Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

My Best Matzo Balls

(March 29, 2007)
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Ronda asked Lauren:

Passover is coming up and we're about to host the Passover Seder for the very first time. I've decided to make matzo ball soup (again, for the first time). Can you please share your favorite recipe along with any tips for success? I'm nervous! Thanks.

Lauren says...

Oh, there's nothing to be nervous about. Matzo balls are one of those things that, once you get it right, you'll never lose the hang of it. You should know, though, that a matzo ball that's deemed "perfect" in texture is personal, thus subjective. Some like them as firm as tennis balls and others (like me) love them fluffy and truly ethereal. So, before you begin, you need to decide what kind you want without getting caught up in everyone's differing opinions which tends to create anxiety -and matzo ball making should be fun!

There are several do's and don'ts when making matzo balls. Here's a list:

For Great Matzo Balls, Do the Following:

  • Make the matzo ball batter the day ahead and chill it, so the matzo meal can absorb the liquid components and be firm enough to form into rounds.
  • Use a deep wide pot, instead of a tall narrow one, to give the matzo balls a way to rise to the top as they simmer.
  • Use a medium-sized ice cream scoop to ration the batter, forming matzo balls of even size.
  • Shape all of the matzo balls before easing them, one by one, into the pot of boiling water.
  • Make sure the salted water is boiling before adding all of the formed matzo balls to the pot.
  • Have a lid that fits perfectly on the pot used to cook the matzo balls (this is important).
  • Do not open the lid (no, not even once) while the matzo balls are simmering (this is also important).
  • If you want very firm matzo balls, cook them for an extra 5 minutes.
  • Make sure the seltzer still has its fizz (the carbonic acid helps to create lightness of texture).
Things to Avoid, When Making Matzo Balls
  • Don't over-work the ingredients when assembling the batter.
  • For the lightest matzo balls, don't over-work the chilled batter, when forming rounds. Part of the charm of matzo balls is their homemade, slightly irregular look. (Unless you want very firm matzo balls, then be as bossy as you want.)
  • It's important to simmer the matzo balls over low heat. If using an electric stove, heat two adjacent burners (one to high and one to low). Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and, bring the water back up to a boil. Add the matzo balls, cover the pot and carefully drag the pot to the burner set to low. Set your timer for 20 minutes.
  • Don't remove the lid when simmering the matzo balls.
  • Don't over-cook the matzo balls at the start if you want them to be of perfect consistency when serving. Expect the matzo balls to seem a bit underdone after the initial simmering. This is intentional as they will firm up as they sit in the hot chicken soup.
  • After simmering, as soon as the buzzer sounds, turn off the stove and uncover the pot. Avoid severing the matzo balls when transferring them from the pot of water to the pot of soup, by using a long-handled, somewhat flat perforated tool.
Oh yeah…Here's the recipe for My Best Matzo Balls to be served in Chicken Vegetable Soup. (So good!)
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My Best Matzo Balls

Yield: 8 large or 11 medium matzo balls, serving 8 to 11

Matzo Balls

Don't you think that the dumplings sold in delicatessens look like they should be shot out of a cannon? Avoid trying to make matzo balls look so perfectly round. Some of their charm is a homemade look. For the most delicate texture, mix the batter with a gentle hand and don't open the pot while simmering. Matzo meal is available in all well-stocked supermarkets. Many markets sell tubs of rendered chicken fat. If so, buy a tub or two and, although it's not essential, I always melt it down with minced yellow onions, to make it incredibly savory in both aroma and flavor. If your market doesn't sell chicken fat, each time you roast a chicken, pull any wads of fat out of the cavity and snip them into smallish pieces, using kitchen scissors, and store them in a doubled freezer bag. (Do this with any extra flaps of skin, as well, and add this to the bag.) When you've accumulated a stash of at least 2 cups, then render the fat down, as directed in the recipe. Any time you read that I've suggested a tool or a piece of equipment or a culinary term that's unfamiliar, go to Kitchen Management to get more information.

