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Matzo Ball Soup Fine Tuning

Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 11:40 AM

So we made a Matzo ball soup following the package instructions (the mainstream brand) with some changes:

> Used Chicken Broth instead of Water
> Used Half the Liquid
> Doubled the amount of Vegetables
> Halved the size of each Matzo ball

It tasted fantastic... the problem was that half the balls were extremely dense. Is it possible to make a soup that is heartier with more vegetables, and far more flavor than any restaurant version I've had... but still deliver fluffy Matzo balls?

Any ideas?

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    Shayna Madel RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 12:56 PM

    Did you refrigerate the MB mix long enough (at least 20 minutes, but I often do it overnight)? Was the water (or soup if you cook it directly in the soup, but I don't and never have...) boiling when you put the MB in? How long did you cook the MBs? Those would be the major things that I can think of that might make the difference between fluffy and not...

    1. m
      Missyme RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 05:10 PM

      I've found the key to fluffy matzo balls is to handle the raw batter as little and as lightly as possible when forming it into balls. The amount of soup you cook them in doesn't really matter, so use more chicken broth, and have more soup! They need to cook (covered, and don't lift the lid until they're done) for at least 20 minutes in actively simmering soup. Also, fresh dill and parsley in the soup are mandatory.

      1. n
        Nyleve RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 06:06 PM

        So here's the thing. I always make the matzoh balls smaller too - that's fine. BUT I cook them for at least 10 to 15 mintues longer than it says on the packet. If the packet says 30 minutes, I'll cook for 40 to 45. DO.NOT.LIFT.THE.LID. Serious. This really makes a difference. The longer cooking time, in my opinion, is absolutely mandatory. And the no peeking.

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          doc_k55 RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 07:17 PM

          I find that if you cook too many matzoh balls at one time they don't cook evenly. better to keep some of the batter refrigerated than to cook too many in the pot. They really have to be able to absorb liquid from the pot and move around. Also, I whip my egg whites separately then fold in. I do not cook in anything more elaborate than very well salted water but I do add finely chopped parsley and dill to the actual matzoh balls. I find the box recipe doesn't work that well - there are better ones out there. But that is just me!

          1. c
            celeriac RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 16, 2008 08:08 PM

            I've always been told, by my family, that it's critical to cook the matzo ball in salted water (NOT broth), then transfer to the soup. I have no evidence that this is critical, but my family thinks it is, so that's how i do it.

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              Shayna Madel RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 04:15 AM

              None of the women in my family, including my 76-year old mother; my 70-year old caterer cousin and my non-Jewish sister-in-law, among others, have ever cooked the matzoh balls directly in the soup and we don't put the lid on the pot either, except to bring the water to boil and typically, the balls are just fine, so I do not think the key is keeping the lid on or cooking in the soup.

              Cooking the balls in the soup makes the soup starchy and therefore cloudy, though I assume it adds flavor to the balls, so I guess it's personal choice. I agree on cooking in salted water. The key on this is that if you over-salt the water, the salt in the water gets drawn into the balls and the balls are too salty.

              I would tend to think that the dense balls could be due to overloading the pot, so the balls are crowded and the hot water does not circulate. But we have some pretty mega-pots to cook the balls in.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Shayna Madel
                Morganna RE: Shayna Madel Jan 17, 2008 05:22 AM

                That doesn't make it the best, that's just how you all do it. I've had it both ways, and I prefer them simmered in broth. That's the nice thing about preferences. :)

              2. Morganna RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 05:24 AM

                I make these things all the time. I always simmer in broth instead of salt water because I like it a lot better. I have found when using the mix, that adding just a touch more oil than it calls for helps them fluff up a bit more. Also, you need to make sure you're cooking them all the way through, they should puff up quite a bit from the size they were when you dropped them in. I usually let mine simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, and half way through I take the lid off and roll them over, then put the lid back on. Sometimes I cook them a little longer, but these are the tips that have given me the results I like best. Of course other folks have different tastes/takes on all this. :) Though if you're interested in "authenticity" the simmer in salt water thing is more authentic. :)

                1. Richard 16 RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 05:37 AM

                  The dense ones were probably real matzoh balls -- "light & fluffy" are matzoh dumplings. If they were cooked through and floated at first then sank then the texture was right; the flavor was dependent on what you put in - you said it was fantastic. Cool beans!

