My mom serves matzah ball soup every Friday night, and she’s always made it in the oven. When I left home and found myself without my weekly fix, I called her for the recipe and followed suit. I didn’t realize that this was unusual until I was well into my 20s — sure, I’d never heard of anyone doing the same, but the soup was so great I didn’t stop to question it.
As I began research for this article, I understood just how unusual our method is. While there are numerous recipes that call for roasting the chicken before adding it to the stock and boiling on the stove, there are very few that cook the entire soup in the oven. In fact, my mom doesn’t know the original source of this method — only that my grandma did the same.
It is superior for four main reasons:
•It gives the soup a rounded, distinct depth of flavor, a sort of stew-like back note that is oh so comforting.
•It gives the soup an incredible bronze color that looks so tempting and reflects the complexity of its taste.
•It’s so easy! You just stick it in the oven and forget about it until it’s done. The oven ensures even cooking at a constant temperature, and because it’s so low (300 F) the chicken won’t get dry — even the breast, as it essentially poaches.
•Also, the vegetables in the soup (specifically carrots and rutabaga) make for great baby food when cooked this way — they’re soft enough to mush and infused with all that Jewish penicillin goodness. I’m convinced that this is the reason I rarely got sick as a kid.
To ensure success, make sure you follow these tips:
•Begin the recipe on the stove — just until the soup has come to a boil and you’ve had a chance to skim off any scum that floats to the top (about 30 minutes).
•Cook at 300 F for 5 hours. Don’t skimp — it needs time to develop the flavor.
•If serving matzah balls, cook them in the soup at a simmer just before serving.
And note: A crockpot is NOT an oven substitute. I tried it once and it was nowhere near as good.
If you want to re-create my soup exactly (which is basically my mom’s recipe simplified slightly to accommodate for my lazier cooking habits), follow the recipe below.
2 large leeks
7 carrots, peeled
2 onions (leave skins on if you’re lazy, though my mother never would)
2 sticks of celery
1 rutabaga, peeled
1 chicken (skin off if you don’t like fat floating on top of your soup, though I personally love it)
2 cartons of chicken stock plus 1+ quart water
salt, according to how salty your stock is
1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Place all ingredients into a large heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven. Ensure there’s enough liquid to cover – top with more water if necessary.
3. Bring to a boil uncovered on the stove, skimming any scum off the top. After 30 minutes, cover and place into oven. Cook for 5 hours.
4. Once cooled, strain the soup. Discard the celery. Shred the chicken breast and cut the carrots into thick slices, then add back into the soup. Either add the leeks and rutabaga back into the soup or squeeze them through a fine strainer to release their juice, then discard the remaining pulp.
Note: If you refrigerate the soup overnight, the fat will solidify on top, which makes it easy to remove (if you choose to). I usually do, then use it to make matzah balls. Serves 10.