I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’ve never made matzah ball soup. I don’t need. Because my mom’s is the best.
One of the tricks is that she starts with a whole chicken and a ton of bones that she gets from our butcher. Then she throws in some mirepoix and enough dill to send me to heaven and lets everything simmer for hours and hours. The broth chills in the refrigerator until it gels in the best possible way. My mom even picks out the white meat chicken and saves it for my bowl because she knows that’s how I like it.
As for the matzah balls, well, they’re from a box. My mom prefers Streit’s or Manischewitz, essentially whatever she can find on the shelves in the pre-Passover frenzy. You won’t find her adding any schmaltz or seltzer either. Her secret is a very large pot. The largest pot you can find. And making the balls in several small batches to avoid over-crowding that pot. (In biological terms, consider the pot’s carrying capacity before dropping in that extra ball to avoid stunting the growth of all its neighbors. Am I the only nerd reading this blog?)
My mom has another secret weapon: my dad. In his own words, “Annie did the wonderful delicious magical details. I was only a simple assistant taking down Passover pots, buying ingredients, cutting chicken pieces in half, and cleaning the pots after some final tasting.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d love to give someone pot washing duty!
ps – A big thanks to will.i.am. for the title of this post.
pps – You have to love living in a city where the local paper’s dining section on the day after Passover is “The Bread Issue.” We’ve got artisanal bakers, including Uri Scheft whose Bread Bakery Jerusalem baguettes are delivered daily to our restaurant. Also, nostalgia for the bread service that’s slowly disappearing. Then, rules for bread baking from Tartine Chef Chad Robertson – it all starts with patience – and a condensed version of his 38-page country bread recipe. (When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, Tartine sold out of bread by 10 am). And in case you want to bake some more, there are three additional bread recipes. After you make bread, you have to master the art of making toast. And then, figure out what to do with any leftover crumbs.
ppps – Today also marks the opening of Black Seed Bagels where Noah Bernamoff of Mile End Deli will introduce a New York-Montreal hybrid bagel. After a decadent lunch, I swung by the shop and picked up a baker’s dozen. The thirteenth bagel is for eating on the way home, right?
Enough post-scripts. Let’s get to my mom’s soup.
Annie’s matzah ball soup
Adapted from this recipe. My mom uses soup mix or bouillon instead of salt in her recipe to enhance the chicken-y flavor – add it to taste, conservatively at first. Or use salt to taste. This is a huge batch, but it freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole thing.
Makes at least eight quarts
– 7 quarts water
– 1 5-lb chicken, cut into 8 (or more) pieces
– 2 lbs chicken bones from the butcher
– 1 large onion, chopped
– 1 entire head celery, chopped
– 1 lb carrots, chopped
– 1 large bunch rest dill, cut up roughly
– several tablespoons of Osem chicken soup mix (without MSG) or bouillon, or salt to taste
– 2 boxes Streit’s or Manischewitz matzah ball mix (for about 40 matzah balls) and whatever other ingredients they call for
Boil. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add in the chicken and bones. Skim off some fat and “scum” that rises to the top several times until no more accumulates.
Simmer. After the skimming, add in all of the vegetables, dill, and the soup mix powder to the pot. (Again, be conservative with soup mix/bouillon at first until you see how salty the broth is). Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for about 3 1/2 hours. Check on the soup every half-hour and stir. When done, the vegetables should be softened and the chicken falling off the bone.
Strain. Remove all chicken pieces, bones, and most of the vegetables and let cool. Discard any dill stems. Refrigerate the soup, chicken, and vegetables overnight. The next morning, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Remove the bones from the chicken by hand, shred the chicken and put it back into the soup along with the vegetables.
Make matzah balls. Follow the package directions, along with my mom’s tips. With wet hands, roll the dough into balls about one-inch in diameter. This is important: cook the matzah balls in small batches. Use a very large pot and only add enough matzah balls to form a single layer with a fair amount of wiggle room – you don’t want to crowd the pot when they expand. Cover the pot and simmer each batch of matzah balls for at least half an hour. They’re ready when you can stick a knife into the center without hitting any resistance. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer in a flat pan and refrigerate. We like our matzah balls fluffy but firm enough that they don’t fall apart. Make sure to store the balls separately from the soup, otherwise they’ll absorb too much soup and fall apart.
Serve. Reheat the soup with snips of fresh dill, and add the matzah balls carefully with a large spoon.