                  As Shayna says, you do need to leave enough room for the matzoh balls (or even more for dumplings) to expand. Since you're halving the liquid you may need too make extra sure the matzoh balls have enough room -- so you may need a wider pot...

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                    Procrastibaker RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 05:39 AM

                    I think using chicken fat in the balls really makes the difference. Since I'm too lazy to render my own fat, I just save the fat I can salvage from my roasting pan when I roast a chicken, pop it in a tupperware in the freezer and scoop out as needed. I also like to add some tarragon. Have heard of people using seltzer water to achieve fluffiness, but I've never tried it. Seems that boiling with the lid on to sort of steam them is also important.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Procrastibaker
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                      Shayna Madel RE: Procrastibaker Jan 17, 2008 09:48 AM

                      Oh, come on, render your own fat. I only do it now and again, when I have saved up fat from chickens/dark quarters with backs that I am cleaning, or from necks and backs when doing the soup. The fat can cook while the soup is on the stove. To tell the truth, I really started doing it when I saw the price of chicken fat at the local supermarket was nearly $5 for a less than 1-pound, probably an 8-ounce container and I was feeling guilty about tossing the gobs of fat that are on the necks and backs. (Notice I did not say that I feel guilty about using chicken fat in cooking...) If I figure the cost of the soup ingredients and offset it by what I would be paying for the fat, the soup really ends up costing a very reasonable price. And it tastes good, too.

                      I don't use fat in the balls, as my sister-in-law, who loves the balls, doesn't like the chicken fat taste. We like her, so it's the least we can do to accomodate her by not putting the fat in the ball mixture.

                      I heard about the seltzer thing, but have never actually known anyone who does it.

                      I am still betting that the density of the balls is controlled by the heat of the liquid, the amount of the room in the pot and the length of cooking time. Soup v. water probably has more to do with taste than with fluffiness.

                      1. re: Shayna Madel
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                        doc_k55 RE: Shayna Madel Jan 17, 2008 05:22 PM

                        I've used seltzer. No big improvement on fluffiness. As for balls vs dumplings - I have always thought of them as either the "hard as a rock" variety or the "light and fluffy variety." I prefer the latter. As I mentioned, the separately whipped egg whites folded in do add some volume to the matzoh balls. Never used chicken fat but I'll bet it's good.

                        1. re: Shayna Madel
                          m
                          missfunkysoul RE: Shayna Madel Jan 24, 2008 02:24 PM

                          My great-grandmother's recipe says to use seltzer for fluffiness. I haven't tried it, but her balls were always big and light, perfect (to everyone but me, who actually prefers them dense and heavy... go figure!).

                        2. re: Procrastibaker
                          wearybashful RE: Procrastibaker Jan 17, 2008 10:40 AM

                          Yes! Chicken fat!

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                          aletnes RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 06:14 AM

                          I don't know what box recipe you used, but mine says that the "liquid" should be water.. my late future grandmother in law always swore on using seltzer water.

                          The lack of handling is also important, just remember you still do need to do some (I once had a recipe turn to matzoh mush because I tried to be too slick and just slide the dumplingis from spoons into the water)

                          The other thing to remember is that "dense" is not wrong. There is a huge ongoing debate over floaters vs. sinkers.

                          1. d
                            Diane in Bexley RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 10:43 AM

                            Having more than 25 years of experience making matzo balls and more than twice that of eating them, here are a few keys:

