Active time:30 mins
Total time:30 mins, plus 2 to 24 hours chilling time
Servings:8 to 16 (makes about 16 balls)
For many, it’s also decidedly about the soup.
It could be said that Passover is the most important soup holiday in the Jewish and Jew(ish) tradition. Maker of memories generations long, matzoh ball soup signals both the true beginning of the festive meal and the reigniting of discourse on the buoyancy of balls. And given matzoh ball soup is available on secular menus all year long, I happen to think it’s never not a good time to dive into the great debate: sinkers vs. floaters.
The crux, I believe (as what kind of eater would I be without an opinion?), is that sinkers are largely problematic, both during the soup course and long after, by way of their maker’s reputation. Oh, there will be naysayers, because out there in this world are people who actually like sinkers. (We worry about them.)
My husband’s dear aunt is a maker of sinkers. They are indeed … memorable. I recently, delicately, raised the subject of matzoh balls with her. Turns out, she’s unabashed. “I make sinkers! My family loves them!” she exalted. I didn’t tell her I once met the gaze of a guest across her Seder table, finding ourselves in a synchronized struggle to push our spoons into dense spheres at the bottom of our broth. A flash of acknowledgment passed between us: Team Floaters.
I’ve come to wonder whether Team Sinkers holds its ground in part because supporting — and cherishing — the efforts of our loved ones, especially when they’re feeding us, is what love is all about. And Aunt Beth’s matzoh balls, those perfect sinkers, are part of a picture I revisit in my head when I think fondly of Seders of yore.
My husband was so concerned for his aunt’s feelings, I called her up to tell her I might make mention of her sinkers in the town square. Her response? She doubled down. “I make ’em hard, and I’m proud of it!” I find her total baller confidence a delight.
Still, I’m steadfast in my belief that consideration can be paid to ensure that neither you nor your guests require any muscle strength or an additional utensil to carve your matzoh balls. If you can’t easily slice through them with the side of a spoon, perhaps it’s time to rethink your method. If for nothing else, there are splash concerns.
In the height of soup season, Katz’s Delicatessen, on the Lower East Side of New York City, serves about a thousand floating matzoh balls a day. Owner Jake Dell says, entirely serious, he hopes his customers like his matzoh balls second best. He explains, “The favorite should be your grandma’s or someone you love.”
Whether you’re in the out-of-the-box camp or you make your mix from scratch (perhaps with seltzer!), look no further than your palms. But if you treat your mix like cookie dough, your balls will repay you by hitting the bottom of your bowls and alienating you from your guests. No one remembers perfect matzoh balls, because they’re not really all that hard to achieve, but if you produce sinkers, well, people will talk. (Maybe even write about them.)
Rejoice! You’re fully in charge of the density destiny of your balls. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Set ball goals. Make no mistake, floaters are no stranger to substance. Leah Koenig, author of “The Jewish Cookbook,” likes a floater “with a bit of chew.” She explains, “Feather-light matzoh balls don’t do it for me. The perfect matzoh ball is technically a floater, in that it floats to the top of the pot when you boil them, but gives a little resistance under the teeth.” Dell describes the Katz’s matzoh ball as a floater, “but dense in your belly.” (I’m going to be thinking about this for a while.)
Embrace the practice. Making matzoh balls is not innate; it’s learned through repetition, perhaps some flubs. Lean in. “I don’t care what other experience you have in this world rolling other things, it’s not the same,” Dell says. Don’t overthink it, just keep making them. Practice will set you free.
You must chill. Never skip the refrigerated downtime for the mix. “You need that for the interaction between the matzoh meal, eggs and fat,” Dell says. This, he adds, is what gives matzoh balls their “floating properties.” But of course.
Keep your hands wet. (And consider removing your rings.) Matzoh ball mix is a wee sticky, so be sure your palms and digits are watered. When forming your balls, keep a bowl of water next to your mix and dip in as needed.
No pressure. To become a Katz’s matzoh ball roller, Dell describes training that reminds me of Mr. Miyagi and something akin to “paint the fence.” Because, according to Dell, hand technique is where it’s at. No squeezing allowed. “It’s how you cup and angle your hands. And it’s not a stress ball. It’s delicate.” Think a bit hot potato. Remember, the only pressure involved should be what you put upon yourself to bring the star of the soup to the table.
My mother, who turns 80 next month, distinctly remembers her brush with sinkers at age 13. Her mother was out of town, so she decided to make matzoh ball soup, for the first time, to surprise her father. The broth was delicious, she recalls, but she forgot to chill the mix, and the result was, you guessed it, “leaden balls.” I can picture the grandfather I know only from photographs sitting at a dining table, eating soup alongside a girl I also know only from photographs, but who would grow up to become my mom. Her dad ate the matzoh balls from the bottom of his bowl and didn’t say a word.
And we’re back to love.
These matzoh balls are exceptionally fluffy and light, thanks to a rest in the refrigerator. Adding schmaltz infuses them with more flavor (if you make your own chicken soup, skim the fat from top of the soup and refrigerate it overnight), but you also can use a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable (see NOTE if making these for a Jewish holiday other than Passover). Cook these in salted water and then add to bowls of hot soup; cooking the matzoh balls in the soup itself will make the broth cloudy.
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- 1 cup matzoh meal (not matzoh ball mix)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill or flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 large eggs
- 1/3 cup schmaltz or grapeseed or vegetable oil (see NOTE)
- 1/4 cup club soda or seltzer
In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together the matzoh meal, dill or parsley, salt and pepper until combined. Using the same fork, incorporate the eggs until well blended. Add the schmaltz or oil, followed by club soda or seltzer, mixing until everything is thoroughly combined.
Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is firm and fully hydrated, at least 2 and up to 24 hours. It should be thick and malleable.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Using a soup spoon, gently scoop the matzoh mixture into 1-inch balls, setting them on a plate. When all the balls are formed, use your hands to gently, without applying much pressure and compacting the mixture, reroll any misshapen balls.
Gently slide the matzoh balls into the boiling water and cook until they float to the top and puff up to about twice their original size, 12 to 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the matzoh balls to a plate and cover to keep warm. When ready to serve, distribute to individual portions of soup, as needed.
NOTE: If making matzoh balls for Passover, make sure the cooking oil is labeled kosher-for-Passover.
Per serving (1 matzoh ball), based on 16.
Calories: 90; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 58 mg; Sodium: 171 mg; Carbohydrates: 6 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 3 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Recipe from assistant recipes editor Olga Massov.
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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