There are loads of things I learned while living in New York. How to survive, and thrive, in a 400 sq foot apartment. How to subsist when 60% of your income goes to rent. How to wear black in any season. How to get to the airport quickly at rush hour (hint: Car service and big tip at the beginning). Where to find the cheapest and cleanest manicure and pedicure. How to approach smoked salmon as a breakfast food.
Above all else,though, was learning the story and glory of Matzo Ball soup. It started one day when I was sick in bed and a friend came by with a timely delivery from 2nd Avenue Deli. Matzo Ball Soup? I had no idea what to expect. He told me to think of chicken noodle soup….minus the noodles. What the what? That’s a key ingredient. I wasn’t convinced, but after diving in what I discovered was indeed a sort of a chicken noodle soup-y tasting thing with these big, fluffy dumplings in the middle. I felt better immediately – and was hooked from that point onward.
Once I recovered from what was surely a near death experience I began a bit of a quest to find my favorite matzo ball soup in New York. I went high and low, east and west, cheap and expensive. I have a few favorites from that multi-year quest: 2nd Avenue Deli, since that was my first, Bubby’s (either location) and Veselka – the East Village Ukranian diner. Oh, and Eli’s on the Upper East Side. What they all have in common is that the soups are sold with the matzo balls mercury-busting hot, the broth is homemade and really, genuinely tastes like chicken broth, and the dill is fresh and stands out in the soup.
Fifteen years later and every time I have Matzo Ball Soup I am transported back to NYC in my twenties. I keep the recipe handy and I make it a few times a year just to remind myself of that wonderful time of adventure, discovery and a very, very big city that I grew to love as though I had been born and raised there. I miss New York most of the time. I can’t replicate the culture, the people, or the low crime, but I can get pretty close to the best Matzo Ball Soup in the city. My recipe is based on the soup served at Bubby’s – with goodies inside of the matzo balls and slightly smaller balls. Many people like just plain matzo balls and that’s fine too, it’s just not my style.
The key here is to allow yourself plenty of time for this whole recipe to come together. The chicken stock and chicken can be cooked a day in advance, the matzo balls can also be made a day in advance. Use the best and freshest ingredients you can find and try to give yourself enough time so that when you are finally assembling the soup it all comes together without too much time or stress.
- 1 3 -to-4-pound chicken, quartered with all the nasty stuff thrown out (gizzards etc...)
- 3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
- 2 medium carrots, cut into large chunks
- 1 red onion, quartered
- 1 red bell pepper
- The stalks of 6 sprigs of parsley plus a few leaves
- The stalks of 6 sprigs of dill
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus small sprigs for topping
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 stalks of celery very, very finely chopped
- 1 cup matzo meal
- Kosher salt
- fat from top of broth
- Put the chicken, celery, carrots, onion, parsley stems, dill stems, peppercorns, garlic cloves and 2 teaspoons salt in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, skimming off the foam occasionally. Remove the chicken, using tongs, after 1 hour. Set aside to let cool. Once it is cool remove the chicken from the bones and shred it. Return any bones to the broth to continue to cook. The broth should cook for a total of about 3 hours.
- Strain the broth, discarding all solids. Let cool until the fat rises to the surface (put it in the refrigerator). Skim off the fat, reserving 2 tablespoons fat for the matzo balls.
- Whisk the eggs and reserved chicken-broth fat in a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest, celery, dill, parsley, matzo meal, 1/4 cup of the prepared broth and 2 teaspoons salt. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into balls with damp hands. Cover and chill until ready to cook, up to 8 hours.
- Bring the broth back up to a simmer. Add the matzo balls and reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer; cover and cook until the balls are tender, 20 minutes. Meanwhile shred the chicken discarding bones, skin and fat saving only the nice meat. Set aside. When the matzo balls are cooked through place three in a serving bowl, add a heaping tablespoon of the chicken meat and fill the bowl with broth. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs.
- This recipe is really simple, but it does take several hours from start to finish. Prepare yourself for that.