Growing up with a chronic sense of guilt in mind is just part of a Jewish kid's emotional framework, but my particular bout of self-reproach revolves around a bowl of soup—specifically, the Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup at New England Soup Factory.
It's not about the calories in the dish or its price ($6.25 for a bowl), neither of which is particularly high. It's about what most Jewish guilt is about: family. Most of the stories I've ever read about great Jewish food are told from the perspective of a person recalling his or her grandmother's version of a dish, because according to de facto Jewish law, nobody makes better kugel, schnecken, or matzoh ball soup than grandma.
I wish I could wax nostalgic about my grandmother's matzoh ball soup—and to be honest, it was always pretty good. (The best versions were when she made her own turkey stock.) But when I moved to Boston and went looking for a decent bowl of the stuff, I stumbled upon the best version I'd ever had at, of all places, the New England Soup Factory.
I say that with skepticism partly because I was so surprised that such a good rendition was being made just steps away from my office in Brookline Village, and also because, as Kenji once said to me, the word "factory" doesn't inspire much confidence in the quality of the product. More to the point: What kind of granddaughter prefers soup made in a "factory" to the stuff her grandmother lovingly fussed over at home?
The only excuse I can offer: New England Soup Factory chef/owner Marjorie Druker's matzoh ball soup—more accurately, her "triple strength" Chicken Vegetable Soup with the optional matzoh ball added in—is her Grandma Florrie's recipe. At least someone's grandmother is getting credit here.
The broth is visibly rich—a deep shade of gold—and tastes nothing like the bouillon cube-enhanced versions in most delicatessens. Rather, it epitomizes what a good chicken stock should taste like: like it's been gurgling away on the stove for hours, eking out every last ounce of flavor from the chicken. There are cubes of white meat and tender slices of oversized carrots. There are thin egg noodles added à la minute, if you want them. And most importantly, there is the biggest, best-tasting matzoh ball this side of the Lower East Side.
According to the recipe (published in the New England Soup Factory Cookbook—see page 58), the trick to Grandma Florrie's matzoh balls is twofold: whipped egg whites and club soda for lightness, egg yolks and schmaltz for rich flavor.
Neither of these components strikes me as especially unusual; most good recipes call for adding chicken fat, and quite a few employ either carbonated water or whipped egg whites to keep the dumplings from turning dense. Maybe the real key is using both. Whatever the secret, Druker's matzoh balls are exceptional—both the grapefruit-sized specimens she serves at the restaurant and the homemade version, which, if it's any consolation to my grandmother, I now make religiously several times a year.