Yield: about 6 appetizer servings
This homey dish was probably created to find another use for the bony chicken parts left from the traditional Sabbath soup, with little meatballs added to stretch it even further. It is all about the sauce, so serve it with lots of fresh challah, egg noodles, or rice to sop it up.
As with most Jewish dishes, there are lots of variations possible. Some cooks include tomato sauce or juice or chopped tomatoes; some add thighs and other meaty chicken parts.
Chicken fricassee is best made ahead and reheated. When refrigerator-cold, it's also easier to remove the fat from the sauce-although my grandmother would have thought such a step more heretical than adding bacon along with the giblets.
2 to 2 ½ pounds chicken giblets (wings, necks, gizzards, heart; do not use the liver here)
2-3 tablespoons chicken fat or oil
salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon full-flavored Hungarian sweet paprika
For the meatballs:
½ cup fine, dry unseasoned bread crumbs
1 pound lean ground chuck
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and fresh ground pepper
Cut wings into three pieces: drummettes, wings, and tips (the tips will add body to the sauce). Chop necks in half. Trim gizzards of fat and skin.
Heat the chicken fat or oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Add the chicken pieces, in batches as necessary so you don't crowd the pan, and brown them lightly on all sides. Transfer them to a platter, season generously with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Remove all but about 3 tablespoons fat remaining in the pot. Add the onions and sauté until softened and rich gold; don't allow them to brown. Stir in the garlic and paprika and cook gently for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and return the chicken pieces to the pot. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Add warm water to cover and let sit for a few minutes. Squeeze out excess water, then add meat, egg, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the mixture gently with a fork or your hands and form into small balls no bigger than an olive. A light touch is essential here: if the meatballs are packed too tightly, they will be dense and hard.
After the chicken has simmered for about 30 minutes, place the meatballs carefully in the pot. Add a little more water if needed, and set the cover slightly askew. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the chicken parts are tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Add more water if needed and shake the pot occasionally to prevent the meatballs from sticking together.
Skim the fat from the gravy (or refrigerate until cold and lift off the solidified fat). Reheat, adjust the seasoning, and serve accompanied by challah, egg noodles, or rice.