The Real Deal
There was a small restaurant in a strip mall in Michigan...a joint really...but a group of us met there for breakfast or lunch fairly often. It was in our neighborhood and their steel cut oatmeal was the morning draw. The place was always hot, crowded (everyone knew a good thing when they tasted it) and the wait staff was wonderful.
I was devastated to learn on one of my trips north recently that our old hangout had closed. Nobody ever heard an explanation. I'm doubly sad because the one thing I always ordered for lunch, without fail, was their matzoh ball soup. Now I've tried a lot of matzoh ball soups and aside from Wolfie's in Ft. Lauderdale, now also closed, I've never had one that came close to theirs. Yes, you're all going to comment that I should try such and such and I wish I could, but trust me when I say this soup was a winner. No fussing around...just great chicken broth with two lovely, light matzoh balls in it. It's all about the broth, isn't it?
What I know about traditional Jewish cooking is zilch. I've made Kugel, yes. Probably not a traditional recipe either. But matzoh ball soup? Nope. Never made it. Which is odd because I do make my mother's chicken broth on regular basis. So I've got that part down pat. If I can't get that soup at my favorite dive any more, I'm just going to have to make it myself.
So. I began with Mother's chicken broth and stuck it in the fridge overnight. Please go here for a printable recipe. Use any veggies you want. (I hope you all keep a bag in your freezer to save pieces of leftover fresh veggies and chicken bones until you have enough to make some stock. So simple to do and it makes such a difference in your cooking.)
And rendering chicken fat? A new one on me. It appears that rendered chicken fat (also called schmaltz) is an integral part of a matzoh ball. And a lot of other dishes as well. I had saved chicken fat from some chickens I cooked and froze it. It didn't seem enough to me, so I asked the butcher for some more. He directed me to the freezer and there were packages of it. A smaller market might actually be willing to save it for you free of charge...although I'm not sure anyone does free of charge anymore. Please go here for a printable recipe for "schmaltz". Bring the schmaltz to room temperature before making the matzoh balls.
Now as far as the matzoh balls are concerned, there are a lot of recipes out there. But I wanted pure soup....without noodles, chicken or veggies..... although I added a sprig of thyme, a mushroom and a carrot to mine, but merely for presentation, and plain old fashioned light-as-air matzoh balls. Ina Garten uses parsley in her recipe and egg whites for lightness (everyone else said seltzer) and because I think she knows what she's doing, I made her recipe, sans parsley, which I am not overly fond of to begin with. But just to cover my bases, I also made an old New York Times matzoh ball recipe with seltzer just to compare.
Ina's were problematic; they were so airy I could barely form them into balls, even after refrigeration. The ones with seltzer were somewhat denser and were a cinch to form into balls; later, when I bit into each of them, they were nearly the same. So I am only going to give you the recipe I found in the New York Times. You can go online and try Ina's if you want...as I said she used lots of parsley in hers; anyway I found hers way too difficult to handle resulting in practically no difference in texture. (The ones with more holes in the photo below were Ina's, but both were equally light.)
Now my Jewish readers will probably jump all over this recipe and I can't wait to read the comments. But if I do say so myself, this soup was perfect.
And remember, fall is nearly here with cold and flu season not far off. The very least you should do is make a big pot of broth and freeze it in several containers, ready to go. There is NOTHING better than chicken soup when you feel lousy. Actually, even when you feel good!
Matzoh Ball Soup
homemade chicken broth
For the matzoh balls:
1 cup matzo meal
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered seasoned chicken fat) at room temperature
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup seltzer
Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Bring some salted water to a boil in a pot. Reduce heat; form matzo balls by taking spoonfuls of the batter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them loosely into balls. Drop them into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes.
Then bring your chicken stock to a simmer. Serve your stock with two matzoh balls.