I'd love to know what you consider the keys to your favorite version -- both the matzo balls and the soup itself. Parsnips seem to be a theme, but a friend uses turnip, sweet potato & leek in the broth, so it got me thinking about variations.
One of the secrets my grandmother used was to always keep the skin on onions, that way the broth gets really golden. She also used copious amounts of MSG. Nowadays, I keep my broth simple (K.I.S.S. Rules has never failed me), (skin on) yellow onions, half of a halved garlic head, unpeeled carrots, whole celery stalks, sachet of bay leafs, thyme, flat leaf parsley, dill, black peppercorns, pinch of salt, & cold water. As for what goes in the soup, I keep it simple there too, carrot coins, and a bit of sweated yellow medium diced onions. No weird herbs floating around or anything like that. Another tip, reserve schmaltz (a.k.a. rendered chicken fat) to add to each bowl, the addition really makes it authentic. To see a golden, clear broth, carrot coins, a big ol' matzoh ball, and a slick of schmaltz, makes my day.
As for matzoh balls, keep them light as possible. A bit of Seltzer water is good, very little handling is also good, I use a disher, and including a bit of schmaltz for flavor won't hurt you either.
Duck stock all the way. I make no pretensions to knowing anything whatsoever about matzo balls, but I do know that if you want to make a memorable stock that will be center stage, do this: Cover roasted duck bones with a couple quarts of cold water and cook without any veggies for about an hour at a low simmer, regularly skimming any scum off the top. There shouldn't be much. Then add a bay leaf, one small carrot, one small onion with some pieces of skin -- I coarsely chop and sweat it, because I don't like what raw onion does to the flavor of stock -- plus about a dozen coarsely chopped parsley stems, and their leaves if I have extra. Parsley stems are full of flavor so I usually don't add the leaves in this case unless I have a lot of them. I don't add celery because I don't care much for what it does to poultry based broths. I don't add peppercorns because they make the stock taste bitter when added before the end. Cook for no more than 45 minutes, again at a simmer. Remove the veggies, bones, etc. as soon as 45 minutes have passed. If you leave them in longer, they absorb the stock. Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve. Clean the pot and return the stock to the pot. Add two or three carrots, depending on their size and the amount of stock (peeled and sliced) along with a pinch of salt and cook just until tender. Then proceed with the matzos, using whatever method you know and love. Add freshly ground pepper at the end. Duck fat is nice, too, if you have it. ;o)
First off - what AJ says - duck fat rules! I have NEVER made them! I remember my Grandmas though - clear gold broth, big round matzo balls, and lots of parsley. I don't remember veggies BUT - I haven't had hers since I was maybe 7 so I could have demanded their removal or something obnoxious like that :-)
I use the traditional recipe my mom always used, which calls for 1 large onion (skin on), carrots, celery, parsnip, dill, and chicken (of course). Once it's cooked, I cool it to skim the fat and shred the chicken (discarding skin and bones). I like matzoh balls both dense and light. They're just a dream Has there ever been a passover food contest? It might be fun.
I remember one year being challenged to make a vegan soy-free version, what a fun adventure! I decided to go local too and use local wheat to make my own under-18-minute-matzoh. In doing my research, I asked as many matzoh eaters as I could find to determine whether folks preferred them dense or light. The result? An even 50/50 split! I found that the funny thing about matzohs is that they are not really about what is the "best" way to make them or even the most "tasty" way to eat them, they really seem to be tied to family tradition and the only person who seems to be able to make them perfectly is...bubby.
Even though I'm a non-Jew (let alone an observant one) I still really enjoy cooking for the Jewish holy days, and God knows there's a lot of them. I have guests coming for the Passover/Easter weekend so I'm planning on working in a matzoh ball soup. I begin by making a chicken stock and clarifying it to the point of consomme. In making the stock I use a bouquet garnie tied up in the leaves of leek as opposed to celery. I absolutely agree with Mr. Vittles on schmaltz. It's good for you bubby. To the soup itself I will add shaved carrot, some dill and thin pasta pieces---anything from fideo to alphabets. For the matzohs I use the plain old Manichewitz mix. I like to make the balls smallish rather than big gut bombs.
For the matzoh balls, I throw in a little baking powder for fluffiness. Chill the dough in the fridge for the full amount of time recommended on the matzoh meal package prior to forming. Handle as little as possible in forming the balls--you should have your hands dampened and with a little oil on them. You can make them small, a little more than walnut-sized, because they will expand. I cook them covered in salted simmering water to avoid clouding the soup and because they do absorb a lot of liquid. Sometimes I add minced dill or parsley (rinsed and very well-dried) to the mixture.
For the soup, I use leeks, onions, carrots, celery and sometimes a parsley root, which adds depth of flavor. Some add a piece of flanken (thinly-cut beef ribs). Use the freshest chicken you can find and start everything in cold water with adequate salt, bringing slowly to a simmer and skimming the froth. A tied bunch of parsley goes in at the end of the cooking (tie the string to the pot handle). I sometimes strain it through a coffee filter (or cheesecloth) for clarity. My mother makes it without the flanken but adds minced dill just before serving. Her broth is light and crystal- clear. Grandpa's was the one with flanken and parsley root. I don't know which one was better, they were both so good but different from each other.
