For many people, especially those who grew up with a Jewish grandmother, the phrase “matzo ball soup” brings a heartwarming image to mind: homemade matzo balls sitting in a bowl of piping-hot chicken broth. There may be a scattering of chopped parsley, or not. There could be diced carrots and onions in the broth, or not. The vision elicits tender feelings no matter what the garnish.
Most cooks make a fuss over the matzo balls—are they dense, chewy “sinkers” or lighter-than-air “floaters”?—but I’m here to set the record straight: Matzo balls are not the secret to great matzo ball soup. Yes, they’re the centerpiece, the anchor, tender orbs of warmth and comfort in this cold, hard world. But while researching my latest cookbook, The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat, I quickly realized that a matzo ball is only a dumpling, and a rather simple one at that. It’s just matzo meal—cracker dust, really—bound with egg, seasoned with salt, and enriched with fat (preferably schmaltz, from rendered chicken fat and skin, for its rich, deeply chickeny flavor). Though the matzo balls are certainly imperative, they’re not actually the heart of the dish.
But the broth… oh, the broth. It’s what makes a soulful matzo ball soup! That’s why, in our modern-day marketplace of boxed and canned chicken broths, laden with sodium to create the impression of flavor, great homemade broth is critical. It should be rich but clear and intensely flavored, tasting first of chicken and second of sweet aromatic vegetables. One sip should make you close your eyes so that you can fully savor its restorative goodness.
Get the recipe: Matzo Ball Soup
Yes, homemade broth takes time to make, but I swear to you, it’s the only route to a truly memorable soup. So on the following pages, I will share the simplest possible method for making the greatest possible matzo ball soup.
It goes a little something like this: First, roast chicken wings to render their fat into schmaltz for flavoring the matzo balls and for cooking the aromatics used in the soup. Next, extract all the flavor from the chicken wings by cooking them in hot—not simmering—water for a few hours; this will make a rich, clear broth. After several hours (this is nonactive cooking time, during which you can sleep, read, watch a movie, etc.), add aromatics and extract all their flavor, too. Then, make the matzo balls, which requires nothing more than stirring, letting the batter rest, and using your hands to gently shape it into balls. Finally, make the soup by sautéing carrot, celery, and onion in schmaltz, and cooking the matzo balls in the wonderful broth. Add a sprinkling of parsley at the end, and you’re there—matzo ball soup nirvana.
Does it take longer than opening a can? Sure. But your body and soul will thank you for it.
6 Steps to Soup Nirvana
Knaidel, the Yiddish word for matzo ball, was the winning word in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Thirteen-year-old Arvind V. Mahankali of Queens, New York, spelled it correctly to become the champion.
According to the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), Eric Booker holds the world record for eating matzo balls: 21 baseball-size ones in just 5 minutes and 25 seconds.
The world’s largest matzo ball was made in 2010 by chef Jon Wirtis of Shlomo & Vito’s New York Delicatessen & Pizza Kitchen, located in Tucson, Arizona. Weighing in at 488 lb., it was made from 125 lb. of matzo meal, 25lb. of schmaltz, and more than 1,000 eggs.