This is my great-grandmother’s recipe for Matzo Ball Soup. It was transcribed at one point by my mother for a synagogue cook book. I still use the tattered book, lined with my notes over the years in pencil. I have updated it minimally by using fresh herbs, instead of dried (which I imagine is probably closer to how my great-grandmother, Mower, made it.) Mower likely started from whole matzo rather than matzo meal, but I like to believe she would approve of the modern convenience. They are light, fluffy and flavorful, and simply the best. I can rarely eat a restaurant matzo ball as they just can’t compare.
Passover is by far my favorite Jewish holiday. It is all about a big dinner party! Although I am not particularly observant, I love to celebrate Passover by hosting a seder. Apart from our favorite family recipes (it’s like a 2nd Thanksgiving!) I do love the message and the story of freedom.
Passover starts this year (in North America) on the evening of Monday, March 25th. But I wanted to share this recipe ahead of time. The “secret ingredient” to Mower’s Matzo Balls is schmaltz, or chicken fat, in which onions are slowly caramelized. As there is a lot of cooking for Passover, I like to make the chicken broth and schmaltz the weekend before. There are at least two methods of preparing schmaltz. You can render the chicken fat by cooking down the fat and skin. Here is a how-to post with step by step pictures. I find it simpler, however, to just make a homemade broth and then skim off the fat layer that congeals at the top when cooled.
Some tips and tricks for getting the best matzo balls:
- Don’t make them too big. The balls will nearly double when cooked, so start off with a small walnut-sized ball.
- Really let the onions slow cook and caramelize in the chicken fat and don’t skrimp on the schmaltz.
- A light touch when forming the matzo balls is key. Don’t over handle them.
- The broth and schmaltz can be made a week ahead of time. The onions can be cooked the day before and stored in the fridge. But don’t let the batter sit more than 1 to 3 hours or it will get too dense.
- And don’t cook the matzo balls too far ahead of time or let them sit in soup. Just before the seder, cook them the first 10 minutes. They can wait for the length of a seder, then just before serving, cook the final 10 minutes in broth.
Mower’s Matzo Ball Soup Recipe
Serves 6 (Easily doubles)
For the matzo balls:
- 2 Tablespoons chicken fat
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 heaping cup of matzo meal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- handful of chopped fresh parsley and thyme
- 1 Tablespoon of chicken broth
For the finished soup:
- 2 quarts prepared chicken broth (recipe follows)
- 1 carrot, very thinly sliced, or shaved with a vegetable peeler
- reserved, shredded meat of 1/2 chicken
On medium low heat, sauté the onions in fat in a covered pan until golden and very soft. Cool onions. (Can be stored in refrigerator 1 day in advance.) Beat together the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the matzo meal, seasoning, herbs and tablespoon of broth. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours. Roll into approximately 16 to 18 balls about the size of small walnuts (use a teaspoon to scoop up batter and dust hands with extra matzo meal to combat stickiness.) Drop balls into a pot of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Then transfer to hot broth with the carrots for another 10 minutes before serving. Add the chicken just at the end to reheat.
My Family’s Chicken Soup
- 1 whole chicken, in pieces
- 1-2 onions (leaving the skin on will add a dark color)
- 3 stalks celery
- 2-3 carrots
- 1-2 parsnips
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 4-5 peppercorns
- salt, to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- filtered water or water plus prepared chicken stock
Place washed chicken in a large pot and cover with water. (You can cheat and intensify the flavor by using a little prepared chicken stock or broth.) Bring to a fast boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Rough chop the onion, celery, carrots, and parsnip and add to the soup with garlic, pepper, salt and bay leaf. (If you are using a prepared stock, consider skipping added salt.) Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked. Remove just the chicken. Remove the meat from the bones and set aside. This helps prevent over-cooked meat. Put the bones, fat and bits back into the pot and continue simmering for 2-3 hours. Keep the water level just covering ingredients. Strain the soup through a sieve, discarding all solids and chill to congeal fat on top. Store in the fridge up to one week or freeze. Jewish Penicillin!!