                            - you don't need a mix. Buy your own matzo meal, then you can control salt, liquid, seasonings, all ingredients, etc. Matzo meal has plenty of other uses, very good as breading for cutlets, binder for meat loaf, etc.
                            - don't care what others say, club soda or seltzer adds fizz and life to the balls making them light & fluffy. Some people don't like light & fluffy (pls don't serve your MB to me!), so use another liquid if you like rocks
                            - absolutely don't cook in soup if you like clear or non starchy broth, as MB will make broth/stock starchy by the very nature of the matzo meal
                            - like to use a touch of dill weed/parsley or other seasoning to liven things up a bit. Actually made some last summer with chopped basil (had bumper crop) that were really interesting.
                            - don't lift the lid!!! BIG NO NO! Liquid needs to simmer profusely (but not boil) for at least 30 min
                            - drain cooked MB well in very large colander, freeze in single layer on cookie sheet and place in plastic bags. If you do a good job draining off original cooking liquid, MBs miraculously re-hydrate when reheating them.
                            - If you are looking for heartier chicken stock/soup, be careful adding more veggies, as what may turn out will taste more grasslike. Try adding more chicken meat or bones. Another alternative is reducing/concentrating chicken broth by boiling down.
                            Good Luck!

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: Diane in Bexley
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                              Shayna Madel RE: Diane in Bexley Jan 17, 2008 11:14 AM

                              I agree that you do not need a mix. The only plus with the mix is the convenience of simply dumping in the oil/chicken fat and eggs. And I believe that the mix has baking soda or baking powder or something else in it that makes the balls lighter.

                              Okay, question about the club soda thing--is it in lieu of all of the water? Or does it just replace some of the water? And it doesn't lose it's fizz when it boils?--Very interesting.

                              When talking about the dill/parsley/basil, are you talking about the balls themselves I have never tried, but could be interesting), or to the soup (I always do this)?

                              I have never frozen the balls. When you reheat, how do you do it? Do you defrost first? Do you reheat in water, or directly in soup? Do you at all heat the liquid in which you are reheating before you put in the balls?

                              I totally agree about reducing the broth, which I do if the soup seems to be a little weak. I NEVER add boullion cubes under any circumstances, though some do this.

                              1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                Diane in Bexley RE: Shayna Madel Jan 18, 2008 07:29 AM

                                Shayna, your comments about the Hungarian bakery made my mouth water. Here in Columbus, we are lucky to have one decent Jewish bakery, let alone a Hungarian bakery. I have to rely on my Hungarian Jewish recipes or the kindness of my elderly mother if I want Hungarian pastries. My favorite is dios (walnut) or makos (poppyseed) tasta (pastry). Basically, its a walnut or poppyseed rolled coffee cake made with butter, flour and yeast.

                                Regarding MBs, I freeze them individually and stick in plastic bags. I let them defrost on the counter or in microwave on 30% power till soft. I heat the soup till boiling and drop in the balls just long enough to heat for a few minutes. My mother, who despises starchy soup, sticks the MBs directly in the soup bowl and fills with scalding soup. Personally, I don't endorse this method, as the center of the MB still remains cold IMHO. But, you can't win an argument with your mother.

                                1. re: Diane in Bexley
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                                  Shayna Madel RE: Diane in Bexley Jan 18, 2008 07:55 AM

                                  First things first--do we have the same mother? I can never win, either.

                                  About the bakeries, I live in a very "Jewish" area of Queens--Yeah I know that some of you seem to think all of NYC is really Jewish, but not so. In any event, it's a fairly densely populated area and for some reason, there is a dearth of good bakeries. Not one around here that makes a Jewish rye or corn bread. So frustrating. So I was very excited to find this Hungarian place--too bad it only took me 15 years...

                                  But back to the balls--what's the deal with the club soda? Is it in lieu of all of the water? Or does it just replace some of the water? And it doesn't lose it's fizz when it boils? And the herb thing--added to the soup or to the balls. Can't wait to hear--will give me something to debate with Mom this weekend--her freezer is devoid of chicken soup, so we may make a pot and maybe a pot of veal stew--depends on how ambitious I am.

                                  1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                    doc_k55 RE: Shayna Madel Jan 18, 2008 11:51 AM

                                    I think the salted water only is fine for cooking. I think the balls taste much better with herbs added. My mom never did this growing up; I discovered a recipe in the Wash Post many years ago with added herbs & have done so ever since. The key is a very fine mince - otherwise you will see big sections of the herbs poking out when you take a bite. I use parsley & dill - fresh only - and it's really wonderful.

