Three Chefs’ Takes on Matzo-Ball Soup

With Passover upon us, we thought the fear of dense matzo balls might be getting you all verklempt, so we asked three local Jewish chefs how to make a soup just like Bubbe. Here, they divulge their treasured family recipes.

Firefly’s Chicken Matzo-Ball Soup

Chef Danny Bortnick serves this soothing soup on his Firefly menu all year. He adapted his grandmother’s recipe for the restaurant and serves it exactly the way he remembers from his childhood Seders.

Serves 10

2 organic 3-to-4-pound chickens, breasts and legs removed and reserved for another use
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 garlic cloves, halved
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
1 cup chopped carrots, placed in a cheesecloth bag
Salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts cold water
10 matzo balls (see recipe below)

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook 45 minutes (not longer). Skim the fat off the top of the soup and reserve for matzo balls. Strain the soup and adjust the seasoning. Remove the carrots from the cheesecloth, pass through a food mill, and add to the soup. When ready to serve, add matzo balls to the soup and reheat.

Matzo Balls

Makes 10

2 cups matzo meal
8 eggs
1/2 cup reserved chicken fat, melted
1/2 cup seltzer water
1 tablespoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just until the whites and yolks are combined. Add the matzo meal and mix well with a spatula or spoon. Add the chicken fat, seltzer water, salt, pepper, and dill, and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. With a 2-ounce ice-cream scooper, scoop the matzo balls and drop them into the water. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 45 minutes. Set up a large bowl of ice water. Remove the matzo balls from the simmering water and shock in the cold water. When cooled, strain and store in zip-lock bags until ready to serve the soup.


Hudson Restaurant’s Matzo-Ball Soup

All three families that invested in Hudson wanted to see their own matzo-ball soup on the Passover menu, so owner Alan Popovsky combined all the recipes. You can’t deny anyone a seat at this Seder.

Serves 8

1 4-pound whole chicken
2 onions, cut into 1-inch dice
3 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, thickly sliced
2 turnips, diced
1 cup chopped fresh dill
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grebenes (chicken cracklings), finely minced (instructions below)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water 

On the chicken, trim off the neck flap all the way to the top of the wishbone. Trim fat and skin from around the back of the chicken (reserve both for schmaltz and grebenes). Cut the chicken into quarters. Place the chicken pieces and the onions in a large pot and cover with about 4 quarts water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook 2 hours.

Add carrots, celery, and turnips to the soup; simmer an additional hour. Season to taste with salt.
Remove chicken pieces and set aside. Shred the chicken meat for the soup (keep the chicken covered and at room temperature before shredding).

Make the grebenes: Dice the reserved chicken skin and fat into 1-inch pieces. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, cook over medium heat, turning occasionally. Make sure the pan never gets so hot as to cause the rendered fat to smoke. When the grebenes are crisp and brown, remove them to a cutting board and drain the schmaltz (fat) into a small, nonplastic bowl to cool slightly. When the grebenes are cool enough to handle, mince them finely. Reserve.

Make the matzo balls: In a large bowl, mix the vegetable oil and eggs until well-combined. In another bowl, combine the matzo meal and salt. Combine the matzo meal and egg mixtures until well mixed. Add the broth or water, and mix until the texture is uniform. Stir in minced grebenes and, if desired, the chicken fat. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to slightly boiling. Scoop 1 1/2-inch balls and drop into the water. Add the dill. Cover pot and cook 30 to 40 minutes. Do not remove the cover of the pot while cooking. Just before serving, add the shredded chicken. 


Equinox’s Matzo-Ball Soup

At Equinox chef/owner Todd Gray’s first Seder, he asked his wife Ellen’s great aunt for the matzo-ball soup recipe she’d brought with her from Poland. Lilian Malitsky was so flattered that a professional chef would want her thoughts on the soup that she passed it on.

Serves 8

1 all-natural 2 1/2 pound chicken, washed and cleaned
1 carrot, chopped, plus 1 cup small-diced carrot for garnish
2 celery ribs, chopped, plus 1 cup small-diced celery for garnish
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt to taste
24 bite-sized matzo balls, prepared according to package directions, for garnish

Place the chicken, 1 chopped carrot, 2 chopped celery ribs, crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and salt in a medium stock pot. Cover with water. Bring to a gentle simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, skimming the surface periodically and adding water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. Strain the soup. Let the chicken cool and pull meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to broth and keep warm. Garnish with the fresh diced carrots and diced celery (not the ones strained from the soup) and matzo balls. Cook over low heat until the carrots and celery are tender.