The Secret to Better Matzo Balls: Three Cooks Share Tried-and-True Tips

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Linda Lombroso has a very entertaining and informative story in today’s food section about making feather-light matzo balls. The best tips seem to be to be sure to separate your eggs, but don’t beat the whites too much, and handle the matzo balls as little as possible. Here’s a look:

For 30 years, Jonathan Meyer’s cloud-shaped, lighter-than-air matzo balls have been the star attraction at his family’s Passover Seders.

The matzo balls, made with rendered chicken fat and beaten egg whites, practically float on the surface of the soup — a delightful outcome for a home cook like Meyer, who shivers at the thought of heavy, dense lumps that sit in the stomach like stones. But other cooks prefer a solid, stick-to-the-ribs matzo ball.

Photos by Mark Vergari/TJN

Meyer, who lives in Mount Vernon, is well aware of the debate that has occupied matzo-ball purists from time immemorial — and comes back into the spotlight Monday, when Passover begins at sundown.

The argument divides enthusiasts into two camps: those who prefer theirs feather-light and who like a heartier matzo ball.

Which is actually better?

It’s a question that has no clear answer, even when it comes to experts like Joan Nathan, author of “Jewish Cooking in America,” who has invited 40 people to her Washington, D.C., home for next week’s Seder.

“I don’t like them like lead, but I do like something you can bite into,’’ says Nathan, who grew up in Larchmont and whose mother, Pearl, edited the Larchmont Temple cookbook in 1950 with Gertrude Blue, mother of wine and food writer Anthony Dias Blue. Nathan’s favorite matzo balls, she says, are simply “al dente” — but not heavy like the ones made by Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister. “Like lead,’’ says Nathan, who tried the recipe when she was working on her cookbook “The Flavor of Jerusalem.”

Though Nathan has experimented with everything from seltzer to kosher-for-Passover baking powder — both of which may yield a fluffier matzo ball — she’s partial to the recipe featured in her new cookbook, “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” (Knopf, $39.95), which includes rendered goose or chicken fat, powdered ginger and grated nutmeg. Nathan uses spoons to form the balls, then cooks them in boiling salted water and transfers them to chicken soup, where they absorb additional flavor.

Technique is crucial when it comes to making good matzo balls, says Ruth Ossher, right, of South Salem, who’s been making hers for more than 25 years. All of hers are light, she says.

It’s very important to refrigerate the mixture so it’s cold, says Ossher — who covers hers with a towel in the fridge — and to use a pot that’s big enough to accommodate the matzo balls when they’re simmering. Ossher is also big on using wet hands when shaping the dough into balls — “moist, but not too moist” — so they can be formed more easily.

This year, Ossher is trying whole-wheat matzo meal for the first time, following the recipe on the back of the Streit’s box, but using grapeseed oil in place of ordinary vegetable oil and Celtic or Himalayan sea salt instead of table salt.

Ossher, who has already prepared and frozen more than 80 matzo balls, says the whole-wheat version seem a bit finicky, breaking apart more easily as they’re cooking. They smell good, however, which is always a good sign — but she won’t taste them until Monday night, when they’re floating in her soup.

For Brenda Richter, left, who lives in New City, it’s all about the sensory experience of the matzo ball — and enticing guests with the smell and taste of her dishes. “It’s a staple in any Jewish home, so everybody has an idea of what a matzo ball should taste like or look like,’’ she says. “Mine get rave reviews.”

Richter, a self-taught chef who often does cooking demonstrations at the JCC Rockland, is a big fan of the feather-light matzo ball, particularly since it’s served toward the beginning of the Seder meal, which is generally quite filling. “It shouldn’t be crunchy and you shouldn’t have to chew it,’’ she says.

After years of tweaking her recipe, Richter has settled on a method that requires separating the eggs and beating the whites. She also oils her hands when forming the balls, working quickly with minimal handling. “Rolling too much makes them stiff and packs the balls, and sometimes you get a little piece inside that’s chewy,’’ she says.

Jonathan Meyer has never made a chewy matzo ball — though he almost produced a disastrous batch 30 years ago, when he was newly married and preparing his grandmother’s recipe for the first time. Fortunately, he discarded the mixture and started again, carefully folding the matzo meal into the beaten egg whites so they wouldn’t deflate and lose their fluffiness. Meyer and his wife, Beverly Segal, arrived late at the Seder, but the matzo balls were a success, he says.

The recipe, which Meyer has changed only once — 25 years ago, he added fresh parsley — consistently yields light, airy free-form matzo balls that are shaped like clouds. “And just like clouds, no two knaidlach are alike,’’ says Meyer, using the Yiddish word for matzo balls.

Why does he use two spoons to form the knaidlach instead of rolling the dough into traditional balls? “I don’t want to handle them any more than is necessary, because it’s all about the fluffy,’’ he says.

Although Meyer is responsible for the matzo balls served at his family’s Seder each year, his four daughters are learning how to make them — and yes, he is open to suggestions, provided they remain on his side of the fence.

