Food

The Most Comforting Chicken Soup (With or Without Matzo Balls)

The Most Comforting Chicken Soup (With or Without Matzo Balls)

I’ve made chicken soup approximately one thousand times in my life, but the best bowl I can remember…

…was one I had last week. It was the first night of Hanukkah, and I was looking for a good matzo ball soup recipe to serve alongside my latkes. In these situations, as much as I wish I could, I don’t pull out a stained and splattered recipe card handed down by my dad’s Bubby (it doesn’t exist) and I don’t call my Presbyterian, 100% not-Jewish mom, even though her matzo ball soup, made from a box mix, is unfailingly satisfying. No. Mostly, I turn to Leah Koenig, author of Jewish Cooking, The Little Book of Jewish Feasts, and my most well-loved favorite, Modern Jewish Cooking. She dependably has what I’m looking for, along with a reassuring, comforting tone I appreciate all year long, not just on Jewish holidays.

Her chicken soup, whoa! It is so so good. As she writes in the recipe’s introduction, “With its tender hunks of meat, meltingly soft vegetables, and a broth that could cure the toughest cold (there’s a reason why it’s called “Jewish penicillin”)…it is the epitome of Jewish comfort food.” It’s also ridiculously easy — especially if you just make the soup without the matzo balls, which I plan to do on repeat this winter — amounting to adding the ingredients to a pot, covering with water, and simmering. The swirling chicken fat and those vegetables, especially that fennel, infuse the broth with such a familiar homey-ness, I plan on telling anyone who tastes it that it’s an old family recipe.

Classic Chicken Soup
If you aren’t making matzo balls, Koenig suggests adding egg noodles or rice (or nothing) instead.
Serves 6 to 8

3- to 3 1/2-lb whole chicken
3 large carrots, halved
3 stalks celery, with leaves, halved crosswise
2 yellow onions, halved through the root
1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and cored
1 bay leaf
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, with stems, plus roughly chopped parsley for serving
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Matzo Balls (optional, recipe follows)

Place the chicken, carrots, celery, onions, fennel, bay leaf, garlic and parsley stems in a large soup pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat to low. Gently simmer, partially covered, skimming off any foam that accumulates, until the chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. You want the soup to roll along at the gentlest simmer. If it starts to bubble too vigorously, nudge the heat down a little.

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and transfer to a cutting board. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Return the strained broth to the pot; discard the parsley stems and bay leaf. Using your fingers, remove the meat from the bones and roughly chop. Slice the vegetables into bite-size pieces and return them to the pot along with the chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide into bowls and top with chopped parsley. Add 2 to 3 matzo balls per bowl if using.

Matzo Balls
From Modern Jewish Cooking, by Leah Koenig.

4 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or chicken fat)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons seltzer water

Stir together the eggs, vegetable oil, salt, matzo meal, parsley, and seltzer in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low and keep at a simmer while you form the matzo balls.

Moisten your hands with water. Scoop out a rounded 1 tablespoon of matzo ball batter and roll it into a 1-inch ball. (They will expand when you simmer, mine above were slightly too big I think.) Drop into simmering water, and repeat with the remaining batter. You should end up with about 15 matzo balls. Cover the pot and simmer until the matzo balls are tender and puffed, 30 to 35 minutes. (If you cut one in half, it should be pale in color throughout.)

Remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon, and add to your soup bowls. They can also be cooled to room temperature, then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Rewarm them in your soup before serving.

P.S. More soup recipes, and when in doubt: spicy chicken pieces.

(Top soup photo by Sang An.)

  1. Mj says...

    Jenny, what is CYAG? Will be trying this recipe!

  2. janine says...

    This looks so good. I have been making a ton of soup lately. I have to admit I have never made matzoh balls (or matzoh ball soup) from scratch…I like to joke that as someone who’s half-Jewish (and please don’t @ me that there’s no such thing), I defrost some Trader Joe’s latkes or make matzoh balls from a box and that’s good enough. :)

  3. Renata Ko says...

    If you add kimchi at the end, the combination with the chicken matzoh ball soup is divine!

  4. Kate says...

    I find this recipe very interesting, because I’ve always roasted a chicken first (using the english method with lots of butter, lemon and herbs) and then made stock and soup a few days later. Having already pulled the chicken apart while it was cold and most of the meat and skin already removed, it makes for easy handling. Mostly bones and some fat go into the pot, along with a carrot or two, celery, onion skins and an assortment of herbs and spices. I let this gently boil for several hours until the cartilage has melted down into the broth. Everything is strained off after the broth has cooled some. I have to wonder if the cartilage breaks down in this version? Sounds delicious nonetheless.

  5. Laura says...

    Looks delicious.

