Martha’s Excellent Matzoh Ball Soup
Bruce & Eric Bromberg
Cooking Passover dinner at the James Beard House with our Grandmother Martha is quite possibly one of the greatest memories of our lives. For us, it simply is not a real Passover Seder without her delicious matzoh ball soup. As a child we remember agonizing during the reading while waiting to eat. The intoxicating aroma of her soup filled the air while we salivated, dreaming of the moment when we could finally dig in. Her matzoh balls walk the line between soft and firm. They hold their shape and don’t fall apart when you cut them, but they melt in the mouth. The broth is pretty special too, flecked with dill and dotted with golden puddles of schmaltz floating on the surface. Everyone in her neighborhood, everyone in the temple, everyone everywhere knew that Martha made the best matzoh ball soup ever.
– Bruce & Eric Bromberg, Chefs & Owners, Blue Ribbon Restaurants
Photo by Cydney Puro
- 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 fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sprigs fresh dill
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup matzoh meal
- 2 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, 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)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
- For the broth, rub the chicken with the 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, then 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, and while the chicken cools. 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 slightly, then refrigerate until cold, overnight or up to 3 days in advance.
- Using a slotted spoon, skim off the solidified chicken fat from the surface of the broth. Save for making the matzoh balls or another purpose (see box).
- For the matzoh balls, in a large bowl, stir together the eggs, matzoh meal, chicken fat, 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 (not tall and skinny, see Blue Ribbon Wisdom) 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 matzoh balls. As they are formed, drop them into the boiling water. When all the matzoh 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 baking sheet. If not using that day, let cool to room temperature, then store the matzoh balls in a single layer in an airtight container filled with cooled cooking liquid to cover for up 2 days.
- To serve, gently heat the matzoh balls in a pot filled with matzoh ball cooking liquid or fresh water to cover (when the water comes to a simmer, taste a matzoh 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 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 matzoh balls into the soup and serve piping hot.
Blue Ribbon Wisdom: Using Chicken Fat
We like to save the fat skimmed from the surface of the soup to use as a flavoring for other soups, stews, sauces and stir-fries. Just add a little bit to the oil or butter you’re using to sauté the onions for the base. Or, use it in place of any other fat. A little goes a long way.
A note on terminology. The fat skimmed from the top of the soup is not what our grandmother would consider to be proper schmaltz. The soup fat is only mildly flavored from the vegetables in the broth. To make true schmaltz, you need to cook onions in the chicken fat until they get golden brown. That’s what gives you schmaltziest flavor.
Blue Ribbon Wisdom: Even More About Matzoh Balls
To make matzoh balls that are light and fluffy all the way through without being rock hard in the center, it’s imperative to let the batter rest in the fridge for an hour before cooking. This gives the flour time to absorb all the liquid and to relax, just like in a pie or bread dough. Otherwise you’ll get matzoh balls that are mushy and falling apart on the outside and tooth-breaking inside.
Another tip is to make sure you’re using a wide rather than tall pot. Ideally, the matzoh balls should fit in the pot in one even layer so they have plenty of room to bob around. If you’ve got two layers of balls, the ones from the bottom will push up the ones on top and none will cook evenly. The matzoh balls are done when they rise to the surface and roll around evenly when you poke them. You’ll start to get a good sense of when this is, but to be sure, cut one in half and take a peek.
Blue Ribbon Wisdom: Mom’s Perfect Chicken Salad
Our mom made the best chicken salad when we were growing up, and it’s a great way to use up that poached chicken you’ll have after making this soup. Just dice up the meat, and mix it with mayonnaise, salt, plenty of pepper and some chopped green apple. It’s sweet, tart, creamy and just awesome.