Nothing says comfort like a piping hot pot of matzo ball soup. I’ve spent years perfecting this classic chicken soup recipe, and I’m excited to share it with you. I’ve also included three tried-and-true matzo ball recipes – floaters, sinkers, or gluten free.
This is the way I make chicken soup for my family. It is my favorite chicken soup… aka, Jewish Penicillin, the soup that can cure anything. The recipe produces a rich, flavorful broth that is just right for serving with matzo balls (or egg noodles, or rice, or veggies). I’ve linked to three of my favorite matzo ball recipes below.
Everybody has their own way of making chicken soup. It’s a simple concept and recipes abound, along with opinions on which way is the best way. I don’t pretend that one is better than another. This way just happens to be my family’s favorite. Feel free to dress it up the way you like it– add a parsnip for sweetness, thyme for a rustic flavor, or garlic for depth. Use your imagination, or your bubbe’s favorite ingredients. Play around until the flavor is right for you!
On its own, chicken soup is gluten free and very healthy– a great source of protein, with healing qualities. It helps to clear your sinuses and warm you from the inside. From the basic soup recipe, a starch of your choice can be added– rice, egg noodles, kreplach, or veggies like squash, zucchini, and potatoes.
During Passover, matzo balls are the traditional and kosher starch of choice for the holiday. When it comes to matzo balls, everybody has their own way of doing things. Some like their matzo balls light as a feather (floaters), whiles others prefer them with a more dense, thick texture (sinkers). Both are delicious in their own way. Then, there are always opinions on which herbs and spices to add to the mix, and which fat to use for binding the matzo.
My method for making matzo balls is pretty simple. I used to use Manischewitz mix, which I still think is a great option, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s just as easy– and cheaper– to make your own from scratch. Making your own mix allows you more control over the flavor and texture of the matzo balls. I use a few spices, fresh dill, and melted schmaltz to bind the batter (you can use a mildly flavored oil if chicken fat freaks out your cardiologist– but I love the flavor of schmaltz). Once in a while I change things up, depending on what texture or flavor I’m going for.
To check out my matzo ball recipes, click the links below (I typically cook these in homemade chicken stock). I’ve also included my Gluten Free matzo ball recipe for those who can’t stomach the matzo; it’s potato based, and really delish.
Of course, if you’re not a matzo ball fan, feel free to make this soup into something completely original by adding your favorite ingredients. The possibilities are endless!
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I have recently updated this recipe and post to reflect improvements made to the original recipe.
- 4 lb whole chicken (use a whole chicken, or a mixture of white and dark meat chicken pieces - must be bone in, skin on)
- 2 lb celery stalks, cleaned
- 1 lb carrots, peeled
- 1 yellow onion, skin on, rinsed clean
- 2 ounces fresh parsley (one large handful), rinsed clean
- 1.5 ounces fresh dill (one handful), rinsed clean
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves (optional- do not add unless you like the flavor of cloves)
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp saffron threads (optional-- adds a rich yellow color and depth of flavor to the broth; only use high quality expensive saffron, the other kind has no flavor)
- This recipe focuses on the chicken soup that is served together with the matzo balls. You'll want to make the matzo balls separately, then serve this soup together with the matzo balls. I recommend one of these three recipes for the matzo balls - floaters, sinkers, or gluten free. I've been super specific with the instructions here, but once you've made this soup a time or two, you'll see that this whole process is very flexible. Making chicken soup "your own" is part of the fun, so use whatever process and ingredients work best for you!
- I typically add celery and onion as the main vegetables when cooking my soup stock, though you can add carrots too. I prefer adding carrots at the end of cooking, to avoid the stock becoming overly sweet - we prefer a more savory broth. I highly recommend putting in fresh vegetables after the chicken stock is cooked; they'll be much more flavorful that way (otherwise they tend to be mushy and boring). For the first pound of celery, cut it into large 1-inch chunks (you can include any celery leaves as well).
