Matzo ball soup is a Passover tradition, but it's delicious any time of year. While you might think it's best when made by a Jewish grandmother or a kosher deli, authentic matzo ball soup is easier than you'd expect.
Whether you prefer sinkers or floaters (or don't even know what we're talking about), check out the matzo ball soup tips and tricks we gathered, including a few straight from a Jewish mother and grandmother.
Matzo Ball Soup Lingo: Sinkers and Floaters, Seltzer and Schmaltz
Dense matzo balls are sinkers: they sit at the bottom of your bowl. Light matzo balls are floaters: they bob at the surface. Neither one is right or wrong -- matzo ball soup is all about personal preference.
You can make sinkers or floaters using a standard ratio of ingredients: one egg, 1/4-cup matzo meal, 1 tablespoon of fat, and 1 tablespoon of liquid. On Serious Eats, they tested a variety of ingredients and compared the results.
For dense matzo balls, use water or broth for the liquid. For light matzo balls, use seltzer for the liquid. To lighten them up even more, add 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of baking powder.
For the fat, you can use schmaltz or vegetable oil. Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. You can make it yourself if you're feeling ambitious, or see if you can find it at a kosher market or butcher.
Serious Eats maintains schmaltz adds a key flavor element to matzo balls. Jewish cooking blog What Jew Wanna Eat (love the name!) implores matzo ball chefs to use schmaltz. On the other hand, we know a Jewish grandmother who's just fine with using vegetable oil. We'll chalk this point up to personal preference too.
Finally, you don't have to buy matzo meal. Treat this ingredient like you would bread crumbs: make your own! Buy a box of matzo and whirl a few pieces in your food processor to make matzo meal.
Matzo Ball Soup: Form and Poach the Matzo Balls
After you've mixed your preferred matzo ball ingredients, you'll need to refrigerate the mixture. The matzo meal takes time to absorb the liquid and fat.
When your mixture has a thicker consistency, roll it into balls between your wet hands. What Jew Wanna Eat advises using a light touch if you want your matzo balls to be floaters.
How you poach the matzo balls is another key to getting this soup right. According to Jewish grandmother Barbara Mandel, whose matzo ball soup has been called "legendary", no peeking allowed:
When you drop the balls in the salted simmering water to poach them, cover the pot and DON'T LOOK. Don't. Stop. Don't look. Twenty minutes, no looking. Taking the cover off will ruin any good batch, period. Poach them in salted water, not the soup -- they will absorb all the broth and you'll have none left for dinner.
Serious Eats maintains there isn't a discernible difference between matzo balls cooked without peeking and matzo balls cooked with occasional peeking. However, we know it isn't smart to go against the advice of a Jewish grandmother.
Another difference between Mandel's guidance and Serious Eats' is the amount of time spent poaching: 20 minutes according to Mandel, and a full hour per Serious Eats. We're going to side with Mandel again, and we'll tell you why in a bit.
We do like the idea of poaching the matzo balls in broth. At first, this seems like a waste of broth. But we suggest saving the broth used for poaching, refrigerating it, and using it within the week for cooking mashed potatoes or pasta. If you're going to make broth (from scratch, right?), you might as well make a large batch.
Matzo Ball Soup: All About That Broth
That's one point on which all of our sources agree: the broth. It must be homemade. Simmer a chicken in a pot with aromatics. Skip the garlic, but "add good fresh dill" according to both Mandel and Serious Eats.
Aromatics can include carrots, onions, and celery. We love this suggestion from Smitten Kitchen to keep a "stock bag" in your freezer. As you cook over the weeks, simply add items like carrot peelings, vegetable tops, and leftover onion to your stock bag. When it's time to make broth, empty your stock bag into the pot. Instant aromatics!
Another brilliant tip from Mandel for making your broth:
Skin the whole chicken except for the wings, and tie the whole bird in cheesecloth. Then you can just lift the chicken out of the stock easily instead of straining and skimming.
If you want to take it one step further, add chicken feet to the broth. We're not kidding. Jewish mother Devra Gordon shares her favorite Passover memory:
My own grandmother used chicken feet to season the soup. She would pick up the chickens at the kosher butcher. One of my favorite memories of Passover is me perched on the aqua formica kitchen counter playing with chicken feet while my grandmother hummed Yiddish folk songs.
(We understand if you prefer to leave out the chicken feet.)
Finally, shortly before serving, slice some carrots and celery and add them to the simmering broth along with some dill.
Matzo Ball Soup: Recipes From the Best Delis in New York
We didn't ask our Jewish matriarchs to share their personal recipes. Some things should stay in the family.
However, we did discover these matzo ball recipes from Zabar's, 2nd Avenue Deli, and Katz's Deli, thanks to Jewish news and culture site, the Forward.
All three of these recipes call for poaching the matzo balls in salted water, from 20-30 minutes. This is why we tend to side with Jewish grandmother Mandel both on poaching medium and duration. Also, two of the three recipes use oil instead of schmaltz, which further reassures us we won't ruin our soup if we opt for convenience over authenticity.
If you have any family tips and tricks for making matzo ball soup, we'd love for you to share them in the comments!