Matzah Ball Secrets: Don’t Fear the Schmaltz

Matzah Balls | Rookery

In this latest post, our heroine learns that it’s really hard to take an appetizing photo of a matzah ball.

Maybe that’s because the better a matzah ball tastes, the worse it photographs. Light, fluffy matzah balls are uneven and lumpy-looking. Smooth, spherical ones may look nice, but they have a taste and texture that give matzah balls a bad name.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

I didn’t realize I had such strong opinions on the topic. But in writing this post I learned that my family’s matzah ball technique (circa 1950, Springfield, NJ) contradicts the instructions in many recipes, including from some of New York’s famous delis. Therein lies its strength.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

In fact, when I look at other recipes, I feel like I am not even making the same dish. Your matzah ball should never sink. They don’t need oil. They don’t need seltzer (I don’t think seltzer fizz does anything to make them lighter- it’s basically just adding water). They don’t need baking powder (this would count as leavening and so couldn’t be used at Passover, no?).

Most importantly, they are not difficult and should not be cause for stress, failure, or familial kvetching (leave that to the other aspects of Passover). 

Good matzah balls are actually pretty simple as long as you remember the following:

  • Separate your eggs and beat the whites separately. This will get the egg whites really fluffy and create light, airy matzah balls (no seltzer or leavening necessary).
  • Don’t smush! Use the lightest touch you can to mix and mold the matzah balls, to preserve as many air bubbles as possible.
  • There is no substitute for schmaltz. Yes, that’s rendered chicken fat. If you make your matzah balls with chicken fat rather than oil, they will be far and above any you have ever tasted.

Don’t fear the schmaltz.

Matzah Balls (recipe from my mother)

Download printable recipe (PDF)

Fortunately getting schmaltz isn’t so hard. If you’re making matzah balls, you’re most likely making chicken stock too. Just scrape off the fat that rises to the surface of the stock (you’ll see an obvious layer of it after refrigerating the broth overnight — it becomes solid when it’s cold). Ta da. You can also render your own from chicken pieces, but the stock route is easier and, well, more appetizing. 

This recipe makes about 8 matzah balls. 

  • 4 fresh eggs, carefully separated. Bring them to room temp ahead of time for fluffier egg whites. 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher (or other coarse) salt
  • dash of pepper
  • 2 teaspoons grated onion (about half an onion)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken fat (schmaltz)
  • 3/4 cup matzah meal (you can buy it or make your own by finely grinding matzah in a food processor).

INSTRUCTIONS

1. If you’re making your own matzah meal, finely grind matzah (I used about 4 pieces) in a food processor. I had been buying matzah and matzah meal separately for years — who knew that they are the exact same thing? Measure the meal to make sure you have the right amount (3/4 cup).

SONY DSC

2. Combine egg yolks, salt, pepper, onion, and schmaltz in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Don’t overdo it or the whites will start to look dry and break apart, and they’ll eventually deflate.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

4. A little bit at a time, alternate adding the matzah meal and the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture. Start by adding some matzah meal. Fold in with a spatula. Add some egg whites. Fold. Repeat until all the ingredients are combined, ending with egg whites. Important: It is important to do this with the least amount of stirring and smushing as you can, so that you keep the fluffiness of the egg whites.

As you do this, you are going to think “Wow, this is not working. These are never going to combine.”

Matzah Balls | Rookery

But eventually they do. You are not going to end up with a homogenous, smooth mixture. That’s good. You just want to make sure you don’t have dry spots of matzah meal or large clouds of egg white left.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

Mmm, so beautiful.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Bring your chicken stock to a gentle boil. Use a large pot as the matzah balls need room to expand while they cook.

7. Wet your fingers and gently shape a golf-ball sized portion of batter.  You do not need to pack it tightly — it will hold together in the broth on its own. You’re not going for perfection here. Remember, photogenic = bad. Just loosely form the ball and wet your fingers again if it starts to stick to your hands.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

8. Gently drop the ball into the boiling broth, then repeat step 7 + 8 with the remaining batter.

If you’ve done your job right so far, the ball should float. If it sinks, it may be that you have mixed your batter too much and deflated the egg whites. If this happens, don’t despair. They will still taste delicious, even if they are not as fluffy as you would like.

