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Bravo's Top Chef crowned Kelsey Barnard Clark as its Season 16 winner — but she was joined in the final three by talented fellow cheftestant Eric Adjepong as well as Sara Bradley, with whom Kelsey already shared a longtime bond of friendship. How did Chef Sara make her way into that coveted position among the talented top three? By making the best matzo ball soup recipe in Macau, after host Padma Lakshmi challenged the semifinalists to, “Look to your own heritage and make a dish reflective of that — but with Chinese ingredients.”
Sara's work impressed the judges, she advanced to the finals because of that now-famous matzo ball soup recipe — and the rest is history.
Of course, matzo ball soup is one of the most beloved and widely known foods in the Jewish culinary tradition — but it's a balm for anything that ails anyone of any faith, and any age, at any time of year. And you're definitely going to want to incorporate Sara's standout matzo ball soup recipe into your regular rotation.
Without further ado, here's Top Chef finalist Sara Bradley's matzo ball soup recipe, just as she wrote it:
Top Chef Finalist Sara Bradley's Matzo Ball Soup Recipe
For the chicken brine:
6 to 8 chicken thighs
1 Tbsp fennel seed
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp dried ground mustard
2 Tbsp cooking oil
In a pot, toast the fennel seeds. Add the salt, sugar, water and bay leaves. Simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool before pouring over chicken thighs. Let brine overnight.
Pat thighs dry and rub with mustard and veg oil. Roast on 325 F for 20-25 minutes or until internal temp is 165. Once cool, pick the meat from the bones. You can add the juices and bones to your broth for flavor or keep everything separate for vegetarians. This meat will be added to the chili broth during the cooking of the matzo balls.
For the mushroom broth:
2 Tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
2-inch ginger chopped
1 head garlic split
1 yellow onion chopped
1/2 head celery chopped
2 large cloves black garlic smashed
4 quarts chicken stock, can use vegetable
5 to 10 dried shiitakes
4x4 inch piece kombu
In a large pot, lightly toast the peppercorns. Add all the chopped vegetables (except the dried shiitakes and kombu). Add the stock, simmer for 30 minutes. Add the shiitakes and kombu and let steep 30 more minutes.
Season with kosher salt. Don't be scared of the amount of salt it will take. Strain. This can be made a couple of days before needed if desired.
For the matzo balls:
(yields 15 golf-ball sized matzo balls, those balls will double in size when cooked)
2 cups matzo meal
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground fennel seed
1-2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp + ½ tsp baking powder
6 whole eggs
6 Tbsp vegetable oil or schmaltz (make sure the chicken fat is liquid when you add)
salt to taste
2-4 oz of club soda
The trick to a good matzo ball is to not over-mix and do not let the mix sit around very long after it is made. We set a timer for 20 minutes, then start to roll the balls. Do not over roll or compress the matzo balls. Just enough to have them stick together.
Mix all of your dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix your eggs and oil in another bowl. Gently stir the wet into the dry. Mix until just coming together. Do not overmix. Taste for seasoning. Fold in the club soda. Let sit for 20 minutes. While the balls are resting, you should be cooking your chili broth.
For the chili broth:
6 quarts water
1 Tbsp piri piri seasoning (can use red chili flake or omit if you don't want it spicy)
3 to 4 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces
1 yellow onion, skinned and quartered
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces.
3-4 heads of small bok choy, separate the leaves
5-6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced ¼ inch thick
In pot large enough for balls to double in size, simmer the piri piri, celery, onion, and carrot for about 5-10 minutes. They shouldn't be tender yet. Season with salt. Bring to a boil and add your mixed matzo balls one by one. Simmer the matzo balls for 20 minutes covered. It is important to make sure the broth is moving and that the heat isn't too low. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and chicken thighs during the last five minutes of cooking.
We always like to let our matzo balls rest in the broth for 15-20 minutes before serving.
To serve: Scoop out balls, veggies, and meat from chili broth. Pour hot mushroom broth over balls.
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