, warm liquids are a boon to the body.  Cooks have always known chicken soup to possess transcendental curative powers but now science is on board, confirming the soup’s hydrating and possibly even medicinal qualities.

The key to a successful pot of chicken soup is the aromatics, as well as a good-quality bird. For my healing broth I use traditional accoutrements:  stately celery, erect carrots, forthright onion and bashful parsnip. Leeks, fennel seeds and fresh, crisp fennel impart a subtle depth, a lightly tinged anise flavor. The juice of a Meyer Lemon, one of my favorite winter fruits, creates a luscious, full-bodied soup with a sumptuous tang. Skim the fat that bubbles to the surface during the simmering process for a crystal-clear, luminous broth.

When we’re not sick and want our soup as a hearty, satiating meal, I add matzo balls, flavored with ground fennel seeds and a dapple of verdant, plumed fennel fronds. I use downy, unctuous butter for my matzo balls, but only when we’re not in the midst of Passover. Replace butter with vegetable oil or schmaltz during the holy days.

A cozy bowl of palatably hot soup is reassuring: the steam’s slow, serpentine movements, its sexy wafting heat and familiar, soothing aromatics.  The perfect replenishing antidote to winter’s bitterness.

Meyer Lemon and Fennel Chicken Soup with Fennel-Scented Matzo Balls

Chicken Broth:
3 to 4 pound whole chicken, washed and cut into 8 pieces
About 4 quarts water
2 medium celery stalk, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and quartered
1 large parsnip, peeled and quartered
2 garlic gloves, peeled and smashed
1 large fennel bulb, including stalks with fronds, cut in quarters
1 medium onion, with peel, cut in quarters
2 small leeks, white and light green parts, roughly chopped and rinsed well
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional to taste
Juice from 1/2 meyer lemon, plus the rest of the lemon for garnish

Fennel-Scented Matzo Balls:
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter (not for Passover), vegetable oil or schmaltz

1. In a 5 quart soup pot, add chicken and 4 quarts water over high heat. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Uncover, reduce heat to medium and skim the foam from the surface. Add celery, carrots, parsnips, garlic, fresh fennel, onion, leeks, fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black peppercorns.

2. Simmer for two hours over medium heat, uncovered, occasionally skimming the impurities and fat from the surface. Remove soup from heat.

3. Set a chinois or fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Using a ladle, remove the sock from the pot and strain into the bowl. Once stock is removed, remove chicken and carrots from the pot and set aside. Discard remaining vegetables and the stock at the bottom of the pot.

4. Cool stock in refrigerator and once cold, skim off remaining fat.

5. To make the matzo balls, mix matzo meal, salt, baking powder, ground fennel seeds and fennel fronds in a large bowl. Break the eggs into a separate bowl and beat with a fork. Fold eggs and butter or oil into dry ingredients, mixing gently to combine. Do not overmix.

6. Refrigerate batter for an hour. While the batter is chilling, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a rapid boil.

7. Using wet hands, roll the mixture into 1-2 inch balls and set aside on a baking sheet. When the water comes to a rolling boil, drop in matzo balls and simmer for about 30-40 minutes on medium heat. Transfer matzo balls to a clean cookie sheet with a slotted spoon.

8. To serve, reheat soup and add salt to taste and juice from half a Meyer lemon. Serve with matzo balls and garnish with lemon slices. You can also add cleaned and deboned chicken meat and carrots back into soup for a heartier, more rustic meal, or save it for another meal.

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings of soup and about 20-22 matzo balls.

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