9. As they boil, resist the urge to stir or poke them for the first couple of minutes. Poking them too soon will cause them to break apart. Just let them bob around and do their thing until they solidify a bit.

10. After two minutes or so, start to gently turn them with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes to keep them moving. Let them boil for about 20 minutes.

Matzah Balls | Rookery

11. At this point they are ready to serve, or you can store them in the chicken broth and reheat to serve whenever you are ready.

Serve at Passover, or any other time that calls for comfort food. Bask in the glory of a matzah ball well done.

Matzah Balls | Rookery
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8 thoughts on “Matzah Ball Secrets: Don’t Fear the Schmaltz

  1. Oh how marvelous is this post.  Your photos are divine, you explain things beautifully.  I can’t imagine anyone using any other matzah ball recipe ever again.  xoxo  Proud Mama

    >________________________________ > From: rookery >To: jeannecolby@yahoo.com >Sent: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 2:08 PM >Subject: [New post] Matzah Ball Secrets: Don’t Fear the Schmaltz > > > WordPress.com >rookerysf posted: ” In this latest post, our heroine learns that it’s really hard to take an appetizing photo of a matzah ball. Maybe that’s because the better a matzah ball tastes, the worse it photographs. Light, fluffy matzah balls are uneven and lumpy-looking. Smo” >

  2. Looks amazing. Now, for the dum-dum readers (i.e. the Gentiles), what do you put the matzah balls IN? Plain broth, with carrots? Any other vegetables/spices? How long do you cook said carrots? Do you put the matzah balls in last minute, or let them cook in the broth for a while? Can’t wait to try this between diets when I’m eating carbs!

    • Janae, good question! I thought about adding recipe for the soup itself but thought it might be too much 🙂 I make my own chicken broth to serve matzah balls in. There’s lots of ways to do this, but in short I put a whole chicken in a big pot with 2 peeled carrots, 2 onions cut in quarters and 2 celery stalks. Also a generous amount of salt and some peppercorns, a bay leaf if you have it, maybe some thyme too.

      Bring to a boil and scrape off the frothy schmutz (for lack of a better term) that accumulates at the top. Then reduce to a simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 hours, until you get the flavor you’re looking for. After the first hour of simmering, I pull out the chicken and remove the breasts and dark meat if you like it and set it aside to add to the soup later, then return chicken carcass to the soup for the remainder of the simmering time. If the broth tastes watery, keep simmering and adding more salt if needed. As the broth reduces the flavor will get stronger. Once you have flavor you want, let cool and pour through a strainer, removing the chicken parts and veggies.

      When I’m ready, I just cook the matzah balls directly in this broth. During the twenty minutes when the matzah balls are cooking, I also add a fresh, peeled, and quartered carrot to the broth to cook at the same time (the carrots that cook for 3-4 hours tend to be too mushy, so it’s nice to start afresh). Add the chicken breast pieces back into the broth too, and you’ve got your soup.

      The matzah balls are pretty forgiving for heating and reheating. You can cook them in the broth for twenty minutes, then refrigerate in the broth overnight, then reheat the next day in the broth and they will still be good.

      If you don’t want to make your own soup you can always use chicken broth or store-bought chicken soup and just add the matzah balls as you’re heating up the soup. Only problem with this is that you won’t get schmaltz!

      Hope this helps! Thanks for reading!

  3. Best matzo balls I have ever made or tasted. Thank you so much! Just a tip, u should be able to click on “print recipe” and it should format without the pictures for easy printing :). Thank you thank you!!!

    • Lauren and Alex — thanks for pointing that out! I don’t have a printer so it didn’t dawn on me that it would be a pain to print these. I think I may have found a solution. Stay tuned, and thanks again for letting me know.

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