Tonight we were busy saying goodbye to Emily and Casey before they make their trek across the country to their new home in Seattle, so it seems like a perfect day for a guest post. My friend Amadie graciously offered to write one for me. Passover may be over, but I’ve had her matzo ball soup, and it’s good any time of the year. Trust me.
I called my mom on Monday as I was finishing up the cooking for Passover dinner. “Passover is today?” she asked. As you can probably guess, I was not raised in a very observant Jewish household. I was raised, however, with tales of traditional Jewish cooking. So now, I’ve made it my mission to try to master some of my favorite dishes.
The best matzo ball soup does not come from canned stock and packages of matzo ball mix. It’s a two-day process that hearkens back to the days of Yiddish-speaking mothers and grandmothers making everything from scratch. But for the two days it takes to make the soup, your house will smell incredible and you will wind up with a super food that not only tastes delicious, but also makes you new friends and heals just about any ailment (or at least, that’s what my grandmother claimed).
First, you need to make the stock. Take a 4- to 5-pound whole chicken and remove the skin (set the skin aside — you will need it later). Place it in a very large stockpot and cover it with water (about 4 to 6 quarts of water). Bring the water and chicken to a boil and skim off and discard any stuff that has floated to the top. Next, add the vegetables, herbs and spices. At the very least, you will need the following:
- 2-4 carrots
- 1-2 onions
- 2-3 stalks of celery (with leaves)
But I like to add in other vegetables and herbs to make a richer-colored, more flavorful broth. For this batch, I also used:
- 4 parsnips
- 1 turnip
- 1 rutabaga
- a handful of parsley
- several sprigs of dill
- several sprigs of thyme
The best thing about this? You don’t need to peel or chop any of it. I usually cut the carrots, celery and parsnips in half and quarter the rest of the root vegetables.
Then you just throw it all in the pot, give it a quick stir, wait for it to return to a boil, put a lid on the pot, lower the heat until it simmers and then be patient. You’ll need to let it simmer for 4-5 hours.
While the stock is simmering, you can turn your attention to the matzo balls. Remember that chicken skin you set aside? You will need it so that you can render some chicken fat. (If you prefer to skip this step, you can ask your local butcher or market if they have any rendered chicken fat — I haven’t had a ton of success finding any thus far, but it could just be that I shop at the wrong places). To render the fat, slice an onion in half and place it cut side down in a sauté pan with the reserved chicken skin. As the pan heats up, the fat will come off as a clear liquid, which you can then remove from the pan with a baster and set aside. You will need 6 tablespoons of rendered fat for the matzo balls.
Once the fat is rendered, place 6 tablespoons in a bowl with 6 eggs. Whisk the ingredients together until well-combined. Add in 1-1/2 cups matzo meal and a pinch of salt and stir until combined. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
After the stock has simmered for 4-5 hours, let it cool to room temperature. Strain it through a sieve to remove all the solid ingredients and then place it in the refrigerator overnight, as well.
The next day, take the stock out of the refrigerator, skim off the fat that has collected at the top, let it come to room temperature and slowly bring it back up to a boil over medium-low heat. (Confession time: usually there is not enough homemade stock because it has reduced so much during cooking, so I often add a 32-ounce box of organic chicken broth to the homemade stock just to make sure I have enough liquid.) After the stock is boiling, take the matzo meal mixture out of the refrigerator, wet your hands and gently form the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter (they will nearly double in size while cooking). Be very careful not to compact the mixture or handle it too much, as that will make the matzo balls chewy and dense. Using a slotted spoon, place the matzo balls in the boiling stock, add a couple sprigs of dill, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.
At that point, everything in the house will smell like matzo ball soup, but you and your guests will have a rich, satisfying traditional Jewish dish like the ones my mother remembers so fondly.
What is your favorite traditional family dish?