Gourmandistan

Matzo ball soup made better with brownness

Matzo ball soupIn her charming 1989 book, Cooking with Memories, Lora Brody had a chapter called “Gourmet Chicken Soup,” which related her dismay at a Passover Seder where she was forced to endure a “highfalutin’ chicken soup” that lacked matzo balls. She wrote that her mother made the comment, “Escoffier would be proud”—a sly insult because the promulgator of haute cuisine “wasn’t Jewish and neither … [was] this soup.” Brody continued the chapter by offering her own chicken soup recipe, which includes cubes of chicken bouillon added to raw chicken necks and backs plus “2 pullets or 1 large fowl,” simmered for two hours with some aromatics and then strained. If the soup seemed “very undersalted,” Brody recommended adding “another bouillon cube rather than straight salt.”

Wonder if Steve's grandmother used bouillon cubes?

Wonder if Steve’s grandmother used bouillon cubes?

While Gourmandistan’s kosher bona fides are quite thin, we’re pretty confident about our ability to make chicken stock. Unlike (at least the 1989 version of) Brody and French housewives (who apparently love the stuff), we see adding processed bouillon cubes as an admission of defeat, not as a way to introduce more salt. Our roasted, long-simmered chicken stock is indeed dark brown—because “brown” means “tasty” in our language. But we will give Brody a bit of credit for her seltzer-less matzo balls, and her urging to eat them at times other than holidays.

Matzo ball soup

Steve was very familiar with bad matzo ball soup as a youth, his New York summers scattered with meals featuring blinding white, doughy, grapefruit-sized dumplings, half-submerged in a pale, vaguely chicken-tasting soup. Determined not to allow the tough, rubbery monstrosities into Gourmandistan, he started by making his own matzo, turning the results over to Michelle for the finish. When we looked for instruction, we found recipe after recipe featuring seltzer water for “lightness.” But while Gourmandistan has many sparkling things (inherited crystal, gift dreamcatchers and of course repartee), water isn’t usually one of them. Fortunately Brody (whose “Matzo Balls I” calls for four tablespoons of the stuff) included an un-carbonated alternative (“Matzo Balls II”) which uses beaten egg whites instead.

Matzo ball soup

We put a few other “highfalutin'” touches on our soup, such as adding chives and parsley to the dumplings as well as some very small chopped vegetables to the broth. The matzo balls turned out light and very tasty, adding richness and flavor to an already (if we do say ourselves) marvelous stock. It may not please Lora Brody’s mother, but we’ll bet Escoffier would eat it any day of the week.

MATZO BALL SOUP

(matzo balls adapted from Lora Brody’s Cooking with Memories)

Matzo Balls:

  • 1 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 3 TB chicken fat (or butter)
  • 8 room temperature eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 3/4 c. minced herbs (such as dill, chives and parsley)
  • 1-1/2 c. matzo meal*

*You can buy matzo meal. Or, you can make your own by processing matzos (homemade if you like) in a food processor.

Sauté onion in chicken fat or butter. Set aside to cool.

Beat egg yolks until thick. Beat in salt, pepper, herbs and cooled onion.

Beat egg whites in another bowl until they form soft peaks.

Fold a fourth of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture. Sift half the meal on top of the mixture and fold in gently. Fold in remaining whites. Then, sift remaining meal over and fold in completely. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Soup assembly:

  • 4 quarts rich chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • a couple of carrots, peeled and diced small
  • a couple of scallions, white and green parts sliced cross-wise
  • fresh dill, roughly chopped

Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot. Taste and add salt, if needed.

While stock is warming, cook carrots in boiling water for a few minutes until almost done but still a bit crunchy. Drain in a colander and shock with cold water. Set aside.

Gently form golf ball-sized balls from the matzo mix. Place on a platter or cutting board covered with plastic wrap. After all balls are formed, add to stock. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

To serve: Place several matzo balls in each soup bowl. Pour stock over. Sprinkle with blanched carrots, scallions and dill.

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27 comments

  1. I’ve been reading Claudia Roden’s Jewish Food in depth. It seems there are as many ways to make chicken soup as there are chickens. I love chicken soup a lot and would never dream of adding a boullion cube. We used to call it rooster booster in the kitchen and we treated it with disdain. I still do. Matzo balls are not part of my heritage but I will try them!

