On a Jewish blog like this, you could have a whole forum just on chicken soup and matzo balls. No matter what one cook says, everyone else has an opinion. The debate is part of the fun—there is no authoritative answer, but a whole lot of traditions and regional variations. Here’s how I make mine:
Chicken soup: If you can find them, buy chicken necks, backs and wings—these have loads of gelatin and will make a nice broth. Don’t bother boiling anything with a lot of meat on it; it’s the bones and skin that make the soup. If you can only get a whole chicken in eight parts, pull most of the meat off first and refrigerate that for later, and then boil just the carcass. Start the skin and bones in cold water and a little salt. Simmer it very slowly for a really long time. It’s edible in about a half hour, better in a whole hour, and heavenly after about six hours. For me, the easiest thing is to stick it in a slow oven (just under 200 degrees) for six hours. Water should just barely be bubbling.
About 20 minutes before you want to serve the soup, sauté, or steam some chopped onions, carrots, parsnips and celery and add them to the soup. If you want more meat in your soup, cut the meat you stripped from the bones into bite sized pieces, and then poach it lightly in the broth for about 20 minutes near the end. Add any other seasonings you like (parsley, sage, thyme, pepper, more salt etc.) at this point. Taste and adjust before serving.
MEANWHILE (and this is the important part), make the matzo balls:
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbps oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp water or stock
- 1/2 cup matzo meal
In a small bowl beat the eggs with the oil until really well blended. Then add the salt and water (or some of the cooled stock if you’ve got it). Beat it all smooth before adding the matzo meal. (This matters—the texture will be markedly different if you just dump it all in a bowl and stir. Blend the wet stuff thoroughly before the dry goes in.)
Stir really well, cover, put it in the fridge and let it sit AT LEAST 15 minutes. Meanwhile, start boiling a large pot full of salted water and make sure you know where the lid is—you’ll need it. When the matzoh mixture has chilled for at least 15 minutes, start rolling it into walnut-sized balls. I use a small cookie scoop to measure them out, and then get my hands wet and hand roll them until they are smooth. Then drop them into the boiling water (note—drop each one in as you roll it and move quickly so they all hit the water within a short time—don’t try to roll them all out first and then put them in—the early ones will dry out too much). Reduce heat to a very low simmer, put the lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes. Think of it as poaching an egg, not boiling pasta. The lid is important because a matzo ball is partly a steamed dumpling.
When they are done, serve them floating in your soup.
If this is your first time making homemade matzo balls, don’t be surprised if they turn out too heavy or too loose; the only way to learn the exact measurements is to make a few batches. Pretty soon you’ll know when the mixture “feels right” during the rolling stage. If it’s too dense, it needs a little more water or they come out like lead. If it’s too wet (or the water isn’t boiling) they will fall apart and you’ll get mush. So add some more meal. If you make them too grandiose in size, it’s hard to get them to cook all the way through and you get dry bits in the middle. If the water is boiling too hard, the egg cooks hard before the matzo meal can fluff up, and you get golf balls. (Sounds like I’ve made all of the above mistakes, right?)
There is a reason the bragging rights for perfect fluffy matzo balls exclusively belong to experienced cooks like Grandmas. New cooks can make decent ones, however, especially with all of the above tips—and every reasonably decent matzo ball should be appreciated as a minor miracle. They are heavenly delicious, economical and filling. Serve these as a first course, and the main course will stretch a whole lot farther.