What makes a flavorful bowl of matzo ball soup even more heartwarming at Passover? Schmaltz!
It’s an ingredient that is both decadent and sacred: chicken fat that’s gently rendered to create a velvety, lush “butter” which deepens the flavors of dishes and adds a crisp finish when used in pan-frying.
The following recipe, which employs a healthy amount of chicken fat, is found in “The Book of Schmaltz” (Little Brown), the 2013 cookbook by Michael Ruhlman, a James Beard Award-winning food historian and former Palm Beach resident. Ruhlman embarked on the schmaltz adventure, thanks to one of his neighbors who taught him the ways of traditional Jewish cooking. Their collaboration produced delicious recipes, such as this one for luxurious matzo ball soup.
FOUR-STAR MATZO BALL SOUP
Recipe from "The Book of Schmaltz," by Michael Ruhlman (Little Brown).
For the matzo balls:
2 tablespoons schmaltz
1/2 Spanish onion, cut into small dice
1/4 cup matzo meal (or 2 squares of matzo, well pulverized in a food processor)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chicken stock or water, plus additional for simmering
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
1 Spanish onion, cut into small dice
2 celery stalks, cut on the bias into 1/4- inch slices
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
Kosher salt to taste
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or consommé
1/2 cup gribenes (see note)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Make the matzo balls: Heat the schmaltz in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the onion and a three-finger pinch of salt, and cook until the onion just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion and fat to a plate to cool.
Combine the remaining ingredients, along with a four-finger pinch of salt, in a large bowl.
Add the cooled onion and fat. Stir the mixture thoroughly until all ingredients are uniformly mixed.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
With damp hands, form the matzo mixture into 4 balls, making them as big, smooth, and round as ping-pong balls. Place them in a saucepan of simmering chicken stock, cover the pan, and cook for 20 minutes. If you're making the soup right away, keep the matzo balls in the stock, covered. If not, allow them to cool, wrap individually in plastic, and refrigerate.
Make the soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and ready an ice bath. When the water boils, add the onion and cook for 30 seconds. Scoop out the onion with a strainer and dip the strainer into the bowl of ice water, stirring the onion till chilled. Put it in a paper towel-lined bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Do the same with the celery. Do the same with the carrot, but cook the carrot for 60 to 90 seconds before removing it to the ice bath.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Taste, and season with salt if necessary.
Heat your soup bowls in the oven or in a microwave.
Reheat your matzo balls in stock if necessary (if you're serving clarified stock, heat the matzo balls in separate stock or they can cloud the consommé).
Make a bed with the blanched onion in the center of each bowl; ring the carrot around the onion, and the celery around the carrot. Place a hot matzo ball on the onion. Add the piping hot stock or consommé to the bowl.
Pouring the stock into the prepared bowls is especially dramatic to do at the table if you've taken the time to clarify the stock. Garnish the matzo balls with gribenes and parsley.
NOTE: Gribenes (pronounced GRIB-beh-ness) are the crispy bits of chicken skin cracklings produced in the making of schmaltz.