The holiday of Passover means different things to different people, but perhaps the single most iconic dish is also one of the best foods ever conceived by the Jewish people: matzo ball soup.
What is matzo ball soup? Part of the Passover tradition includes not eating leavened bread, meaning anything with yeast. The most famous and traditional alternative is matzo, a flat, thin cracker that tastes like day-old cardboard. Matzo meal is ground up matzo. To make matzo ball soup, you form the matzo meal into balls with egg, spices, and chicken fat, and poach it in chicken soup. Delicious.
The problem is, where does one find matzo meal during the quarantine? Rather than try to track it down, I decided to get a little creative (while also throwing all kosher rules out the window), and made something that, I think, honored the spirit of eating delicious food, even if I futzed with the rules a little bit. I very generally followed BA’s recipe for the matzo balls, though as described below, almost every part of it got changed.
I started out making chicken stock. I roasted a bag of frozen “party wings” at 225° for about an hour just to thaw them and render out the fat. I wasn’t looking for the wings to be done, as I wasn’t going to eat them. Rather, I wanted the wings to get a little color and for them to release as much fat as they could. I also roasted two pounds of chicken leg quarters (not pictured). I dropped the chicken into a pot. I then poured the drippings into small mason jar I had handy, and put it into the fridge (more on this later).
Then, into the pot went two onions, three carrots, a few celery stalks, and a lot of garlic. None of these vegetables or meat will make it into the final soup, so it’s okay (and recommended) to do a pretty rough chop on the vegetables and include the onion and garlic skins and the carrot stems. Then fill the pot with as much water as possible and throw it on the burner. At this stage, you can proceed how you want. I was using an Instant Pot, so I pressure cooked the broth for a while before putting it on
slow cook. Whatever you do, just cook it for a long time to try to extract as much flavor out of the meat and vegetables and into the stock as you can. (This is a major do as I say, not as I do moment. I left my stock cooking at too high a temp for too long without checking on it, and ended up reducing my stock way too low. Don’t be like me, keep your pot covered and your flame low if you’re going to keep it going all night.)
Once your stock is ready (or, if you’re like me, your reduced stock is ready), it’s time to start building your soup. Strain the solids from your broth and throw them away (you can try to salvage some of this but, honestly, those veggies are toast. There isn’t much flavor left). I put in two chopped onions, three large carrots, a head of garlic, four celery stalks (make sure to actually discard onion and garlic skins and carrot tops this time), and three pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Make sure your water level is good, or add more if your stock is too reduced. I also added a generous portion of salt and pepper, thyme, rosemary, and basil. Bring your soup to a boil, then cover and reduce flame to medium. Leave it to cook for hours.
Time to make the fake matzo balls. Matzo meal is already baked, so it wouldn’t work to use something like raw flour. Instead, I bought a box of unsalted saltines (yes, they exist) and crushed them until I had about a cup and a half of crumbs. Following BA’s recipe above, I mixed the saltines with 6 eggs, salt, pepper, and the normal set of delicious herbs. Now, remember the chicken fat from above? If you set it aside like I did and put it in the fridge, the fat
should have separated from the rest of the drippings, leaving you with liquid gold aka schmaltz. Add a half cup of that into the ball batter (I would add the bottom layer, which is basically just concentrated chicken essence straight into the soup and let it cook away). Mix everything together and you should end up with a pretty wet consistency, such as pictured to the left. Put the batter in the fridge.
Here’s where we get really non-Kosher for Passover. After at least half an hour or so in the fridge (though more is better) pull the batter from the fridge and form into balls of about an inch-plus diameter. I ended up with about 14 balls. I filled a plate with Panko, the delicious, herby Japanese bread crumbs, and then rolled the balls in the Panko until the balls were dry enough to remain separate (right). I then put these back into the fridge.
About 45 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to eat, pull the balls out of the fridge and get your soup to a rolling boil. Put each ball into a ladle and dip it into the soup slowly before releasing it (just to make sure the binding grabs hold instead of falling apart). Repeat until they’re all in the soup. Give it at least 40 minutes to cook all together, and then ladle it into a bowl and enjoy with a glass of wine (or four). Mazel tov!