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Matzoh Balls For Starchefs
by Arthur Schwartz

Matzoh balls are one of the culinary mysteries of the universe.

What make them heavy? What makes them light? These are questions right up there with “Why does my cheesecake crack? I can list the answers, specify the ingredients, outline the procedures, and reveal all the tricks, and you may still not get the result you desire, whatever that desired result may be. Every family has a different idea about the perfect matzoh ball. In any case, it is just one of those things for which you have to have a hand, either innate or learned, and perhaps the right spiritual and emotional vibrations.

I say this as one Jewish cook who does not have the hand. Only once to my knowledge have I actually served terrible (by my family's standards) matzo balls, but that’s only because I've managed to toss out all the failed attempts before anyone could taste them.

Then there was this situation just a few years ago when I made Someone Else's Revolutionary Matzoh Ball Recipe. Out of duty to my listeners, I felt I had to test this bizarre recipe from a Long Island restaurateur who is famous for his matzoh balls. The man doesn't as much as scramble an egg for himself the rest of the year, but on Passover he makes hundreds of matzoh balls for his restaurant customers. My version of his matzoh balls -- stupidly tested on the night of the first Seder -- were gross, a disaster. The matzoh ball moment at our seder was only an hour or so away and all I had were amorphous blobs of matzoh gruel. There was nothing else to do but quickly whip up a batch according to my old, more standard, and reasonably reliable recipe (the one that has been on the back of the matzoh meal box for most of this century) and pray that they would be fine even though I was breaking the number one cardinal rule of matzoh ball cookery. That is: let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably for several hours, or, optimally, all day. This time my batter sat for only as long as it took me to eat one piece of gefilte fish; let’s say 10 minutes. (It was a big piece of fish.) In the end, these were the best matzoh balls I’ve ever made: Perfectly shaped, light. Go know.

Traditional Matzoh Balls
4 eggs
1/2 cup seltzer
4 to 6 tablespoons melted
(but not hot) chicken fat
or a combination of chicken fat
and vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
1 cup matzoh meal

1. With a table fork, beat the eggs until well blended.
2. Stir in the seltzer, the schmaltz (or the schmaltz and oil), and the salt
and pepper.
3. Gradually stir in the matzoh meal. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1
hour, or preferably longer.
4. Bring a large quantity of water to a gentle boil in a very wide and deep
pot with a cover; one with enough surface so that when the balls expand and
float to the top, there will be only one layer of balls -- and not crowded at
that. I use an old-fashioned covered roaster placed over two burners.
5. Using about 2 tablespoons of the chilled batter for each matzoh ball, and
keeping your hands moist with cold water (for convenience, I keep a bowl of
cold water next to me as I work), gingerly roll the batter between the palms
of your hands into neat balls. As you form the balls, drop them into the
boiling water.
6. When all the balls are in the pot, cover the pot, adjust the heat so the
water simmers briskly, and cook the matzoh balls for 30 minutes. They will
double in size and float to the top.
7. Remove the matzoh balls from the water with a slotted spoon and serve in
hot chicken soup.

Ahead of time note: I have never frozen matzoh balls, or made them ahead of time and let them sit for more than an hour or so, but some people say that they do both and that they’re fine. I have no idea how New York’s Jewish delicatessens keep theirs in such fine form for an entire day, and I’ll bet I wouldn't enjoy them as much if I did know. There are some things better left unsaid.


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