How To Make the Best Matzo Ball Soup from Scratch
By Sara Tane
No matter how tender the brisket or how tasty the charoset, matzo ball soup always steals the show on any Passover menu. It’s cozy and fragrant, and who can say no to a matzo ball? Now, you’re probably expecting me to tell some heartwarming story about how I grew up rolling matzo balls with my family while the homemade chicken stock simmered on the stove and the house smelled of herby, schmaltzy goodness.
Well, that’s not quite accurate. In reality, my family’s Passover tradition was walking next door to our neighbor’s house for the seder, where we’d eat a completely catered meal from a local diner — matzo ball soup included.
But now that I’m an adult, my traditions have changed. I went to culinary school, which gave me the skills and confidence to whip up a rich, flavorful homemade stock. And a few years of self-taught matzo ball making helped me tweak and perfect the art of these delicate beauts.
The recipe I’m sharing here includes my secret for the best-tasting stock, as well as a choose-your-own-adventure guide to making dense or fluffy matzo balls (the never-ending Passover debate). No shame if you order in your matzo ball soup or use the matzo ball packets, but if you, like me, prefer to do everything from scratch (or are looking to start a new family tradition), this is the recipe for you.
How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock for Matzo Ball Soup
Let’s start with the stock. Homemade chicken stock is easy to make, but you will need to set aside a few hours to do it. This stock is made with a whole chicken, broken down into eight parts (if you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you can always ask your butcher to do it).
By fishing out the thighs, breasts, and drums an hour into cooking, you avoid overcooking them, meaning you can shred them once they’ve cooled and add the shredded chicken to the finished soup, if you like. If you prefer dark meat, you can also make the stock entirely with chicken legs.
In addition to the chicken, you’ll add aromatics and herbs to the pot, which add a nice background flavor while still letting the chicken shine. In addition to the usual suspects (onions, carrots, celery, parsley), I like to enrich my stock with a few parsnips, which impart a subtle sweetness.
After all of the ingredients are in the pot, bring the stock to a very gentle simmer — and keep it there. If you boil your stock, too much water will evaporate; boiling can also make your stock cloudy.
For cooks who like to get ahead and/or those who like to use schmaltz (aka chicken fat) in their matzo balls, the stock can be made the day before and refrigerated. Just skim off the fat for making your matzo balls.
Fluffy vs. Dense Matzo Balls: You Get to Choose!
Once you’ve got your stock going, it’s time to work on the matzo balls. Contrary to popular belief, the biggest controversy surrounding Passover isn’t who finds the afikomen — it’s whether you’re team fluffy or team dense matzo balls (aka floaters versus sinkers). Let’s just say if you’re a guest at my seder, you’re eating the fluffy ones. But lucky for all of us, it’s easy to tweak this recipe to achieve your desired result. Here’s how.
- For fluffy matzo balls: Add baking powder and seltzer to the matzo meal mixture, which helps aerate it.
- For denser matzo balls: Skip the baking powder and swap the seltzer for chicken stock or water.
These matzo balls are made with chicken fat, or schmaltz, which imparts a rich chicken flavor. You can use homemade or store-bought, or you can sub in vegetable oil or melted, unsalted butter — just keep in mind the latter isn’t kosher. These matzo balls also get a heavy hand of freshness from the addition of dill, but if you prefer a matzo ball with no specks of green, you can skip it.
Like the chicken broth, you can make the matzo ball mixture the day before and let it sit, covered, in the fridge overnight. If you’re making your matzo balls the day of, just make sure to let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least two hours before forming and cooking.
Serving Matzo Ball Soup
Because we don’t want to boil the luscious stock we worked so hard on, the matzo balls are cooked in a separate pot of boiling water and then transferred to the warm stock. You’ll also add a few carrots and the shredded chicken, if you’re using it. Once the carrots have softened a bit, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with some fresh dill and freshly ground black pepper.
Would it be easier to order some matzo ball soup from the deli? Sure. But this way is much more rewarding and, in my opinion, way more delicious. Matzo ball soup, you have my whole heart forever.
FOR THE CHICKEN BROTH:
- 1 (4 to 5-pound) whole chicken, or 4 to 5 pounds whole chicken legs
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 1 medium head garlic
- 3 medium celery stalks
- 2 medium parsnips
- 4 medium carrots, divided
- 10 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 3 1/2 quarts (14 cups) cold water
FOR THE MATZO BALLS:
- 5 large eggs
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, plus more for serving
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 1/4 cup melted chicken schmaltz, or 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup plain seltzer, club soda, or chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Chef’s knife and cutting board
- 8-quart or larger stockpot
- Vegetable peeler
- Mixing bowls
- Slotted spoon
- Break down the chicken. If using a whole chicken, cut into 8 bone-in parts (2 thighs, 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 legs). Place the cut chicken or whole chicken legs in an 8-quart or larger stockpot.
- Prepare the vegetables. Prepare the following vegetables (no need to peel first), adding them to the stockpot as you prepare them: Quarter 2 medium yellow onions and halve 1 medium head garlic horizontally to expose all the cloves. Coarsely chop 3 celery stalks, 2 medium parsnips, and 2 of the medium carrots.
- Add the water and seasonings. Add 10 sprigs fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon black peppercorns. Add 3 1/2 quarts cold water (if your pot isn’t large enough, add the remaining water as the stock reduces).
- Simmer for 1 hour. Bring to a lively simmer over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the remaining 2 medium carrots on a slight diagonal. You can also start the matzo balls at this point if you’d like.
- Remove some of the meat and simmer 1 hour more. Using tongs, transfer the breasts and thighs (or 2 whole legs) to a plate. Continue to simmer until the broth is flavorful, about 1 hour more. Meanwhile, once cool enough to handle, shred the meat from the removed pieces and discard the skin and bones.
- Strain the broth. Fit a colander over a large bowl. Pour the broth through the colander and discard the contents of the colander. Pour the broth back into the stockpot. Taste and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper as needed. (The broth can be cooled and refrigerated at this point. Refrigerate the shredded chicken and sliced carrots separately. You can skim the fat from the surface of the broth if desired before reheating.)
- Prepare the matzo ball base. Whisk 5 large eggs in a medium bowl until broken up. Finely chop 1/4 cup fresh dill (plus more for garnish if desired) and add to the bowl. Add 1 cup matzo meal, 1/4 cup melted schmaltz or unsalted butter, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and black pepper. For lighter matzo balls, add 1/4 cup seltzer or club soda and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. For denser matzo balls, add 1/4 cup chicken broth instead and do not add baking powder. Whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Form the matzo balls. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out the matzo mixture in 1 1/2-tablespoon portions, then roll into balls (oil or dampen your hands with water if the mixture is sticky) and place on the baking sheet.
- Cook the matzo balls. Add the matzo balls to the boiling water and simmer, adjusting the heat as needed, until floating and fully cooked through, 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the carrots in the broth.
- Cook the carrots and finish the soup. Bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the reserved sliced carrots and shredded chicken, if using, and simmer until the carrots are slightly softened, 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the matzo balls into the soup and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve the soup garnished with fresh dill and freshly ground black pepper if desired.
Make ahead: The broth and matzo ball base can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. The matzo balls can also be formed, cooked, and frozen up to 3 months: freeze the matzo balls in a single layer on a baking sheet until solid before transferring to freezer bags. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before adding to the soup.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.