Becoming a good cook is all about the basics. I would say if you’re wanting to work on your cooking skills start with chicken stock. Learning to make a good chicken stock will change so many of your dishes and will give you a depth of flavor that no store bought version can offer. If you’re wanting to become a good Jewish cook then you need to learn how to make a good matzo ball soup. Not only is this maybe one of the most iconic Jewish dishes but it’s great for formal or informal meals and again it’s something that you can really make your own. The key to both is patience and time.
I have had quite a bit of matzo ball soup over the years. I have had some in restaurants, of course my mother used to make it, and I have made it once before. I always knew that I liked matzo ball soup but didn’t think there was much that could be done to surprise me with this dish… until I made the recipe from The Gefilte Manifesto. Seriously. I don’t know how they do it. Recipe after recipe is a hit. Each one equally amazing but for their own specific reasons. I have cooked from A LOT of cookbooks and if I can get 4 or 5 recipes to work from a cookbook I think thats amazing but this book has yet to let me down. After 12 recipes, all of which highly successful you start to see there’s something more to this cookbook than most. There’s a real passion for the food they are inspiring you to cook. Knowing this I was curious about their matzo ball soup. I mean just how much better can it get? Right?
Well, let me just say I said “WOW” several times while eating it. The layer of flavor and the complexity. I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something that makes this dish truly sing and for as much as I will always love my mothers matzo ball soup, I think this is going to be my go to recipe.
One thing I would say about how to make the best matzo ball soup is that in my own opinion it’s all about the ingredients you use. Start with getting the best chicken you can get. I know I have blogged about it before but there’s something truly magical about the chickens I get at the St. Paul Meat Shop. Their flavor and texture is noticeably better than any chicken I have bought anywhere. The other truly outstanding ingredient in this is the Bay Leaf that I use. I know what you’re thinking. Bay? Really? Let me tell you, YES! Recently I ran out of the old crumbly bay leaves I had shoved in a spice drawer. I never really gave them much thought and if a recipe called for them I would add them sure, but I didn’t ever see the point… THEN… I order bay with one of my order from Spice Jungle. I ordered in bulk. I had no idea how much 4 ounces of bay really was! I got this large clamshell of bay. Each leaf carefully stacked in the container. Even without opening it I could tell they were of better quality from the size, color, and even the aroma that was working it’s way through the plastic housing. Then I opened it… OMG! What a smell! Every dish I have added them to has only gotten better. The final thing I noticed that told me these were truly of quality was that when I went to fish them out after the dish was done cooking was that they stayed intact. They actually rehydrated and looked and felt like a proper leaf.
So whether it be the recipe, the chicken, or the spices they all came together in an amazing way!
FOR THE CHICKEN SOUP:
- 2 tablespoons Schmaltz
- 2 tablespoons Grapeseed Oil
- 3 ponds Chicken Pieces
- 3 medium Onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 medium Carrots, peeled and quartered
- 4 Celery Stalks, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 4 Garlic Cloves, peeled and Smashed
- 80 fl ounces Water
- 3 Dried Bay Leaves
- 1 ½ tablespoons Whole Black Peppercorns
- 4 sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 4 sprigs Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley
- 3 sprigs Fresh Dill
- 3 tablespoons Kosher Salt
FOR THE MATZO BALLS:
- 3 whole Matzo
- ¼ cup Matzo Meal
- 2 Large Eggs
- 1 teaspoons Salt
- 4 ounces Chicken Stock (feel free to use the stock from the soup)
- 3 tablespoons Schmaltz
- 1 tablespoon Fresh Parsley, chopped
- 96 fl ounces Water
Day 1 – Make the Soup:
In a large stock pot add the schmaltz and the oil. (I add the oil to help keep the schmaltz from smoking.) Set the pot over medium heat. Once the fats are hot brown the chicken. Once the chicken is browned on all sides remove from the pot and set aside.
Add the onions and garlic. As the onions start to break down becoming translucent stir them around and try to scrape up any brown bits off the bottom. Add the Celery and carrots. Stir it around getting all the veggies well coated in the fat. Add the chicken on top of the veggies. Pour in the water. Add the herbs. (I had a hard time fishing these out so next time I am either going to tie them together or bundle them up in some cheesecloth.) Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 3 hours. You’ll want to lift the lid and check out all the goodness that’s going on but don’t you don’t want any flavor escaping.
After the three hours remove from the heat and let it rest. Don’t be in a hurry. Once you’re ready lift the lid off and with tongs, fish out the herbs and discard. I like to have three bowls to work with. In one bowl fish out the chicken. This works well if you can use something like a spider skimmer. The chicken is going to be VERY tender and want to just slip right off the bones. If you happen to get some veggies pieces with the chicken down worry about it. In the second bowl I put the veggies. This can be done with tongs but don’t apply too much pressure as they are tender as well. Then in the last bowl you will want to set a fine mesh strainer over it, maybe line it with cheese cloth. Then pour out the broth/stock. Any solids that are caught in the strainer can then be sorted in to the appropriate bowl.
I then take 8 storage containers and divide up the broth. Next, I roughly chop up the veggies and divide them amongst the containers. Finally I pick all the chicken off the bones, shredding it as I go, discarding the bones, and divide up the meat amongst the containers. I then let them fully cool, close them up and store them in the fridge.
DAY 2 Make the Matzo Balls:
I had my husband make matzo ahead of time.
In a food processor add the matzo meal and one sheet of matzo broken in to pieces. Pulse. Add the next sheet of matzo. Pulse. Add the final pice of matzo. Pulse again. If it’s still looking to rough pulse a couple more times. You don’t want it too fine but you don’t want large chunks either.
In a large bowl whisk together the egg, a teaspoon of salt, chicken stock, schmaltz, and parsley. Add the matzo. With a rubber spatula fold the matzo into the egg mixture until all the matzo is wet. Cover with plastic and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
In a 6 quart pot add the water and 1 ½ tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil.
Remove from the fridge and make 1 ounce balls. I like to use a cookie scoop for this. You can also use a spoon. After scooping, smooth the matzo balls out in your hands to make sure they are well combine.
Add the matzo balls to the boiling water. Once they float, cover, and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from the water and add to the portions of soup.