If there’s one dish that encapsulates Jewish cooking, it’s Matzah Ball Chicken Soup, transforming readily available ingredients into ambrosia.
Hearty, schmaltzy and infinitely nourishing, it’s no wonder that it’s chicken soup people are prescribed for the soul and common cold alike. Though the matzah balls are traditionally a Passover addition, many families make this an all-around staple of their Friday night dinners.
As the word matzah is a transliteration from Hebrew, it’ll either be spelt ‘-ah’ or ‘-os’ depending on where it has come from, but it’s all the same thing – essentially giant unsalted Salada crackers – which are strangely moreish until you’re forced to eat only matzah (instead of bread) for the duration of Passover.
Every first Seder meal, people find themselves saying ‘why don’t we eat this more often?’, but by the end of the week, you can’t bear to look at the stuff.
I’ve combined my Mama’s flavours with techniques I picked up during some invaluable classical French training with chef Walter Trupp. You could say it’s 50% broth, 50% bouillon: 100% liquid gold.
Ingredients (serves 6-8)
For the chicken soup
1.5kg chicken wingettes or drumettes
2 tablespoons schmaltz (chicken fat)*
2 brown onions (medium size) cubed
2 medium carrots unpeeled cubed
2 celery sticks sliced into 1cm pieces
2-3 garlic cloves whole
10 white or black peppercorns
4 parsley and/or dill stalks (save the tops for garnish)
2 bay leaves
5L filtered water
For the matzah balls
2/3 cup coarse matzo meal
1/2 cup fine matzo meal flour (both can be found in the kosher section of most major supermarkets, as well as speciality food stores)
2 eggshell halves of water
2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp schmaltz*, melted
1 ½ tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 brown onion, halved
To make the matzah balls, break the eggs into a separate bowl. Use one of the eggshell halves to measure out 2 half shells worth of water into the bowl. Beat together with a fork until there is an even creamy consistency. Pour in melted schmaltz and stir gently with a fork until the oil has incorporated (it won’t take long).
Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the egg mix in, stirring gently with a fork being careful not to overmix. Pop your mix in the fridge while you get your boiling broth ready.
For the soup, melt the schmaltz in the bottom of your soup pot and sweat the onion until translucent, covering with a lid to avoid browning/burning. Note: well-sweated onions take at least ten minutes, but this time will pay dividends for unctuousness on the other end.
Meanwhile, using a metal colander, pour a kettle’s worth of boiling water over your chosen chicken pieces (this will help avoid too much time intensive skimming). Set aside.
Once the onions are golden and translucent, add the rest of your vegetables and coat them with schmaltz. Throw in your chicken pieces and aromats and cover the whole thing with filtered water.
Bring to the boil and immediately turn down to a simmer, skimming any scum as needed (so that it doesn’t reincorporate into the broth). Cook for 90 minutes.
Strain through your metal colander or chinois and discard bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic and stalks but add the vegetables back to the broth and season to taste. Also, shred the meat and reserve into an airtight container.
To cook the matzah balls, heat a large, heavy-based pot with a wide base on medium heat. Halve your onion and brush any residual schmaltz onto the exposed faces. Pop them into the bottom of the pot to caramelise (how dark you want your onion depends on how ballsy you want to be with bitterness – I like to take mine to a deep, golden brown for extra flavour infusion into your balls).
Add enough water to fill the pot, leaving enough room for the matzah balls to float. Season as you would pasta water and bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, roll heaped teaspoons of mixture into walnut-sized balls, popping them onto a plate/tray lined with baking paper ready for boiling. The less you fiddle with these, the fluffier and lighter they’ll be.
Pop the balls into boiling water, leaving them to boil until all the balls float to the top, then lowering the temperature to a rolling simmer for 30-40 minutes, without any interruption (no stirring, thanks!).
Remove matzah balls from water with a slotted spoon and pop straight into your soup bowls, back into the fridge for ‘ron or even onto a lined baking tray to freeze for later still.
To serve, pop 2-3 matzah balls and some shredded chicken into individual soup bowls.
Pour over your chicken soup and garnish with fresh parsley or dill.
The number one tip I can give you for great chicken soup, is to use the best quality chicken you can afford. Choosing wingettes or drumettes is a relatively inexpensive option and they provide a much clearer, richer broth. You can opt to include organic free-range chicken carcasses also. Well-reared chickens taste so much better, and you can extract a lot of flavour using less of it. A bag of chicken carcasses from a good butcher is a great place to start if you’re on a budget.
I harvest my schmaltz every time I roast a chicken. Once the chicken’s out of the pan, I very carefully pour off the golden liquid into a jar and store it in a fridge, where it solidifies. You can buy schmaltz from kosher butchers, or if not readily available to you, duck or goose fat are great alternatives. You can also opt to use olive oil, but once you go chicken fat, you don’t go back.