People will tell you there are two kinds of matzo balls: hard as rocks or light as air. However, many cooks try for something in between — a matzo ball with some heft but not enough to sink it to the bottom of the bowl.
Arguments over how to make matzo balls — and the chicken soup they adorn — break out in Jewish homes all over the world as Passover nears. Personal preference is often related to how your grandmother (bubbe, in Yiddish) made them, as Dan Garfinkel relates in this video.
“Why is this night different from any other night?” Jews ask on Passover. One answer not in the haggadah — the prayer book used at the ritual service (seder) — is that on this night we eat matzo balls in chicken soup. We might have matzo balls throughout the year. We might not. But on THIS night, if your ancestry is Eastern European, you will eat matzo balls.
Passover celebrates the Jews’ escape from slavery in ancient Egypt — the story told in the book of Exodus. They had to get out of town so fast, they didn’t have time to let their bread rise and settled for a quick-cooked, unleavened bread made from just flour and water. AKA matzo.
Grind up some matzo (or use pre-made matzo meal), add a little chicken fat, a few eggs and voila, matzo balls. Somewhere, a bubbe is smiling.
Dan Garfinkel of Washington, D.C., learned to make his grandmother's chicken soup when he was a boy. He's been making it ever since.
- 1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces*
- 2 large white onions, unpeeled, cut into quarters
- 1/2 pound carrots, unpeeled, cut into quarters
- 1/2 cluster celery stalks, washed well and broken in half
- 4 bouillon cubes, chicken or vegetable (optional)
- Salt to taste (optional)
Place all of the ingredients into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and skim the grayish foam that floats to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer the broth for about 6 hours. The chicken will break down and separate from the bones.
Pour the soup through a large mesh strainer to remove the solids. Do not press on the solids. When the strainer is done dripping, remove it from the pot and empty the solids. Wash and rinse the strainer thoroughly with hot soapy water.
Place the strainer over another pot large enough to hold all the broth. Line the strainer with cheese cloth, folded over 4 times. Pour the broth through the cheesecloth-lined strainer to clarify.
Let the broth cool completely. When it is cool, place the pot in the refrigerator overnight. Yellow chicken fat will rise to the top. Skim this hard fat from the top and save it in a bowl. This "schmaltz" is an essential ingredient for the matzoh balls.
*Or use your favorite soup pieces. My preference is for dark meat pieces, mostly thighs, backs and necks.
My dad’s mom made these very hard – they’d bounce across the table if you didn’t angle your spoon just right. My mom’s mom made them light and fluffy. Both used essentially the same recipe, altering one step for their taste. Does chicken soup and matzo balls work for colds and the flu? It depends on what you mean by ‘work.’ Certainly, the patient feels much better after a bowl. My wife swears by the stuff, and asks me to make it when a bug hits her hard. Then again maybe it’s just knowing I made a big effort for her that perks her up. Whatever the science behind it, there’s something to it. As my Bubbe would say, “We didn’t ask such questions.”
The chicken fat, arguably the most prized byproduct in Jewish cooking, is also used in making potato latkes, for spreading on bread or for frying (the very best salami and eggs - totally Atkins).
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 4 eggs
- ¼ cup chicken fat (from soup)*
- ¼ cup chicken soup
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1/8 cup chopped parsley or dill (optional)
Mix all the above ingredients together and let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil. Scoop up tablespoon-sized amounts of the mixture and roll into balls, dropping them into the boiling water. Cook on slow boil for about 30 minutes.
Remove from water and allow to drain and dry on a flat plate.
Serve by placing 2 matzo balls in a bowl of chicken soup.
*For harder matzo balls use more egg and less fat, for lighter matzo balls use more fat and less egg.