Matzo Ball Soup From Scratch

This Jewish classic, featuring plump, fluffy dumplings floating in a golden chicken broth is the ultimate family comfort food.

December 7, 2015
matzo ball soup
Josh Wand

I’m told that my grandmother was an excellent cook. According to my father, she made briskets, flavorful roast chicken—all the staples of a Jewish-American home. But there’s only one dish I remember: matzo ball soup. I have one memory, in particular, of sitting at the long table in her dining room and watching her come through the swinging kitchen door holding bowls of soup. It was rich and golden and with two big matzo balls floating in each bowl.  

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Ever since, that soup has spelled pure comfort to me—and I’m not alone. Matzo ball soup is perhaps the most famous of all Jewish foods. It is served every day in delis and lunchrooms across New York, and it is enjoyed by people of every background. “Jewish penicillin” has become everyone’s winter comfort food. And it’s utterly simple to make—just puffy balls of matzo meal and egg bathed in a rich chicken broth. The only differences between one cook’s soup and another’s lies in the details. Some cooks add a bit of shredded chicken or small pieces of carrot to the clear broth. Others add a bit of farfle (broken up pieces of matzo). You can choose to garnish your soup with parsley or dill or nothing at all. 

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Then there are the matzo balls themselves. Some people like them large and fluffy enough to float on the surface of the broth; others like them denser and heavier. Some cooks make their balls with smaltz (rendered chicken fat) or season them with minced herbs; others want them to have as little flavor as possible so that they can soak up the flavors of the broth.

My version of this dish is extremely simple. All the recipe really requires is the willingness to set aside a little bit of time to cook everything slowly and patiently. I make a clear broth out of chicken carcasses so that I don’t waste meat and some extra chicken wings (which thicken the broth with extra collagen), and I add just a bit of ginger and garlic, to pump up the soup’s cold-fighting properties. I make my matzo balls simple and light, with beaten egg whites that keep them fluffy. But I add just a touch of saffron—a nod to my grandmother’s family’s ancient Sephardic roots—which gives the whole thing a deep gold flavor and a slightly richer flavor. 

 

Matzo Ball Soup
Serves 8

2 medium to large chicken carcasses
1 pound chicken wings
2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 stalks of celery cut into 2-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and quartered
10 cloves garlic, skins on, smashed slightly with the side of a knife
6-inch piece ginger, skin on, smashed slightly with the side of a knife
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
¼ cup plus 4 teaspoons salt
Large pinch saffron
4 eggs, separated
1 cup matzo meal
Flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

broth ingredients
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSH WAND

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken carcasses on a parchment paper-lined pan and roast the carcasses for 15 minutes, until golden. Place the roasted carcasses and the wings, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, and peppercorns into a stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, remove any sum that has risen to the surface, then lower the heat and simmer, the soup, covered, over very low heat for 2 ½ hours. 

2. Turn off the heat, let the soup cool to room temperature, then strain the broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Place the broth into a heat-proof pot and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours). Discard the meat and vegetables; (the carrots can be reserved and added to the finished soup, if you like). 

matzo ball ingredients
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSH WAND

 

3. About an hour before serving the soup, make the matzo balls: Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Lightly beat the egg yolks and fold them into the whites, then add the matzo meal and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and fold and mix until well combined. (The egg whites will deflate a bit.) Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to firm up.

rolling a matzo ball
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSH WAND

4. Meanwhile in a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to boil and add ¼ cup salt. When the water is boiling, gently roll spoonfuls of the matzo mixture between your palms to form 1-inch balls, then drop them into the boiling water and let them boil for 15 minutes, rolling them in the water occasionally so that all sides of the balls cook. When they are cooked through, test one by cutting it in half and taking a bite; the matzo balls should not be very al dente in the middle.  turn off the heat and leave the matzo balls in the water. (Draining the matzo balls in a colander can cause them to fall apart.)

broth
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSH WAND

5. While the matzo balls are cooking, take the chicken broth from the refrigerator and remove any fat that has congealed at the top; the soup will still be thick with collagen. Bring the broth to a simmer in a large pot. Crush half of the saffron with a mortar and pestle, and mix it with a tsp of water, then add all it, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and the remaining whole saffron to the broth and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. 

matzo ball soup
Josh Wand

6. Just before serving, add the matzo balls to the broth and let them simmer for 1 minutes to absorb a little of the flavor. (If you’re using the reserved carrots, cut them into thin slices and add them with the matzo balls.) Serve garnished with roughly chopped parsley.