March 27, 2015

Matzo Ball Soup

Chicken soup can take many forms. Chicken noodle is probably the most common, though many prefer chicken & dumplings. I suppose you can also count wonton soup since it has a chicken broth base. You can get pretty creative with all sorts of spices and vegetables from around the world, too. One of my personal favorites, however, is still pretty simple. If you didn't grow up Jewish, you might not have heard of it, but I've never met anyone who has tried matzo ball soup and not liked it. It's a little hard to explain, but I can best summarize it as chicken broth (sometimes with vegetables and/or noodles) with giant fluffy balls of carbs.

My family has been making this soup as long as I can remember. Both my mom and my grandma (and presumably generations further back than that) are practically matzo ball experts, and I've been making the recipe for a few years now as well. I make my own chicken stock/broth as well as the matzo balls, and it's an extremely comforting dish (even though it's starting to warm up). It's one of my favorite things to eat when I'm sick; there's a reason they call it Jewish penicillin. Another plus is that it's kosher for Passover. Passover is notoriously difficult in terms of dietary restrictions, but that doesn't mean you can't eat delicious foods, even dessert. Matzo ball soup is traditionally served at seders, but I like to eat it all week long.

As I said, this recipe involves making your own stock. It's really pretty simple; it just takes a few hours to simmer. It's a little tricky to translate into an actual recipe since my family just kind of throws stuff in the pot, but I did my best. I place some bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts in a big pot along with some carrots, celery, onions, and a turnip. I highly recommend (read: you have to) using the bone-in skin-on breasts since they have so much more flavor than regular chicken cutlets and the whole point of making stock is to pull the flavor from the meat. I cover that all with some water, salt it generously, and let it simmer for a while. I add some of that neon yellow chicken bouillon powder/cubes to boost the chicken flavor. There are better ways to go about doing that (namely adding any leftover bones/carcass pieces you might have from cooking chicken earlier or if you bought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store), but that's how my family does it so that's what I like to do. I taste it once it gets close to the end (around when I'm cooking the matzo balls) to see if it needs more salt or anything else.

The matzo balls are pretty easy as well. I whisk eggs, water or seltzer, melted butter, and salt together. I then add some matzo meal and let it chill for about 15 minutes so I can form them into balls. I try to make about 10 balls that are a little smaller than golf balls (they expand a lot when they cook). Those boil in heavily salted water until they are cooked through. Ideally, you want your matzo balls to be floaters, not sinkers (referring to the fact that they will either sink or float in the water). Matzo balls that float are light and fluffy, unlike dense (but still delicious) sinkers. Using seltzer instead of water adds some extra carbonation to boost the fluffiness, so it's worth using if you already have some but definitely not necessary if you don't.

Once everything is done cooking, it's almost ready to eat. The next step mostly depends on what your soup preferences are. I only like broth and matzo balls, so I just take a giant ladle to the broth and plop in a few matzo balls. Other members of my family like various combinations of chicken and vegetables, so all you have to do is shred the chicken breasts and slice up whatever vegetables you want. Add the matzo balls and you have your very own pick-me-up from Passover diet woes.

4 Eggs
1/4 Cup Water
1 Cup Matzo Meal
1/3 Cup Melted Butter, Cooled Slightly
1 tsp Salt + More for Soup
2 lbs Bone-In Chicken Breasts
4 Carrots, Peeled & Quartered
2 Ribs Celery, Quartered
2 Yellow Onions, Skinned & Quartered
1 Turnip, Peeled & Halved
Chicken Bouillon, to Taste

Place the chicken, carrots, celery, onions, and turnip in a large pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for a few hours, adding salt and chicken bouillon to taste.

Whisk the eggs, water, butter, and salt together. Fold in the matzo meal and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Roll the chilled matzo mixture into 10 balls and boil for 30-45 minutes or until cooked through.

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