  6. Lele says...

    I’ve been making matzoh ball soup for years using my mother’s recipe, which was her mother’s recipe. I discard the vegies that I use to make the stock and steam some carrots separately to add to the finished soup along with the matzoh balls and chicken. I also use lots of dill along with the parsley. Also, can we hear it for the dense matzoh ball lovers? None of the fluffy ones for us so I never ever use seltzer!

    • Sharon says...

      My other made very dense matzoh balls…we called them canon balls!

      I like fluffy matzoh balls…I separate the eggs and beat the whites, then fold them into the mixture. I got that from Ina Garten. Fabulous!

  7. LK says...

    Happy Hanukkah! My neighbor made me matzoh ball soup using duck fat. It was delicious.

  8. Court says...

    Jut added all these ingredients to my grocery order!

  9. Lesley Claff says...

    Proper Jewish chicken soup takes at least 12 hours to simmer. This recipe will produce watery tasteless liquid.

    • Sharon says...

      I never cook my chicken soup anywhere near that long…it is hardly tasteless! My mother and grandmother never did either.

  10. Agustina says...

    Hi this looks deliciosa, i need some help on understanding what matzo is ? I have been looking for recipes but It keeps saying just matzo meal and it looks like bread crumbs? I am not jewish and i was born in Argentina and now i live in Italy…this is why i don’t know much about this ingredient. Hope someone can help me find an alternative :) thank you so much, by the way i have been reading Cup of Jo for ages now and this is my first comment ;) i NEED the matzo ball so badly hahahahah LOVE to all of you !!!! Thank you!!!!

    • Bernadette says...

      Manischewitz Matzo Meal Daily Canister, 16 OZ, Pack of 2 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0083JRZUS/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_kl32Fb01CYNV6

      OR
      Manischewitz Original “Thin Unsalted Matzo” 10oz (3 Pack) Airy Crispy Crackers, Just Flour & Water, Sodium Free, Non GMO https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0083KYI66/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_tn32FbP32E53W
      THESE, on Amazon. The whole crackers can be pulsed in a Food Processor but not to a powder, leave a like chunky.

    • Agustina says...

      Thank you Bernadette, although they dont ship this item to italy i can try and find some similar thing now that i Saw the picture and ingredientes ! Thanks a lot hace a nice day :)

    • Alex says...

      Well don’t know if this helps, but I’m from Slovakia and the crackers are called ‘Maces’ here. I believe ‘knackebrot’ could make for a good substitute :)

    • Yael says...

      Hi Agustina, matzah is unleavend bread that jews eat for passover. No yeast or rising agent is used. Any Jewish or kosher store in your city in Italy should have either Matzah or matzah meal (we make our matzah meal by taking matzah and putting it in a food processor or blender to make it fine). Most supermarkets in Italy also sell matzah closer to Passover (spring time around easter), but you could check in with your supermarket and ask if it might be in stock.

  11. Jax says...

    WITH matzoh balls. PLEASE. ALWAYS.

    That looks SO good.

  12. Chayary says...

    We make chicken soup practically every week in my house, and we do not strain anything, other than skimming the top during the initial boil. But then we simmer for hours (often overnight) and refrigerate or serve. The soup is not perfectly clear, it’s true, but it is not offensive in anyway and I am happy to sacrifice the aesthetic perfection for ease and efficiency. At most I pull out the chicken and shred or cut some to put into bowls while I am serving. Otherwise I just serve it all from the pot with the ladle. No complaints from many many years of picky kids and guests.

    • Nancy says...

      I’m going to try that.

    • Sharon says...

      I always refrigerate overnight so I can get rid of the fat in the morning.

  13. Lisa says...

    It’s kinda funny (to me!) how something as simple as soup can mean SO much to some! I say this obviously including myself!
    Sad? Chicken soup. Celebrate end of a week? Chicken soup. Tummy ache? Chicken soup. It’s everything!!!

    One thing I’ve loved about being Jewish is the food, haha :) Bagel lox and cream cheese…. well, it’s in my blood!

    Happy Hanukkah all who are celebrating <3

  14. L says...

    Yum! And Happy, happy Hanukkah!

  15. lindsay says...

    The most satasfying soup I have ever had was years ago at a jewish deli in NYC. I think it was the one that has closed. I was pregnant with morning sickness and the matzo ball soup was so soothing and comforting and delicious. Maybe I can recreate it with your recipe!

    • lindsay says...

      what, no spell check?! ha

  16. Jean says...

    My Jewish friend used to come over to my place to have me make her some matzo ball soup because neither her mother nor her grandmother liked to cook. It made for a humorous scene on Jewish holidays especially because I’m Asian! Good food is good food.

  17. Cici says...

    Please squeeze a little lemon juice on top – life-changing!!!!! (learned from Smitten Kitchen’s leek, rice and chicken soup recipe and it was revelatory in terms of where chicken soup could go).

    Thank you Jenny! Can’t wait to try this with fennel.

