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Cooking Tips

The Reason You Should Cook Matzo Balls and Soup Separately

For a great matzo ball soup, you have to know when to combine the matzo balls with the broth and for how long.

Matzo ball soup (or chicken soup with matzo balls) is traditionally served at the Passover Seder. The golden broth features onion, carrot, celery, and often other carefully chosen vegetables. And the star of the soup is decidedly the boiled dumplings known as matzo balls.

According to Arthur Schwartz, author of Jewish Home Cooking (2008), “. . . a great matzo ball, often flavored lightly with chicken fat, airy or firm, always savory, in a bowl of steaming potent chicken broth, is a primal and iconic food for Jews of European heritage.”

While matzo ball soup is rooted in history and tradition, it’s also a delicious chicken soup that can be eaten anytime. My mother-in-law would make it for me whenever I showed signs of a cold. 

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Lovers of matzo ball soup have strong opinions about it, specifically about the matzo balls themselves, which have been referred to as floaters and sinkers, among other descriptors. Sinkers are small, dense, and heavy, while floaters are lighter and fluffier but still substantial.

For our matzo ball soup, we aim for the latter: tender, light matzo balls that are sturdy enough to hold together in the soup. To get there, we combine matzo meal (ground unleavened flatbread) with eggs, water, a little fresh dill, and some onion sautéed in schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and then let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour to give the matzo meal time to absorb the liquid. Then we shape the mixture into balls and poach the balls in boiling water for just the right amount of time to ensure a consistent texture from edge to center. In this case, 30 minutes did the trick.

This is the key to a great matzo ball soup. 

If you were to add the matzo balls directly to the broth, they would make the broth starchy and sludgy. It’s important to poach them separately to avoid a cloudy broth. And if you were to simmer them for too short or too long of a time, you would lose that consistent texture.

Of course, along with perfectly poached matzo balls, the soup needs to have a flavorful broth. We achieve this with a little shortcut: Instead of making chicken broth from scratch, we bolster store-bought chicken broth with chicken leg quarters (once they’re tender, we remove the legs and shred the chicken, which can be added to the soup or reserved for another use). We include onion, carrots, and celery for a base of vegetal flavor and parsnip for a little sweetness. And we add dill to the broth to reinforce the fresh notes in the matzo balls.

When the broth is ready, it’s finally time to introduce the matzo balls. They need just 5 minutes to heat through.

There are many different ways to make this deeply savory and deeply meaningful soup. We hope you’ll try our version below.

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