Matzo Ball Soup: The Ultimate Comfort Food
A Traditional Jewish Soup That Everyone Loves!
While matzo ball soup is a pre-eminently Jewish food, it is also one of the best of comfort foods--up there with chicken with homemade egg noodles!
The matzo ball part of matzo ball soup is actually very close to homemade egg noodles in composition. It's made with matzo meal (crushed matzo crackers), lots of eggs, fat, and a little liquid (water or chicken broth).
In recent years, at least in my part of the country, matzo meal has become hard to find outside urban areas with a large Jewish population. Matzo crackers are much more available and are especially likely to appear on grocery shelves right before Passover, which is more or less the same time as Easter. It is one of the foods traditionally served at Passover.
If you can't find matzo meal, you can buy matzo crackers and crush them to make matzo meal. Even though I have never managed to crush the crackers as fine as store-bought matzo meal, the resulting matzo balls have always been perfect.
Matzo Ball Soup Is an Easy and Convenient Recipe, If Not Necessarily a Fast One
Matzo ball soup is not really a fast and easy recipe, but it’s not much trouble. There is a process involved, but it’s a simple process.
Cook the chicken in a crock pot, so the broth is ready when you get home from work. The matzo ball dough can also be stirred up ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to use it.
If the chicken broth is prepared ahead in the crock pot and the dough placed in the refrigerator ahead of time, the making of the actual soup becomes quick and easy!
Also, this recipe makes quite a large pot of soup. It was about right for four people: me and three teenage daughters. But, even if you have a smaller family, Mom is likely to find the last matzo ball is gone, when she goes back for seconds. People inhale this stuff.
But matzo ball soup freezes well, if you find that a big pot of soup is more than your family can eat at one sitting. You'll be glad you have some in the freezer!
The Original Recipe from the 1980s Matzo Meal Box Is a Kids' Favorite
Matzo ball soup is an OMG recipe.
This was one of my kids’ very favorite meals when they were growing up. I always made lots, and we treated it as a meal unto itself—though it would probably be healthier to serve it with a salad.
At our house, this was often a weekend treat, the eagerly awaited accompaniment to a rented movie. One of the neighbor kids, who sometimes joined my daughters for movie night, begged me to make it again forever after.
This is the recipe that used to be printed on the matzo meal box back in the 1980s. I recently noticed that they have changed the recipe—but this one is tried and true, and I don’t trust the new one.
How Big Should You Make the Matzo Balls?
My first experience with matzo ball soup was at a restaurant in New York City, and it became my favorite light lunch after a long morning of shopping along West 57th Street. The way matzo ball soup was served at the little restaurant I frequented was like this: A very large (softball-size) matzo ball was set before you in a pool of clear golden chicken broth.
Because of this experience, I have always believed that matzo balls should be large. Not everyone makes them that way. Some people make them gefilte-fish size. Some people throw in some noodles. Some people even throw in some of the chicken meat or some carrots (which could make for a nice golden color). Well, all I can say is, “Oy!” Just do it my way, okay?
Too-Dinky Matzo Balls--in My Opinion
How To Make Matzo Ball Soup: Begin by Making Chicken Broth
First, make the chicken broth. Substituting canned chicken broth will give disappointing results. You want a hearty homemade chicken broth--the kind that gels when refrigerated because it's so rich in protein.
Put a large whole chicken in a large pot or crock pot with water to cover. If on the stove top, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer at low or medium low heat for a couple of hours. If in the crock pot, it can cook all day or overnight.
Remove the chicken from the pot and reserve for other uses. Strain the chicken broth into a clean pot that can go on the stove top.
One the secrets to good chicken broth--and hence good matzo ball soup--is to add just the right amount of salt. Add salt a little at a time, tasting as you go. You want to reach the point where the broth tastes very good, but will allow for people add extra salt after serving.
Crushing Matzo Crackers To Make Matzo Meal
How to Make Matzo Balls
Buy plain matzo meal in the ethnic foods section of your grocery store. Be sure you are not getting a matzo ball soup mix.
If you can't find plain matzo meal, you can buy a box of matzo crackers and crush or grind them to a fine cracker meal, which will work just as well. Matzo can be crushed to fine crumbs by putting them in a plastic freezer bag and crushing them with a rolling pin, or you can use a food processor to grind the crackers to a fine meal.
8 tablespoons Crisco (you can substitute any fat that is solid at room temperature, such as lard, palm oil (the white kind), or beef tallow)
2 cups matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons broth or water
- Melt Crisco in the microwave, but don’t let it get too hot.
- Mix melted Crisco with eggs.
- Mix salt with Crisco and eggs.
- Add matzo meal and mix well.
- Add broth or water and mix well again.
- Cover and refrigerate. Refrigerating the dough makes it possible to easily form it into balls. Refrigerate for at least 20-30 minutes, so that the dough gets well chilled. Making the matzo-ball dough ahead—say, when you put the chicken on to cook—and allowing it to chill for an extended time up to several hours works well too. Just make sure it’s in a tightly sealed container, such as a Tupperware container or plastic bag, to avoid discoloration caused by contact with air. But if the dough gets discolored, don’t worry about it.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
- Shape the matzo-ball dough into perfectly round spheres by rolling balls of dough between your hands. These balls of dough should be about the size of baseballs.
- Drop the balls into the boiling water. Cover and cook at medium to medium low heat for about 20 minutes. You may want to turn them over during cooking.
- While the matzo balls are cooking in a pot of plain water, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a separate pot. Add salt to the chicken broth until it tastes right to you.
- After the matzo balls are done, transfer them to the pot of chicken broth, and simmer the matzo balls in the chicken broth for five minutes or so.
- Serve each person one huge matzo ball surrounded by lovely clear golden chicken broth.
Matzo Ball Dough Ready To Go in the Fridge
Matzo Balls Simmering in Plain Water While Chicken Broth Simmers in a Separate Pot
Transferring Cooked Matzo Balls to Chicken Broth with a Slotted Spoon
Matzo Balls Simmering in Chicken Broth
There is a temptation to skip the step of cooking the matzo balls in plain salted water and dump them directly into the chicken broth. This will produce unpleasant results. (I speak from experience here.)
There is a temptation to substitute cooking oil for Crisco. This will result in mushy matzo balls that won’t shape into balls, so avoid doing this. (I speak from experience here too.) For those who would rather avoid Crisco, good substitutes would be lard or Spectrum Shortening (available in health food stores), which is 100% palm oil. Beef tallow would also work well.
You may see a matzo ball soup mix on your grocery shelf and be tempted to try this more convenient approach. I have tried the mix, and it is disgusting.
You will become famous among the neighbor children, and maybe at potluck dinners as well. That’s if your kids don’t eat it all before you can get it out the door.
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