  18. Anna says...

    Oh WOW this looks so good. I’m 8 weeks pregnant and soup is just about the only thing that doesn’t make me want to vom. Thanks for sharing this one!

    • Julie M. says...

      Hope it gets better for you soon!

    • KW says...

      I added this cookbook to my collection recently and it is fabulous! Chicken soup has become a staple in our house during this weird year (it’s the ultimate comfort food for me, even in the hottest summer weather!) and this is like a guidebook to soup-y happiness. Worth increasing your collection for :)

    • KW says...

      Perhaps worth mentioning to circumvent a discussion that I’m sure is coming that Jenn Louis has some reputational issues and closed her Portland restaurants after a scandal related to some race-related comments in (very) poor taste on social media. I read up on it, felt she apologized appropriately and paid sufficient penance, if any was required, in losing her Portland restaurant mini-empire. I’m sure others feel differently, which is of course their perogative.

    • AE says...

      KW, who are you to decide she “paid sufficient penance”? Are you a part of the community that has been tortured, beaten, kidnapped, disenfranchised, and mocked? If so, are you the voice of that community? We can’t just tie things up in neat little packages to fit our narratives (ie you just wanted the cookbook, so you got the cookbook, other issues notwithstanding).

    • kw says...

      Nope, I definitely did not say I was trying to be the voice of any community. I was talking about my own decision-making process in deciding to purchase her book. We make moral and ethical judgments and decisions all the time when we choose to buy or not buy things. I wanted to flag that the really great cookbook I recommended was written by a person with an admittedly checkered past, so that others can make their own informed decisions.

  19. Sarah says...

    For a number of years in my 20s and early 30s I made my own Matzo Ball Soup to host non-Jewish friends for a Passover quasi-Seder of mainly soup and more matzo (with lots of butter and salt and horseradish…YUM). But I find the parts of the process that seem so easy “remove the chicken and vegetables, strain the soup” to be so much harder than they seem in writing! The pot is so heavy, I don’t have a bowl the right size to fit my mesh strainer and all the broth, the remaining chicken and veggies are so slimy, who has a cutting board that big, etc. etc. I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it!
    Any tips you have to make these seemingly innocent steps a little more streamlined?
    Thank you, Jenny! Happy Hanukkah!

    • Dori says...

      Totally agree on this! I love eating this type of soup but make it infrequently because of the issues you mentioned. I end up using multiple pots/bowls and it’s a mess.

    • katie says...

      I always felt the same trepidation when it came to soup recipes like this as you do. I finally tried it over Thanksgiving using my leftover turkey carcass and it was a success! Granted, we have a large pot that my husband makes his chili in. I simmered the carcass in that and then I strained into another large pot we own. I’m glad I tried it! For me, it was an all-day effort though.

    • Emma says...

      I have a teensy kitchen and have some of the same issues (live alone, too!). What has helped me is making stock from pieces of chicken, like 2 drumsticks, 2 wings and maybe bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts. I pull those pieces and veggies out with tongs and keep them in bigger bowls (for shredding/cutting with scissors – another hack!) and then the stock is so much easier to strain into a colander with cheesecloth.

    • kw says...

      Use a quartered chicken or bone-in chicken thighs with less cooking time :)

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      -agree on the bowl with the pouring lip, that will make a difference
      -also, letting the chicken mostly cool helps, so it’s not as hard to handle
      -pick the chicken from the bones on the cutting board you’d use for carving turkey, with a little well around the edge. Less mess!
      -as for the pots and pans, I’m not sure there’s any way to solve this problem, but if you CYAG, you can at least manage it :)

    • Katie says...

      CYAG?

    • Claire says...

      Hi Sarah, I have not made matzo ball soup, but I have made chicken stock and other kinds of soup, and I can relate to your question. I have a small kitchen and often have similar engineering and logistical issues when cooking. In my kitchen this would take probably a few bowls and some utensils. I would use tongs to remove the chicken and vegetables into one bowl and set those aside. My strainer is also small, so rather than trying to lift the pot and strain all at once I get another large or medium sized bowl, or two if that’s what it takes, and use a measuring cup or ladle to take the broth from the pot and pour through the strainer one scoop at a time. I may need to stop partway through and rinse the strainer, and I may need more than one bowl. This may sound time consuming but it really only takes a few minutes. By the time I get the broth dealt with and back into the pot then the chicken and vegetables are cool enough to handle, and I take the pieces one at a time to remove the bones and/or chop if needed. I always keep a rag handy for clean up should there be drips or puddles. I also keep a sink full of hot soapy water on standby to deposit bowls and used utensils into while I am finishing the process. Hope these suggestions are somewhat helpful. to you.

    • Rae says...

      I know what you mean. I learned from a friend to put all my chicken and vegetables into a cheesecloth type bag, it cuts down on foam and makes it easy to take out and choose what goes back in.