- The rest of the celery and the carrots (which will end up in the finished soup that is served) should be sliced no thicker than 1/2 inch, with larger stalks and carrots halved lengthwise before cutting into chunks. The uniform size will ensure the pieces cook quickly and evenly. Reserve. (By the way, these veggies are optional - some people like their chicken soup without any vegetables.)
- If using saffron, crush the saffron threads in a mortar and pestle until pulverized to powder. Note: saffron adds a depth of flavor and a deep golden color to the broth, but true saffron (the only kind with flavor) is very pricey. It's got a very nice, but distinctive, essence, so don't add it unless you know you enjoy it. The soup will be delicious with or without it.
- Remove the root end of the onion (it can sometimes be a bit dirty), then slice the whole onion into two halves. Leave the skin on, but make sure it is rinsed clean.
- If using a whole chicken, make sure any gizzards that might be hidden inside are removed (they'll make the stock murky and cloudy). Place the chicken into a 10 quart or larger stock pot. Cover with 5 quarts (20 cups) of water.
- Bring water to a boil over medium high heat. Let the chicken simmer for 10-15 minutes, skimming the foam and particles that rise to the surface of the water periodically, until most of the foam is gone.
- Replenish the liquid that was removed during scumming with hot water (it's usually around 1-2 cups).
- Do a final skimming to remove any leftover foam. Add the first pound of celery (the larger pieces), onion, parsley (unchopped), 2/3 of the dill (unchopped), peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves to the pot. Add 1 tbsp kosher salt to the water (if you're salt sensitive or using a kosher salted bird, you may wish to salt less). Bring back to a simmer. From this point on, it's important not to let the soup come to a rolling boil. A slow and even simmer is best - if the soup boils quickly, the broth may become cloudy.
- If you are adding the saffron, add it to the pot now. Spoon a little of the hot water from the pot into the mortar, stir, then pour it out to make sure you get every bit of saffron into the pot.
- Put the lid on the pot and vent it. Reduce heat to medium low so the soup is slowly simmering. Let the soup cook for roughly 90 minutes.
- Test for doneness by pulling the leg from the chicken. It should easily separate, showing that the chicken has become quite tender. If not using a whole chicken, stick a fork into one of the dark meat pieces to see if it flakes tenderly. When chicken is ready, turn off the heat. Use a pair of tongs to carefully pull the chicken from the broth (it may fall apart into pieces as you pull it out - that's a good sign!). Put it on a plate or in a bowl.
- Allow the chicken and the broth to cool down for 20-30 minutes, until the pot handles are cool enough to touch and lift. Carefully strain the broth into another pot or large bowl (6 quart) through a mesh strainer. Discard the celery and onion (which will be very mushy and flavorless at this point), spices, herbs, and onion halves. If you used a bowl here, clean the pot and add the strained stock back to the pot again - it will need to cook a little longer.
- Note: When the soup is completely cool, you can skim the fat from the top of the broth if you want to-- it will come off in a gel-like layer (this is the "schmaltz"). I actually don't like to skim the fat; those droplets on the surface make the broth silky and give it flavor.
- Pull the meat from the chicken bones into bite-sized pieces.
- Now is the time to add the reserved fresh sliced veggies to the pot (1 pound celery, 1 pound carrots). Bring the broth to a simmer - not a boil - and let the vegetables cook for 20-30 minutes until tender. (If you're not adding additional veggies, just skip ahead to the next step).
- Remove stems from the remaining fresh dill and chop it up.
- Stir the cooked chicken pieces and the dill into the soup with the vegetables, and simmer for a couple of minutes more. Taste the chicken broth and season with additional salt, if desired.
- I generally cook my matzo balls in homemade chicken stock in a separate pot. Technically you can cook matzo balls (or kreplach or noodles or whatever) directly in the soup broth, but it will soak up a lot of the yummy stock, leaving you with very little broth for serving. If you prefer to cook your starch of choice directly in the soup, do so before you add the reserved vegetables and chicken pieces - just know you'll be left with very little broth for serving.
- Serve individual portions of soup ladled over the matzo balls. I usually add about 1.5 cups of soup per bowl, and 2 matzo balls per serving (depending on the size of the matzo balls).