There wasn’t much of a Jewish influence where I grew up, in a small town on the inner peninsula of Washington State. Since moving to the east coast and marrying into a family with both cultural and religious Jews, I decided it was high time to explore some of the traditional cuisine.
From what I can gather the real backbone of matzo ball soup is not just the texture of the dumplings themselves, but the character of the chicken broth (pun intended?). You can make a passable version, I’m sure, with storebought stock or broth, but it is really elevated to the next level if you take the time to roast our own chicken to make the stock. Roasting a chicken is simple, hands-off task and its presence in the stock makes a huge difference.
You can either reserve the meat of the bird for another purpose, or do what I did (though it’s not pictured) and slice the breast into pieces and lay them at the bottom of the bowl.
The debate consistently rages over whether one should have light and fluffy matzo balls or dense and substantive matzo balls. These are of the latter category, largely because I used whole grain matzo meal because I liked the 5 grams of fiber per serving. Keep that in mind if your family prefers the light and fluffy dumplings.
Matzo Ball Soup
3 lb. whole chicken
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1 onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 celery heart, cleaned and cut in half
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ cup schmaltz (chicken fat)
¼ cup chicken broth (pan juices)
1 ½ cups whole grain matzo meal
Preheat oven to 400⁰F
Season the chicken with kosher salt and pepper. Roast uncovered for 1 hour, or until a digital thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the registers 160⁰F. Let cool enough to handle. Remove the legs, thighs, and breasts – set aside. Collect the chicken fat and juices from the bottom of the roasting pan and reserve for matzo balls. Put the chicken carcass into a large stock pot along with the remaining stock ingredients. Fill with water, leaving about 2 inches from the rim of the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a steady simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half – about 4 hours, skimming the top when needed. Strain chicken stock and pour into a clean pot. Season to taste, adding bouillon if needed to enhance flavor.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, schmaltz, and juices. Add the matzo meal and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Shape into balls and cook in a pot of salted water, covered, for 20 minutes. Check doneness by slicing one ball in half to see if cooked through.
To serve place three matzo balls in a bowl, add a ladle of the chicken stock; garnish with fresh dill.