    • E says...

      A few tips!
      1. I use long tongs and/or a spider (aka strainer or skimmer – like this kind: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/5-1-2-extra-fine-round-skimmer/88542416.html or the more open/less fine mesh asian style) to remove bits and pieces that need to be further broken down (i.e. the chicken, usually)
      2. then I put things that need to be broken down into a little cake pan or pie tin–I hate the cutting boards with wells but also hate using my regular big block cutting board and getting juices everywhere. Then I wait until it cooks, break down by hand or with a paring knife, and just dump everything from the tin into the pot again.
      3. for a final strain, I use a canning funnel (like this: https://www.acehardware.com/departments/home-and-decor/canning/accessories-and-prep/6099691?x429=true&gclid=CjwKCAiA_eb-BRB2EiwAGBnXXoplj0HOsxVyHc0muNda70WNE5i2ala7h9HYrYWTDeqYDiJFa10mOhoCnR4QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds) with a small tea strainer (like this one: https://www.wish.com/product/5e19724c7c2f6b0cb83ecfde?from_ad=goog_shopping&_display_country_code=US&_force_currency_code=USD&pid=googleadwords_int&c=%7BcampaignId%7D&ad_cid=5e19724c7c2f6b0cb83ecfde&ad_cc=US&ad_curr=USD&ad_price=1.99&hide_login_modal=true&share=web). The canning funnel and strainer go over a mason jar and it’s stable enough that I can use both hands to lift the pot.

      This may sound like a lot of items but they are all small, highly multi-functional, and lightweight. And easy to store.

    • Zoe says...

      I refused to handle the aftermath of chicken soup making and invested in a
      “stock pot with a strainer basket”. It takes away the free chicken soup bubbling extravaganza whilst cooking, but oh boy, it’s satisfying to just lift the basket and be left with a clear chicken soup. Let the rest cool in the basket and tadaaaa.

    • Cher says...

      I recently found out about using a “soup sock” when making chicken soup. You place the chicken, onions, celery and any other garnishes in this netting, then place it in the pot and cover with liquid. After cooking you lift up the netting out of the pot, putting it in the sink or a bowl, untie it and voila, you have separated it from the liquid. This is so much easier..

    • Meeka C. says...

      I felt the same way as I was making this and was like “I’m never bothering to make this again, yuck.” But it was SO GOOD. Like so much umami flavor and so nourishing. It was so much better than the soup I make from a shredded rotisserie chicken. I think I will follow others advice on here and get a soup sock or a pot with a strainer. Also I threw in more vegetables at the end to have a little more crunch and got to discard some of the slimy vegetables. That helped.

  20. Abbie says...

    It’s rainy and gray today and all I want is a whole chicken to make this luscious sounding comfort food.

  21. Tyler says...

    I am so going to make this tonight! Have been looking for a good recipe. The veggies don’t get too soft though??

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      The veggies get soft, but they are drenched in chicken fat so you forgive them!

  22. Lara says...

    This was such a comforting post, especially celebrating Hannukah and other holidays solo this year. Jewish penicillin for sure… and Jewish valium too, maybe, ha! Thank you!

  23. we lost my aunt linda suddenly two years ago. she had texted me her chicken soup recipe that I later rewrote and illustrated for close family:
    https://www.instagram.com/p/B6ZHCnKlCLz/
    made and ate it today for lunch — always comforting.
    and now I want to make leah’s version too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s so lovely <3

  24. Bec says...

    I’m curious Jenny – do you use all all of the chicken meat? (i.e. the dark meat plus the white?) I only see white meat in the soup in the photo, and I wondered if that makes a flavor difference.
    Thank you!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I used all of the meat I can pick from the bones! (If you look at my photo, rather than the one way up top from Leah’s book, you’ll see.) I love dark meat and will always include it when I have the option.

  25. E says...

    Jenny–my family has always made mazto balls from the box, just like your mom. We normally use the Streit’s mix, but Manischewitz is great, too. Fluffy and airy and also just a little bit chewy! Delicious!

    Makes me so happy to see some Ashkenazi cooking on Cup of Jo!

  26. Colleen says...

    What size pot do you need to fill a whole chicken?

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I used a 5 3/4 quart Le Creuset and it was just a tad too small — so maybe 6 quart minimum.

  27. Jackie says...

    You always boil down the recipes in a way that makes me think, I can do this! And so I will this weekend. Thanks Jenny!

  28. Sarah says...

    Omg. When I got to that last photo, I reflexively inhaled, as though I could smell the deliciousness of Jenny’s stovetop. I want to make this for Hanukkah! And all the time!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Wish we could all beam ourselves to Jenny’s kitchen!

  29. So glad to see Leah’s recipes featured. I own every one of her books — great recipes!