                                    1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                      Diane in Bexley RE: Shayna Madel Jan 24, 2008 01:25 PM

                                      Shayna, sorry for the delay, have been away. The club soda replaces all of the water, don't know the chemistry, but it does seem to work. Add the finely chopped herbs directly to the matzo meal batter. The balls will look very attractive with little green flecks in them. However, a couple of the kids' friends have expressed concern through the years that I put "grass" into the MBs!

                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley
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                                        Shayna Madel RE: Diane in Bexley Jan 24, 2008 04:13 PM

                                        Thanks for the info. Maybe I will try it if I do a small batch for just me.

                                2. re: Diane in Bexley
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                                  Nyleve RE: Diane in Bexley Jan 17, 2008 01:39 PM

                                  Of course you don't need a mix but if you look at the box of matzoh ball mix, it contains nothing dodgy and my elderly Hungarian mother used it all the time after she figured out the mix made better matzoh balls than she did from scratch.

                                  There is no water added to the mix, by the way. It's just egg and vegetable oil (or chicken fat, of course). I always cook in plain water, not stock, because the homemade chicken broth will always end up being served clear, with the matzoh balls. And cooking the MBs in it will cloudy the broth and absorb quite a lot of it. I drain the MBs, and lay out in a single layer on a tray until time to serve. Then I plunk them into the simmering broth to reheat and serve immediately.

                                  1. re: Nyleve
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                                    Shayna Madel RE: Nyleve Jan 17, 2008 02:15 PM

                                    It sounds like you do pretty much what I do. Are you in NY? If so, great Hungarian bakery in Rego Park you might want to know about, Andre's on Queens Boulevard. Even your mother might approve!

                                    1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                      Nyleve RE: Shayna Madel Jan 17, 2008 04:04 PM

                                      I grew up in Queens but now live on a small farm about an hour away from Toronto (ridiculous, I know). When I was young, my parents used to go to a Hungarian bakery somewhere in Forest Hills or maybe Rego Park - but definitely near Queens Blvd. Can it be the same one? What I remember best about that place were the whipped cream and chestnut puree desserts they used to bring home. I would be shocked if it's still there - I left NY in 1974.

                                      1. re: Nyleve
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                                        Shayna Madel RE: Nyleve Jan 17, 2008 04:41 PM

                                        Apparently not the same one, as this one's website says they started in 1976. As far as I have been led to understand, it was not uncommon for eastern European families to come to NY, settle in either Brooklyn or the Bronx, then to Queens, then to Long Island. At least that's what happened in my family...If that's the case, not surprising that there is/was more than one Hungarian bakery in the area. If you're ever in the neighborhood, try Andre's.

                                    2. re: Nyleve
                                      Morganna RE: Nyleve Jan 18, 2008 03:17 AM

                                      Yeah, I never worry about the broth being cloudy, I'm not making it for it to be pretty. :) I hadn't really thought about the clarity of the broth before, nice to know there's a good reason for doing 'em in the water. :)

                                      1. re: Morganna
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                                        Shayna Madel RE: Morganna Jan 18, 2008 03:47 AM

                                        If you cook the balls in water and then you pour the water out of the pot, you'll often see an accumulation of some slightly thickened sediment, presumably the starch and which presumably would end up in the soup if you cooked the balls in the soup. I assume it somehow affects taste, but hey, everyone likes and is used to a different taste.

                                        1. re: Shayna Madel
                                          Morganna RE: Shayna Madel Jan 22, 2008 05:32 AM

                                          Oh yeah, I know what you're talking about, just never much impacted me because the soup I make is usually something only for me (my husband doesn't like soup) and it's usually just an evening meal. I imagine if I were entertaining, I'd do it the other way (or maybe cook in broth, then save that for something else, and make a fresh clear broth to serve). :)

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                                    another_adam RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 06:17 PM

                                    Our family is also in the "as fluffy as possible" camp, and my mother swears that you absolutely must beat the egg whites, use shmaltz and seltser vater, boil in salty water with no peeking, and probably every other superstition mentioned here.. but hey, it works :)

                                    The one thing that strikes me reading the comments above is the cooking time, though-- ours were smallish (recipe says size of walnut) but cooked at least an hour. From what I can tell, most of the expansion happens early on, though (the rest is just cooking it through to the middle)

                                    My theory is that a lot of the fat seeps out into the water anyway, so that's not likely to make a huge difference. Never saw why seltserwater would make a difference either, though I use it if it's on hand. And I've definitely gotten almost-as-good results without even beating the whites separately (*gasp*)
                                    Definitely letting the dough come to room temperature before cooking helps, so the water stays boiling when you drop 'em in), and not handling too much.

