Matzo Balls 101
Getty ImagesAssociate food editor Selma Brown Morrow has been cooking matzo balls for her family and for Bon Appétit for dozens of years; we consider her our resident expert on every style of dumpling. Here are her tips for how to mix, shape, and cook the perfect matzo ball.
Matzo Ball Recipes:
Spring Vegetable and Mini Matzo Ball Chicken Soup | Matzo Balls | Chicken Soup with Miniature Leek-Chive Matzo Balls | Chicken Soup with Wild Mushrooms and Herbed Matzo Balls | Sweet Potato Matzo Ball Tzimmes with Apricot Sauce | Potato-Leek Matzo Balls | Saffron Chicken Broth with Spinach Matzo Balls | Celery and Parsnip Soup with Green Onion-Dill Matzo Balls | Matzo Balls in Southeast Asian Broth | Lemon-Scented Chicken Soup with Parsley-Sage Matzo Balls
These traditional Jewish dumplings are a flavorful highlight to chicken or vegetable soup-but they are notoriously hard to perfect. Standards vary as to what characterizes a good matzo ball. Some like "floaters"-feather-light, tender dumplings that rise to the top of broth. Others prefer "sinkers"-dense, flavor powerhouses-or big deli-style matzo balls that dominate even the largest soup bowls.
Refrigerate the batter overnight.
Many recipes say you can chill batter for a couple of hours, but if you leave it overnight, the matzo meal will absorb more moisture, hold together better, and cook more evenly.
Embrace chicken fat.
The secret to good matzo balls is schmaltz-the Yiddish word for "chicken fat." Fat tenderizes the dumplings. Brown says her mother used to render chicken fat, then add a little chopped chicken skin and chopped onion. "She would cook them until crispy, then put them in the middle of the dumplings, like a little surprise. You can also add chopped mushrooms, chopped fresh herbs, sautéed shallots, and caramelized onions."
Salt the cooking water generously.
Matzo balls absorb the water they are cooking in, and if this water isn't salted, they will get blander and blander. To that end, Morrow says she throws in an onion, celery stalks, or, for added brightness, fresh peeled ginger.
To shape dumplings, wet hands and toss dough back and forth from palm to palm to shape into a ball.
Cover to cook.
If the matzo balls are large, they will take longer to cook (usually an hour or a bit more), and it is important to cover the pot to keep water from evaporating. When matzo balls are very small, cooking them uncovered is okay and can be easier.
When are they done?
To check for doneness, cut the matzo ball in half; the dough should be the same color throughout.
To make matzo balls ahead, cook completely, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a dish in a single layer. Cover and chill up to three days. When ready to serve, rewarm them in the soup.
If you have leftovers, cut matzo balls into thick slices and fry them for breakfast.