Mastering Matzo Balls - The Secret To Light, Fluffy Perfection
I grew up believing that all matzo balls were light and fluffy. The ones that my best friend's mom made certainly were, so I assumed that was the nature of matzo balls.
My first experience with the leaden, gluey kind was when I made them myself. I followed the recipe on the Manischewitz matzo meal box (after I got over my outrage that I had just been charged more than $5 for what was essentially a box of crumbs), and produced matzo balls that would be more at home in an armory than a pot of chicken soup.
I called my friend's mom. "I need your old family recipe for matzo balls. I just made cannon balls." She said, "Well, there is an old family recipe, but it's the Manischewitz family. I use the recipe on the box."
I was incredulous. There was no way that one recipe could produce such polar opposite matzo balls. "Is there at least an old family trick to the recipe?" I asked. Unlikely as it seemed, that was it.
My friend's mother explained that the secret to fluffy matzo balls isn't in the recipe but in the execution. My mistake had been shaping them. I'd rolled them around in my hands so they would be uniform and spherical, and that was why they got leaden and gluey. The secret of fluffy matzo balls is to keep the handling to a minimum. Simply spoon a lump of the matzo mixture directly into the simmering soup. No rolling, no shaping, no molding, no pressing. Sure, some of your matzo balls will end up looking like matzo disks or matzo cubes, but it's a small price to pay for a light, fluffy consistency, consistently.
The Old Family Matzo Ball Recipe
Yields 12 to 14 matzo balls, disks, or cubes
2 egg whites
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (canola, safflower, or corn - don't use olive oil)
3/4 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons water or chicken stock
Beat the eggs, egg whites, and oil together. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until just combined. Don't worry that the mixture looks runny; it will solidify as the matzo meal absorbs the liquid.
Refrigerate the mixture for half an hour. Make matzo balls by dropping tablespoons of the mixture (about an inch in diameter) into simmering soup.
Do not try to form the mixture into balls - just drop spoonfuls into the soup.
Matzo balls are not just for Jewish holidays. You can substitute them for any place you'd use dumplings. They're much lighter and tastier than most dumplings, and they will absorb the flavors that they are immersed in to a greater degree than a dumpling. Resist the temptation to try nouvelle cuisine matzo balls with molecular gastronomy elements and liquid nitrogen. Just take your matzo balls, toss them into some good chicken soup made from an old hen, and sit back and enjoy the timeless classic!
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