During Jewish holidays when I was growing up, Matzo Ball Soup was always the number one topic of conservation. Coming from a family that wasn't too concerned with food on an everyday basis, I found it strange that everyone automatically turned into a critic when the soup was served. First the soup itself was discussed: Too salty? Not flavorful enough? Or perhaps there was a little too much dill?
After dissecting the soup, it was time to talk about the matzo balls. One of my grandmothers made golfball-sized matzo balls that were dense and sunk to the bottom of the bowl, while my other grandmother's were softball sized, so light that they fell apart in your spoon. I enjoyed them both, since choosing between them would be like picking a favorite grandmother.
But it's been a while since I've had a bowl of grandmother-made matzo ball soup and with Passover coming up I figured it was time that I made a batch of my own. I chose the recipe from Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook, the eagerly anticipated cookbook from Bruce and Eric Bromberg, the masterminds behind the Blue Ribbon family of restaurants in New York.
Their recipe starts with a flavorful stock made of a whole chicken cooked with plenty of aromatics. Once the chicken is cooked through, it's taken out and the meat is stripped from the bones. The bones are placed back in the stock and cooked for an additional hour. The stock is left to cool overnight so that a layer of chicken fat, or schmaltz, forms on the surface.
The Bromberg Brother's matzo balls contain two secret weapons for ultimate matzo ball deliciousness: schmaltz and seltzer water. The seltzer water lightens the matzo balls and the chicken fat gives them incredible flavor. Since the matzo balls are cooked in water instead of chicken broth they retain a flavor of their own instead of just soaking up the stock.
Is Blue Ribbon's matzo ball soup better than either of my grandmother's? I'd rather not say. What I will say is that it lived up to the title of "excellent"—the stock was beautifully flavored, and the matzo balls were the ideal weight and density and tasted of chicken fat in the best possibly way.
- Chicken Broth
- 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 5 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sprigs of fresh dill
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Matzo Balls
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 2 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered chicken far reserved from making broth) or duck fat
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup seltzer water
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (about 1 cup)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
Rub the chicken with salt inside and out. Let rest on a plate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Rinse very well under cold running water and then pat dry with paper towels.
Put the chicken in a large stockpot and add enough cold water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, them skim off any foam that rises to the top. Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, parsley, dill, peppercorns, and bay leaves, and return the liquid to a boil. Skim again.
Reduce the heat and let simmer uncovered until the chicken is cooked, about 45 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl and, when cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bones (reserve the meat for another purpose). Return the bones to the pot and simmer for 1 hour more. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, discarding the solids. Cool the broth slightly, then refrigerate until cold, overnight or up to 3 days.
Using a slotted spoon, skim off the solidified chicken fat from the broth. Save for making matzo balls or another purpose.
To make the matzo balls: In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, matzo meal, schmaltz, salt, and baking powder. Add the seltzer and use a rubber spatula to mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Fill a large, wide pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Fill a small bowl with cold water and have nearby to keep your hands clean and wet. Working gently, without pressing, use clean, wet hands to form 1/2-inch-round matzo balls. As they are formed, drop them into the boiling water. When all of the matzo balls are formed, cover the pot with a round of parchment paper to keep them submerged (or partially cover the pot with a lid if you don't have parchment paper) and simmer very gently (don't let the water boil again) until cooked through and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon, and arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. If not using that day, let cool to room temperature, then store the matzo balls in a single layer in an airtight container filled with cooled cooking liquid to cover for up to 2 days.
To serve, gently reheat the matzo balls in a pot filled with matzo ball cooking liquid or fresh water to cover (when the water comes to a simmer, taste a matzo ball to see if it's hot enough, and either use immediately or continue to simmer until warmed to taste).
In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the carrot rounds and simmer until soft, about 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the dill.
Ladle the broth into individual serving bowls. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the warmed matzo balls into the soup and serve piping hot.