    • I have been meaning to buy that book! I recently read one about Jewish food in the U.S. South which was way too scholarly and not particularly interesting. I love that: “rooster booster”! And I crack up every time we go to France because the rental house kitchens are just full of the stuff. Apparently every renter buys, uses a cube or two and leaves the rest. Then the next renter comes and does the same. God knows those salty cubes will last as long as the cockroaches do. 😉

  2. I envy you for using dill. My husband hates it, so it is kind of banned from my kitchen :-(. These dumplings sound absolutely tasty, although I have to admit I checked on your older post to be sure what matzo was. The chicken stock looks no less than impressive!

    • Thanks, Sabine! I like dill. Though I must admit, only in small doses. We are still laughing decades on about some salmon with dill dish my mother ordered once in a fancy restaurant. I don’t know who in the world could like dill that much. That fish was swimming in a bright green sauce which looked like algae!

      Didn’t you do some dumplings with bread crumbs a while back? It’s much the same, just unleavened.

      • Poor salmon! Too much of a good thing sometimes isn´t a good thing….certainly true for dill!
        I did Semmelknödel a while ago, yes! Maybe I should have them swimming in a soup next time 🙂

  3. I loved the prose here. It’s not only the photos that keep me coming back, but the recipe adaptation with witty lead-ins and nostalgic anecdotes. “Highfalutin’ chicken soup!” It’s funny, many of my Jewish friends buy those little cubes in bulk and use them as one would salt in stocks, rice and stews… something passed down to them from their moms, I suppose. As for the matzo, I am guessing it’s very light and airy from the whipped egg whites and rich from the yolks. The trio of mixed herbs is a bright touch. Your stock recipe looks amazing; overnight stock? WOW.

    • Steve (the main writer) will be thrilled to hear that, Shanna! I just said above, but will repeat: I am always amused when we go to France because the rental house kitchens are just full of the stuff. Apparently every renter buys, uses a cube or two and leaves the rest. Then the next renter comes and does the same. God knows those salty cubes will last through a nuclear apocalypse. Maybe the cockroaches will eat them. 😉

    • Thanks! It’s the roasting mostly, I think, that makes the color dark. Though long simmering adds to it. Saint Alice says you needn’t cook stock for more than a few hours, but I’m not sure I agree.

      • When I make stock from beef bones, I cook them overnight and into the next day. Then I take them out, and do it all over again! I think you get what there is to get out of chicken bones in a much shorter time, although the whole business does benefit from a slow reduction.

        • For sure, at some stage, you reach the point of diminishing returns. But I think it’s somewhere after a couple of hours in the case of chicken stock. (And I do like a stock made from roasted meat and veg instead of raw stuff.)

    • Thanks, Misti! I like dill, too, in smallish doses. Especially in egg salad. But in our hot and humid climate it crashes and burns so fast in the herb garden that I don’t use it enough. (Of course, I forget to buy it in the store.)

  4. Oh, chicken soup and matza balls. A weekly favorite of mine, and no one can beat my mother’s recipe! But this looks absolutely delicious, and I love that you added dill. We usually do, and I find that it adds so much flavor to the soup. Beautiful post!

  5. Now that the weather is turning (though I’m still denying it), this recipe looks perfect. To be honest, while I’ve made the dumplings’ Italian cousins, passatelli, I’ve only eaten matzo balls and never made them myself. I’ve had more bad than good. But when they’re good, they’re *really* good. Yours look *really* good. Though that chicken fat should not be optional in my book (and probably yours too) ;).

    • You’re absolutely right, Sacha, that schmaltz should not be optional! But, I figured better for somebody to try than to get stressed out over that. Steve is always teasing me about my white American background (Scotch-Irish, English, maybe a tiny little bit of Indian thrown in). I am pretty sure I never tasted matzo ball soup until I was in college. But I do remember thinking even then: This is good, but it could be better!

  6. Okay, I was reading way too fast. I read, “Matzo ball soup made better with brownies.” WHAT?!? I am so relieved you hadn’t taken to creating a strange Oaxacan-Ashkenazim fusion dish. Of course, if you had a yen to do so, TURKEY. Just saying.

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