Checking In With New York City's Matzo Ballers

Feb 19, 2011 6:53 pm

Two chefs are freeing matzo from mediocrity

Matzo Ball Soup
Photo: William Shear Photography
Chef Eric Hara's Matzo Ball Soup
 

Matzo ball soup is a dish most often relegated to being served during Jewish holidays or an annual trip to New York's Carnegie Deli with the grandparents. Probably the main reason for this is that most restaurants treat matzo ball soup like an afterthought, or worse. Watery broth, poorly seasoned balls, and oddly cut carrot bits floating in a sea of bland broth are all known issues with standard-issue soups we've encountered.

Some purists may argue that this is as it should be—it's just a simple Jewish dish—and that messing with the usual ingredients is a form of sacrilege (i.e. "What would nana say?!"). Well purists, here’s your warning: Stop reading now if you’re against your balls accompanying a rich beef consommé or croutons made with chicken fat. We tapped two NYC matzo ball mavericks for their advice on how to liven up this traditional soup—a fitting form of revenge for a dish that's best served warm.

9 Restaurant

9 Restaurant Chef-owner Eric Hara, formerly of David Burke and The Oak Room, opened this contemporary American spot in Hell's Kitchen with the hope of elevating regional comfort staples like pigs in a blanket—his include lobster!—and beef cheek pot roast. His matzo ball soup spin starts with a deep beef consommé—made with bone marrow, which Hara notes adds both depth and an “added twist.” Both oyster and shiitake mushrooms bob in the broth for a bonus blast of earthy texture. The small balls are straightforward—light, airy and perfectly seasoned. 

Mile End Delicatessen

Brooklyn's Mile End Delicatessen has won a crazy intense following for its Montreal-style smoked brisket sandwiches and other awesome things from Canada—poutine, ice-cold cans of Labbats Blue and vintage hockey photos in the bathroom. Also on the menu is the Whole Mishpachah, a crafty spin on the classic soup from chef Aaron Israel. “The bowl is inspired by the great ramen noodle soup sellers in New York,” says Israel, who adds that he didn’t want to just drop a ball in broth. Good man! Mishpachah translates to “family” in Yiddish, which makes sense given that the soup is available for groups of two or more ($12/person).

The bowl starts with a chicken stock, made with whole chickens and vegetables left to boil for over six hours, and egg noodles. Along with the matzo balls, Israel adds kreplach—a sort of Jewish tortellini stuffed with ground chicken livers and shallots. There’s also chicken galantine in the mix—flavorful discs bound with mousse, then poached and fried. Croutons made with kishke are added, along with carrots, onions, parsnips and kale.

Ever trick out matzo ball soup? Have a secret family recipe you wanna let out of the bag? Comment!

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