My family's tradional matzo ball soup has strict rules & protocol. Veggies include carrots (coins), chopped parsnips, leeks, rutabaga and turnips. Balls never cooked in the chicken broth so it remains clear as oppose to murky. Herbs include fresh dill and cinnimnon. Any type of "pasta" in this soup is a huge foul. The only noodles are egg noodles and used for chicken soup, aka Jewish penicillen. Never use boxed matzo ball mix, mixed together with shmaltz, for sure, and is supervised by an adult the day of with the kids rolling the balls and dropping into the water. The veggies and boiled chicken are strained twice, chicken shredded and separated and put into separate dishes. We serve the broth in a kettle, which is passe around the table, followed by the dish of shredded chicken, veggie bowl and bowl of matzo balls. Our balls are large and heavy, "sinkers" as oppose to "floaters". Passover is the only high holiday we serve this.
I should add that we're Ashkenazi Jews, so the veggies may reflect the region & country (Russia) we hail from & what was available. I suppose how people use Italian and Asian to describe general food dishes there's more to it than the name. I forgot to add parsley to the herb list
My grandmother didn't cut up anything. Whole yellow onion, poked through with a knife (she thought it released more flavor), 3 celery stalks with leaves (these days, I often use only the leafy tops from the farmers market), 3 scraped carrots and a well scrubbed parsley ROOT. (If you can't find parsley root, use a whole bunch of parsley wrapped in cheesecloth.) And a whole chicken. And 1 tablespoon Kosher salt. this recipe easily made 2 quarts of gorgeous soup.
Matzo balls... I still make her recipe. No seltzer, no beaten egg whites, definitely no oil. Always comes out light and fluffy. Her major "secret" was to keep the pot covered at all costs. When you are dropping them into the pot of boiling water, you crack the lid just enough to slide in the dumpling.
Kristen if you want the recipe I'll be glad to send you a book. It's in there. ;)
I should add that our chicken soup is never served with anything else in it but the Matzo Balls. Veggies are discarded. The chicken is used for sandwiches or chicken salad. We always ate the carrots for lunch!
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I add lots of parsley and chives to my matzo balls. My mother looked at me like I was committing a sin the first time she saw me do that but now she does it as well.
a little grated fresh ginger is tasty too.
For soup: 4-4 1/2 lbs. chicken, 1 onion (peeled and studded with 6 whole cloves), 2 cloves garlic, 2 carrots (cut in chunks), 1 turnip (peeled and cut in chunks), 2 parsnips (peeled and cut in chunks), 2 stalks celery (cut in chunks), 1 sweet potato (peeled and cut in chunks), 1 Tbs. kosher salt (or to taste), about 1 tsp. ground pepper, dill weed (about 1 tsp. dried).
Toss into pot. Cover with water. Bring to boil. Partially cover and simmer about 3 1/2 hrs., or till chicken is done. Cool slightly. Remove chicken and set aside for another use. Strain soup and discard veggetables. Chill overnight. Remove fat (can reserve for another use). Heat and serve. Soup can be made ahead and frozen.
For matzo balls: 2 eggs (beaten well), mixed wth 1/2 c. matzo meal, 2 Tbs. oil, 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper, dash nutmeg, 1/4 c, club soda. Chill at least 30 minutes. With wet hands, form into balls (about 1 Tbs. mixture). Drop into simmering soup. Cover pot and simmer 30 minutes. Do noy uncover pot, or you'll end up with cannon balls instead of matzo balls.
I use a chicken carcass to make the stock. It can't taste too much like chicken soup in the end or else my father-in-law won't get to say, "What? Did the chicken run through the pot with rubber boots on?" And I pour the soup over pre-cooked matzo balls and carrots at the table. Presentation counts!
However, this does risk a bland flavor if cook the Matzo balls in water, so I cook them in a good low-sodium store-bought broth.
And yes, be sure the matzo is very cold as you shape it into the balls and keep the lid on the pot at all costs!
All this talk of matzo balls is making me very hungry for them. Did I mention that Matzo Ball Soup is my ultimate comfort food?
Me too. They define comfort food.
My grandmother's matzoh balls were my iconic version - made with seltzer, chicken fat, the perfect touch. (Soup made with a whole chicken, carrots, parsnip, a whole onion, dill, parsley, good pinch of sugar, s&p... and strained crystal clear.) Nothing was served in it besides the matzoh balls a few carrot slices - unless, of course, she thought you were looking pale; then she might throw in a few pieces of shredded chicken. She also never called them matzoh balls - they were kneidlach.
Btw, the huge airy matzoh balls served at restaurants these days (e.g., Second Ave. Deli type places) are just off to me. The ones I grew up on were maybe as big as golf balls and while not heavy, not overly fluffy either. They had a slight - but essential - 'chew' to them. (Sort of how bagels have become these giant spongy - chew-free - blobs nowadays.)
For the Matzo Balls I use extra large or even jumbo eggs, and always home made chicken soup added to the matzo mixture as well as melted butter (as long as you're not kosher) because it truly infuses more flavor into the ball. Adding a bit of schmaltz (chicken fat) to the melted butter can't hurt , either.
We like them large, but light, but not falling apart. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and simmer covered for 40 minutes without disturbing them. After carefully draining them in a large slotted spoon
I place them in the strained broth so they absorb all the delicious flavor from the broth before serving them with a piece of cooked carrot and sometimes egg noodles as well.
For an over-the-top chicken soup try my twice- cooked version (which I do when time allows). It is amazing how recooking the finished broth with additional carrots, celery and onions, and more chicken
produces the richest golden chicken broth you have ever had.
my soup is on the site here (http://www.food52.com/recipes... ), but I stopped making homemade matzo balls some years ago. My sister first discovered that the Manischevitz mix was just as good as our homemade ones, which required about 30 minutes of beating the egg whites with an old fashioned mixing utensil (looked sort of like a potato masher but with concentric circles that went up and down and whipped the eggs. I haven't looked back.
Thanks so much, everyone -- what an amazing resource this thread has become!