Matzo Ball Soup – My favorite homemade chicken soup with three matzo ball recipes – floaters, sinkers, or gluten free.
This is the way I make chicken soup for my family. 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. It can be used as a simple chicken stock base, which can then be dressed up into soup. Or, you can use the broth in different recipes that call for the addition of stock. It is My Favorite Chicken Soup… aka, Jewish Penicillin, the soup that can cure anything.
Let me start by saying that everybody has their own way of making chicken soup. Making stock is 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, half an onion or thyme for a rustic flavor, or garlic for depth. Use your imagination, or your bubbe’s favorite ingredients. Play around till 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 (they also happen to be my favorite choice year-round). 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 oil to use for binding the matzo. Oh, the options!
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 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’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!
And if you are a fan of matzo balls, comment me and let me know what your favorite type is. Are you a floater, or a sinker?
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- 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs.
- 6 large carrots, peeled and sliced
- 6 celery stalks, peeled and sliced (including leaves)
- 1 brown (yellow) onion, skin on, rinsed and sliced in two halves
- Handful of fresh parsley
- Handful of fresh dill
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves (optional- I add more because I like a strong clove flavor)
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 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)
- Place the chicken into a large stock pot. Cover with 4 quarts of water.
- Bring water to a boil over medium high heat. Let the chicken boil for 10-15 minutes, skimming the foam and particles that rise to the surface of the water periodically, till 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 carrots, celery, onion, parsley, dill, peppercorns, and cloves to the pot. Add 1 tbsp kosher salt to the water (if you're salt sensitive or using a kosher salted bird, salt less). Bring back to a simmer.
- Put the lid on the pot and vent it. Reduce heat to medium low so the soup is slowly simmering (not boiling- a rolling boil will make the stock cloudy, a slow simmer should do it. Let the soup cook for 90 minutes.
- After 90 minutes of cooking, when the chicken is tender, turn off the heat. Use a pair of tongs to carefully pull the chicken from the broth. Put it on a plate. Taste the chicken broth and season with additional salt, if desired. Allow the chicken and the broth to cool.
- Carefully strain the broth into another pot through a mesh strainer. Reserve the cooked carrots and celery for later, if you wish; discard the spices, herbs, and onion halves.
- 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. I actually don't like to skim the fat, especially for holidays; a few droplets on the surface make the broth silky and give it flavor.
- If you are adding the saffron, crush the threads into powder, then stir them into the broth. Saffron adds a depth of flavor and a deep golden color to the broth. It's got a distinctive essence, so don't add it unless you're sure you like it.
- Pull the meat from the chicken bones into bite-sized pieces.
- If you are cooking something in your broth, like matzo balls or kreplach, bring the broth to a boil and cook them in the broth before adding back in the reserved vegetables or chicken pieces. Do a final tasting and adjust seasoning, adding more salt to taste if desired. Some people prefer to cook their matzo balls in salted water in a separate pot, because a lot of the soup gets soaked up by the matzo balls. Personally I prefer cooking the matzo balls in the soup, as they turn out more flavorful this way. That said, if you're feeding a big crowd and need to stretch your soup, cooking the matzo balls in salted water (or another pot of broth) is the way to go.
- Add the cooked vegetables and/or chicken pieces back to the broth at the very end, for the last few minutes of cooking, until warmed through.
- Serve hot. Sometimes I add a little more chopped fresh dill to the broth before serving. I love dill.