Passover is far and away the biggest Jewish food holiday of the year (apologies to Hannukah—we still love your latkes). However, Seder meals have been largely the same for the better part of 3,000 years. It's great to honor tradition, but maybe it's time to inject some new life into your Seder dishes. Chef Yehuda Sichel of Philadephia's Abe Fisher shared some tips for improving Passover's signature dishes when he dropped by our test kitchen to make his Matzo Ball Soup.
Season your matzo.
Chef Sichel agknowledges that when matzo is both fresh and well-seasoned, it can be delicious. "The reason matzo usually doesn’t taste very good is because they don’t put any salt in it," he says. "When we make matzo at the restaurant, I add a little olive oil too, which helps with the texture, and then we add everything bagel spice to the dough itself."
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Deconstruct your charoset.
"Traditional charoset is one of those things that I like to change because I never understood it growing up," Sichel says. "It’s apples soaked in wine with nuts, which just doesn’t make sense from a culinary standpoint. However, you can take those ingredients (apples, horseradish, wine and walnuts) and make them really good by going off the path a little bit. For instance, this year we’re making an apple, walnut and matzo strudel and then topping it with foie gras." That might be a little opulent for most dinners, but this is exactly why Passover is different than all other nights.
Devil your eggs.
When it comes to the often-overlooked Passover egg, chef Sichel takes a more-is-more approach. "This year at Abe Fisher for our amuse-bouche, we’re going to make these great devilled eggs," he says. "We hard boil the eggs, separate the whites and the yolk and soak the egg white in ash water to kind of stain it grey. This process gives the egg that burnt egg flavor and then we top them with pastrami."
Pay attention to your soup, not just your matzo balls.
At his restaurant, chef Sichel infuses his soup broth with fresh turmeric and ground fenugreek for a golden color and a deep flavor. "With matzo ball soup, it’s really important to have a really well seasoned chicken soup to begin with," he says. "Then make sure your matzo balls are really good—spend some time on them. When matzo ball soup is done right, it’s perfect." And once your matzo balls are cooked, don’t let them sit for too long. "You want to eat them while they are still warm and tender," says Sichel.
Consider short ribs instead of brisket.
Rather than cook brisket itself, chef Sichel cooks short ribs to mimic the best qualities of brisket without the drawbacks. "We love the flavor of brisket but it tends to be dry, especially when your grandmother is making it," he explains. "Short ribs, though, are way more forgiving and when you nail them, they’re super juicy and delicious. And, you can actually slice them just like you would brisket."