    Special Equipment:

  • Batter whisk, for when making the matzo ball batter (optional; use a wide blending fork, as a substitute)
  • Wide pot with tight-fitting lid
  • Medium or large-sized ice cream scoop
    For the Matzo Balls:

  • 2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (see recipe)
  • 4 tablespoons minced scallions (green onions), trimmed white part and 1 1/2 to 2 inches of the tender green
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 1/3 cup solid vegetable shortening, melted
  • 1¾ cups plus 1 rounded tablespoon matzo meal
  • 1½ teaspoons salt, plus salt for the water
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 generous tablespoon minced flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • ¾ cup seltzer water (still fizzing)

1) To prepare the matzo ball mixture and chill: Melt chicken fat in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add minced scallions, lower heat and cook until softened and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Lightly beat eggs in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients along with sautéed scallions. Combine mixture gently but thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and as long as overnight.

2) To set up and shape matzo balls: Bring an 8-quart pot of water to a boil. Line a shallow baking sheet or tray with waxed paper. Using a medium or large ice cream scoop, scoop out the chilled matzo batter, releasing each portion into your hand. Round out the shape a bit, using a gentle hand, and lay each round on the prepared sheet.

3) To cook matzo balls: Add some salt to the boiling water, ease the matzo balls into the pot and immediately cover (if the lid has vents, make sure they are completely shut). Reduce the heat to low and simmer the dumplings very gently for 20 minutes without disturbing or peeking (no, not even once!). Then uncover pot and, if using a blanching pot, simply lift out the strainer along with the cooked matzo balls. If using a regular pot, remove the balls with a slotted spoon but be careful not to sever them since they are very tender. When first cooked, the matzo balls might seem to be too soft. This is deliberate since they will firm up when they sit in the pot of hot chicken soup before serving.

    Lauren Logo Timing is Everything

  • The matzo ball mixture can be made 1 day ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator; then form into balls, just before cooking.
  • Matzo balls can be fully assembled and simmered up to 2 days ahead and kept submerged in chicken stock in the refrigerator.
  • Any leftover soup and matzo balls can be frozen together in securely covered heavy-duty freezer containers for several months. (Be sure to label the containers with both the date and contents.) Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat very gently.

To Make Rendered Chicken Fat
Jewish kosher cooking traditionally uses chicken fat (schmaltz) instead of butter when cooking meat, since mixing dairy and meat products is a definite no-no. Many markets sell tubs of rendered chicken fat. If so, buy a tub or two and, although it's not essential, I always melt it down with minced yellow onions, to make it incredibly savory in both aroma and flavor.

If your market doesn't sell chicken fat, each time you roast a chicken, pull any wads of fat out of the cavity and snip them into smallish pieces, using kitchen scissors, and store them in a doubled freezer bag. (Do this with any extra flaps of skin, as well, and add this to the bag.) When you've accumulated a stash of at least 2 cups, then render the fat down by cooking in a skillet with some minced yellow onion (over low heat) until all the fat has melted and, the onions are golden and the pieces of skin become crisp (called Gribenes). Strain the liquid fat through a fine sieve placed over another bowl. Either discard the onions and gribenes or use them in another recipe. Rendered chicken fat can be stored in the freezer for at least 6 months, in a securely covered plastic tub. To use, chip off pieces of frozen fat, using a knife, and melt it down in a pan before adding to your recipe. Put the remaining fat back in the freezer.

Gribenes (cracklings) are bits of chicken skin that are fried crisp during the rendering process. These small, crunchy treats add intense flavor to breads and also make a delicious garnish for chopped chicken liver. (To add them to yeast breads, knead some crisp gribenes into the dough after the first full rise.)

For a Heart-Healthy Version:

I feel that (barring a physical condition) a once-a-year splurge using the most authentic ingredients, is what enables people to experience the true ethnic taste and texture of matzo balls. And, although I feel that this dietary transgression (with a bit of rendered chicken fat) is totally worth it, if you’d like to lighten things up, you should use a trans-fats free shortening (available at the health-food store) and canola oil to sauté the scallions.

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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Amazon.com.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at www.laurengroveman.com

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.