“What I want them to do is improve on it. If they say, ‘This leaden knaidel is a better knaidel,’ I’ll send them out of the room,’’ he says with a laugh. “But if they can make it lighter and fluffier and more delicious, that’s great. That’s what we have kids for.”

Jonathan Meyer's Matzo Balls

Jonathan Meyer's Matzo Balls

Jonathan Meyer’s grandmother Bessie Bender, who was born in 1879 and died in 1970, passed this recipe down. Meyer says you should not double or triple the recipe; instead, make as many separate batches as you need.

Ingredients

  • 6 jumbo eggs (or use 7 extra large) separated
  • 1 cup matzo meal (if unavailable, run matzo through a food processor, until the consistency of cornmeal)
  • 2 tablespoons cold chicken fat*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a large bowl and the yolks in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat the whites until they hold a soft peak.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the yolks. Add the chicken fat, salt and pepper to yolks.
  4. Fold the matzo meal into whites, being careful not to deflate them. Fold the yolk mixture in. Handle gently. Refrigerate 1/2 hour.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  6. Using a large spoon or small ladle, scoop approximately 1/3 cup of the batter, and gently form it into a ball. Add it to boiling water. Repeat, until the batter is done; it should form roughly 10 matzo balls.
  7. Turn down the water to simmer, cover, and cook 1/2 hour. Turn off fire and keep the pot covered for 1 hour after cooking.
  8. Store in a bowl and heat in the soup.
  9. *If chicken fat is unavailable, or if you’re unable to render the fat from a few chickens, caramelize a medium onion in 4 tablespoons of margarine. Chop the onion, and use 2 tablespoons of the onion and 1 tablespoon of the margarine in place of 2 tablespoons of chicken fat.
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Jonathan Meyer's Chicken Soup

Jonathan Meyer's Chicken Soup

Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 15 minutes prep, 6 hours of cooking
  • One chicken, cut up in eighths, or 4 to 5 pounds of chicken parts (necks, stomachs, wings)
  • 6 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium onions (root end cut off, but the skin left on; it colors the soup golden), sliced thinly
  • 6 stalks of celery, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 12 whole peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch parsley or dill or both
  • 3 to 6 stalks of fresh thyme
  • 2 1/2 quarts of water, or more, enough to cover the chicken and vegetables

Instructions

  1. Put all the ingredients into a large stock pot, making sure there’s enough water to cover. Put pot cover on. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to simmer.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, skim off the scum that forms on the surface.
  3. Simmer as slowly as possible, so that the occasional lazy bubble breaks the surface. Do not stir or disturb. Check the level of the soup, making sure the surface of the chicken and vegetables is below the soup line, but only barely.
  4. After 6 hours of simmering (if more, that’s OK; even overnight is OK), remove the chicken and vegetables. Discard the onion and celery; keep the chicken and carrots.
  5. Strain the soup and chill it. When chilled, remove the fat from the top.
  6. Shred the chicken. Add to the soup, along with reserved carrots, and matzo balls, if using.
  7. Heat soup, taste it — it may need salt — and serve.
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Brenda Richter’s Matzo Balls

Brenda Richter’s Matzo Balls

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch each of onion powder and parsley flakes
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher-for-Passover baking soda

Instructions

  1. Separate eggs. Beat whites until stiff.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat yolks a few minutes until pale-yellow light. Add oil, water, salt, onion powder and parsley flakes. Mix. Stir in the matzo meal and baking soda, then fold in the egg whites. Refrigerate at least an hour.
  3. Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil in a large pot.
  4. Moisten the palms of your hands with oil. Use a spoon or cookie scoop to scoop a ball about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter from the mixture. Quickly roll it into a ball shape. Don’t roll them around too much or they will get stiff.
  5. Place them into the water at rolling boil. When the water returns to a boil and the matzo balls float to the top, lower the flame to low and cover the pot. Remove the matzo balls from the water with a slotted spoon.
  6. Makes 16 balls.
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Matzo Balls

Matzo Balls

From “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” by Joan Nathan (Knopf, 2010)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons rendered goose or chicken fat (see note)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup water or chicken or beef broth
  • 3 teaspoons salt, divided
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup matzo meal

Instructions

  1. Put the fat, eggs, water or broth, 2 teaspoons salt, freshly ground pepper, ginger and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the matzo meal and pulse to mix.?Refrigerate an hour or overnight.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the remaining teaspoons salt. Using two teaspoons, dip one into the matzo ball mix and scoop out a spoonful, then push it with the second teaspoon into the boiling water. French matzo balls have a more abstract, irregular shape than American ones. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Makes about 10 matzo balls.
  3. Note: To render fat, melt it down in a pan with onions, or make chicken soup and refrigerate it overnight, then spoon off the fat that accumulates at the top.
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About Author

Liz Johnson is the food editor of The Journal News and LoHud.com, for which she's won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

3 Comments

  1. I’m going to try them all. We eat this dish year round and the kids love it.

  2. This is the Jewish version of the pizza debate, though I am sure more Jews will debate about pizza then vice versa.

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