If any of you had read my Common-App essay (the essay you use when applying to college), you would know that I have been cooking since I was in fifth grade. Among the first things I tried to create were matzah balls. Those heavenly bites of salty, schmaltzy, fluffy goodness were what I so looked forward to whenever my mom made chicken soup. However, we always used a boxed matzah ball mix. I never had any problem with this; I didn’t know any better! While Allon Beck refers to matzah balls from a mix as, “pasty, tasteless, mushy balls of evil,” I never had a problem with them. Perhaps my standards for Jewish food were too low, but gorging on leftover matzah balls from a mix is my most anticipated Passover activity. They’re salty, squishy, and carby, but in the perfect portion size to have either one or five, depending on my mood. They’re an ideal snack for me because as long as I don’t have too many, they’re not that high in fat or calories (although they have almost no nutritional benefit to them).
One problem I always had with my matzah balls was the consistency. Since everyone in my extended family always thought of me as “the cook” (and since I was the only kid who would go near the kitchen, they always felt the need to taste and applaud what I cooked), my family members would eat ANYTHING I made and throw an endless stream of compliments at me. I thought I was the perfect cook.
That was until I tried my friend’s mother’s matzah balls. It was then that I was finally put in my place. While my matzah balls were always missing that extra something, and always slightly less fluffy than I wanted, with a tiny dense, undercooked center, these matzah balls were perfectly round, fluffy, and had an even consistency throughout. What was I doing wrong?
After scouring the internet and JSTOR for information on matzah balls, I have compiled a list of techniques/tricks to ensure the fluffiest matzah balls possible. But don’t fret: there’s nothing wrong with using matzah balls from a mix or choosing to make hard dense matzah balls some people prefer.
1. Get as much air incorporated as possible. When making chocolate mousse, you know you don’t want to get rid of any air you incorporate in the process. This is why you fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. So to with matzah balls: after preparing the matzah meal base, you want to fold in whatever you are adding, instead of just mixing it in. Folding in ingredients maintains the air you have already incorporated. The last thing you want is a dense, lifeless batter.
2. Embrace egg whites and club soda. Egg whites, when whipped, keep a lot of air, which contribute a fluffiness to whatever you are cooking/baking. The same thing goes with club soda—it is literally water with carbon dioxide. Look for recipes that incorporate either club soda and/or egg whites for the extra fluffiness.
3. Don’t peak. As a young cook, I had almost no patience and couldn’t wait for whatever I was cooking to be ready for ogling and tasting. However, just as you wouldn’t dare open the oven when baking a soufflé, you cannot open the pot while cooking matzah balls. The matzah balls likely won’t reach fluffy-mediocrity until after 30 minutes, so give it at least 40 minutes before opening that lid.
4. Test for doneness. While I am all for being economical, I have also learned to appreciate the art of trial and error. Just like eggs, it is better to make more matzah balls than you need so that you can test them before removing from heat. When you think a matzah ball might be done, take it out of the boiling water, and cut it in half with a sharp knife. The matzah balls are ready when the consistency and color are the same throughout.
5. Oil your hands!!!! I don’t know which nutrition-obsessed TV chef personalities I watched made me so afraid of using oil when I was younger, but shame on them! While it is important to keep track of how much fat you are using, you can NEVER skimp on fat when you are using it to prevent messes. Would you not grease a cake pan because it made add 5 more calories per serving? Of course not! So for matzah balls, either oil (or wet) your hands before beginning to roll, otherwise the shape will be off and half of the batter will end up on your hands.
6. Less is more. For lighter matzah balls, aim for recipes with less oil, and cook in a LOT of salted boiling water at a lower temperature for an extended period of time. The results are well worth your while.
7. Banish your NaCl phobia. My mom’s perpetual shyness with salt continues to infuriate me to this day. A good matzah ball is worth the extra 60 mg of sodium! Properly salt the water in which you will boil your matzah balls prior to cooking. It infuses the matzah ball with salty goodness.
I hope these tips help you make matzah balls better than 5th grade Jess…just don’t outdo 21-year-old Jess!
Here are a few matzo ball recipes for you to try and please make sure to share any of your tried and true tips with us.