April 20, 2006
Great Balls of Matzo

matzo_ball_soup_jf.jpgIt ain't Passover without matzo ball soup. Of course, there is some general disagreement as to what makes the perfect ball. Some swear by butter, others schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, from the German word "to melt"). Some cook in broth, others separately in salt water. Some crowd the pot with balls, others give them room to mingle. Some like them soft and light, others prefer dense and hard. I could go on and on. The Jews are happy to study and debate any topic to death (see the Midrash) The recipe I followed (butter, salt water, crowded leading to soft and light) comes from Bon Appétit and is overly and unnecessarily complex. I've done my best to trim it down. I find that you can just cook the balls in the soup and I reduce the amount of veggies that go into the broth (because my biggest pot is only 8 quarts). If you have a bigger pot and are serving more than 8 people, by all means add all the veggies.

The recipe calls for the soup to only have the broth and matzo balls, but, they say (as if you need permission) you can add a piece of chicken and/or thick slice of vegetable to each bowl. Later this week, I'll show you what I did with the chicken meat.

Lemon-scented Chicken Soup with Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls

1 4 1/2- to 5-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
5 quarts cold water
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 pound onions, quartered
3/4 pound carrots, peeled, thickly sliced
4 large celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
10 large fresh dill sprigs
10 large fresh Italian parsley sprigs
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 thin lemon slices

Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls

4 large eggs
5 tablespoons stick margarine / butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 cups matzo meal
1/2 cup club soda

First make the matzo batter: Whisk eggs in medium bowl until frothy. Whisk in melted margarine, salt, and pepper, then herbs. Gradually mix in matzo meal. Stir in club soda. Cover and chill batter until cold and firm, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. [I got away with chilling for 1 hour]

While that's chillin', make the broth: [Place chicken in large bowl. Add boiling water to cover. Let stand 2 minutes; drain well. Using small knife, scrape skin to remove any surface fat. Rinse with cold water; drain again.--all this I found totally unnecessary, although the first time I made the soup, I did this step]

Bring 5 quarts water to boil in heavy large pot. Add chicken. Return to boil, skimming impurities . Cook until broth is clear, skimming as needed and stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add onions, carrots, and celery. Partially cover and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until chicken and vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add dill and parsley to soup; simmer 3 minutes. Strain into clean pot.

Then cook the balls: Using wet hands and 1 heaping teaspoonful (hmm...the print edition says 1 level tablespoon) for each, shape batter into matzo balls. Drop matzo balls into soup. Cover partially and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until matzo balls are tender, about 1 hour.

Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Add 1 lemon slice and matzo balls to each. [Maybe it's because I had to use lime, but I really didn't like the lime juice addition. The second time I made this, I left it out and was much happier with the result]

The original recipes (with additional veggies, extra steps, and instructions for making the soup and balls in advance) are here and here.

Posted by Justin in Bogotá at April 20, 2006 11:50 AM Print-friendly version

Actually, the real question is sinkers, or floaters?

Posted by David on April 20, 2006 at 1:04 PM

Question: is matzo meal just matoz pulsed in a blender/food processor? (Sorry if it's obvious but I'm not Jewish and sadly have not been invited to any Jewish meals by my Jewish friends. Except once in university when I was invited to a Seder and then it was cancelled a couple of hours before we were due to arrive...)

And does this "boiling a raw chicken" method actually result in a flavorful broth? I tried it once many years ago from a recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook and thought it was bland in the extreme. Now I always use a previously roasted bird.

And a final question: is it okay for a lapsed Catholic to make this? Will God hate me? ; ) Because it sounds pretty good..(aside from the bland broth)

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 20, 2006 at 3:07 PM

You are right that the meal is just ground matzo.

I think that boiling a raw chicken makes a decent broth (especially with the veggies), however the second time I did this I actually took some bones and skin and sauteed them in the bottom of the pot before adding everything else. I'm not sure I could tell the difference. What really makes the broth/stock great is that dill that goes in at the end. By all means make this soup, Meg. And if God hates you for that... well, just wait until you see my macaroon recipe that I made during Passover.

Posted by Justin on April 20, 2006 at 3:53 PM

Justin, the problem with the broth is decidedly the chicken...it's too hard to find a true stewing chicken anymore...the bones are not so flavorful in a roaster. But if you are fortunate enough to find a good stewing chicken you come out with a flavorful broth that can't be beat!

Posted by donna on April 20, 2006 at 7:31 PM

I don't know if this is kosher, but i've had good results boiling a raw chicken with a mirapois, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and whatever herb stems i have around. I always like to keep the stock at a low temperature for a long time. I've had some very tasty and flavorful broths using this method.

Posted by Amanda on April 22, 2006 at 5:44 AM

I don't see pork, so it seems kosher to me. All this sounds to me like a Barrett experment, complete with blind tasters. What you describe, Amanda, is basically what The Daily Soup Cookbook has for their basic chicken stock. No roasting or rendering any chicken first, just throw it all in a pot with cold water.

Posted by Justin on April 22, 2006 at 9:04 AM

For a more flavorful broth instead of boiling a chicken in it, try adding chicken fat. You can find this in most grocery stores and it comes in a plastic container. My Mom always uses chicken fat and the flavor it produces is wonderful. Just a side hint for light fluffy balls NEVER lift the lid while cooking.

Posted by Nettie Hofkamp on August 6, 2006 at 12:45 PM
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