Grandma's Chicken Fricassee with mini meatballs and matzah balls
This dish is full of meat: chicken, chicken parts (including gizzards and chicken feet!) and meatballs.
Go no further if you are turned off by such a combination.
Fricassee probably originated along the French-German border along the Rhine Valley sometime in the 17th century. The French and German versions contain chicken and chicken giblets simmered in a rich sauce containing such things as onions, mushrooms, cream, wine...delicious sounding, but nothing like my grandmother's Friday night fricassee. Interestingly, other Ashkenazic Jewish comfort foods originating in the same geographical area include chopped liver (pate) and cholent (a dish requiring long slow simmering beans - think of the traditional French dish "cassoulet")
A quick review within our family, and albeit limited internet search, it appears that my grandmother's fricassee is different than most I've found. Although recipes for "Jewish fricassee" often employ tomatoes, the use of tomato sauce doesn't appear to be common. In order to get the signature taste of my grandmother's fricassee use what I describe as a "Jewish" tomato sauce - Manischewitz or Rokeach mushroom tomato sauce. I wouldn't recommend either for pasta, but for fricassee it's just right. Mini meatballs are a 20th century American addition to the preparation and the addition of mini "hard" matzah balls...........well I have found some non-Jewish recipes that call for dumplings, but the matzah balls appear to be unique to my grandmother's version.
The following is more of a guide than a recipe.
Feel free to play around with the suggested ingredients - you can't go wrong.
The ingredients are cooked in stages, the meatballs, for example are cooked a bit longer than the chicken parts and take longer to "set" so that they don't fall apart. I therefore stack the ingredients and stir as little as possible. As the meats cook, liquids are released and the pot eventually has a great deal of sauce. The matzah balls are added last - helping to keep them from getting crushed and to thicken the simmering sauce.
My grandmother did not brown meatballs or chicken parts before cooking and neither do I. She didn't degrease or pour off fat until the entire dish was cooled. The preparation is very simple- you could describe it as rustic.
Very large stock pot
Mixing bowls, spoons
Some of the ingredients have fallen out of fashion and are not commonly eaten. All are optional, although I strongly advise that if you can purchase chicken feet (frozen or fresh) they will make a richer sauce. You can always discard them after you've cooked your fricassee.
All ingredients are approximate. I will outline how the meatballs and matzah balls are made, but feel free to make them to your liking.
- 3 cans mushroom tomato sauce (see note above)
- 1/2 lb chicken feet
- 1/2 lb chicken gizzards
- chicken necks and hearts - if you like them (add them at the end, they cook quickly)
- 1/2 lb chicken wings
- several chicken thighs or drum sticks (I don't use chicken breasts, the long cooking time makes them stringy)
For the meatballs (approximate recipe or make them to your taste):
- 2-3 lbs ground beef
- 1/2 c matzah meal (breadcrumbs will work)
- approximately 1/4 c ketchup
- approximately 1/2 tsp garlic powder
For the "hard" mini matzah balls:
- 4 large eggs, beaten with 1/4 c vegetable oil
- 1 heaping cup matzah meal combined with 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt, pepper to taste
OR: using 2 packages of matzah ball mix: prepare according to the directions on the package and add 1/4 c matzah meal to make the mixture heavier and less likely to puff up while cooking
1. Clean chicken wings and thighs as necessary (the feet, will be clean).
2. Make the meatball mixture by combining all listed ingredients and mixing well. Set aside.
3. Make the matzah balls (from scratch) by lightly beating eggs, oil, salt and pepper. Add the matzah meal- baking powder mixture and let stand for at least 10 minutes (it will thicken)
follow the directions on the package of the matzah ball mixture.
3. Add the sauce to the stock pot and heat to a bare simmer. Add the chicken feet and gizzards. The feet will thicken the sauce and add a delicious flavor (try them in chicken soup as well!) .
4. Continuing at a slow simmer form small meatballs, dropping them into the simmering sauce. Cover and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
4. Without stirring (avoid breaking up the meatballs, which are not quite cooked yet)- add the chicken parts, layering on top of the meatballs.
5. Cover and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. The chicken and meat will release liquids, forming additional sauce. If you are using wings, add them after you've partially cooked the larger chicken pieces.
6. Cover and simmer for about 10 more minutes. At this point the meatballs will be cooked enough to allow you to move them gently aside, forming pockets with sauce exposed. Form small matzah balls from the matzah ball mixture and drop into the sauce pockets. Cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes. The matzah balls will be unable to puff up in the confined space, resulting in a "heavy" matzah ball.
7. Cool in the pan and remove to a storage container. The fricassee will be delicious served immediately, but like most stews and soups will be even more delicious served the next day. If you are not serving within two or three days, cover and freeze.