                                    I suspect a little extra egg doesn't hurt, either. (In fact, I remember my mother sometimes adding an extra egg white while whipping them, since our pesakh eggs were normally double-yolked, so it needed a little more whites for volume)

                                    1. t
                                      torty RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 17, 2008 06:34 PM

                                      This is not ethnically my "dumpling", but I have had great success with one of the mixes. I do handle it lightly and let it rest as directed. I get a medium if you will product that is not mushy but is definitely not chewy. As I was taught in my own ethnic cuisine, I cook them in separately simmering water as opposed to the soup to avoid the clouding issue. When I am feeling risque- I add some finely minced parsley to the mix. I have also used a decent olive oil as the fat factor and enjoyed the result. The whole other story is the soup itself- another topic I guess.

                                      1. Chew on That RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 18, 2008 07:00 AM

                                        To make your matzo balls fluffier, put them in the chicken broth to cook instead of cooking them separately. That way they soak in the broth and expand and meld with the soup better.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Chew on That
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                                          Shayna Madel RE: Chew on That Jan 18, 2008 02:48 PM

                                          I understand that cooking in broth as opposed to cooking in water might enhance the flavor, but I don't see how cooking in broth makes the balls fluffier.

                                          1. re: Shayna Madel
                                            Morganna RE: Shayna Madel Jan 22, 2008 05:34 AM

                                            My experience is that it's the amount of oil I use when mixing up the err batter... dough? Sometimes I don't measure as accurately as others, and once I spilled a bit too much oil in, and they were so fluffy they were practically falling apart in the soup. :)

                                            1. re: Morganna
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                                              Shayna Madel RE: Morganna Jan 22, 2008 06:37 AM

                                              I was thinking that fluffiness depended on what's in the ball and also the amount of time it cooks and now reading this thread, the amount of dough-handling, but not the liquid it's cooked in. I am sure that the batter is looser if there is more oil, so what happened to you makes sense.

                                        2. Eat_Nopal RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 21, 2008 12:59 PM

                                          Thank you all so much for all the tips and passion. Only on Chowhound would there be an ongoing, raging debate on Dense or Fluffy... got to love it!

                                          The wife is analyzing all this tips... will let you know how the next batch turned out.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal
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                                            Shayna Madel RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 21, 2008 01:34 PM

                                            Take a look at the debate over how to make chopped liver. Equally as amusing.

                                            Good luck and do keep us posted.

                                          2. thew RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 24, 2008 05:18 PM

                                            I say embrace the dense matzoh ball. I can't stand them fluffy. To me the fluffy ones are generally flavorless. A little bite engages the senses.

                                            Im my family it's all about the dense ball.

                                            1. r
                                              RGC1982 RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 24, 2008 06:47 PM

                                              I use the package quite a bit and they are "floaters" rather than sinkers. But,a few years ago I tried a recipe that resulted in absolutely ethereal, light and fantastic matzo balls. I will look for it to post, but I do remember that the big difference with this recipe was that it required you to separate the yolks from the egg whites, mix the yolks and oil into the matzo meal and then beat the egg whites about to the point of stiff peaks. All you had to do then was fold the egg whites into the matzo mix and refrigerate the usual twenty minutes. Lightest matzo balls ever.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: RGC1982
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                                                rubys RE: RGC1982 Jan 28, 2008 02:22 PM

                                                any actual recipes out there? using egg whites, seltzer, either/or?

                                                1. re: rubys
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                                                  Stuffed Monkey RE: rubys Jan 28, 2008 05:18 PM

                                                  "The" receipe is on the matzo meal box!
                                                  I do seltzer and chopped parsley in the batter.
                                                  I might some try beating the eggs whites.

                                              2. o
                                                Oh Robin RE: Eat_Nopal Jan 29, 2008 01:26 PM

                                                I make my own broth and use the mix for the balls, subbing melted chicken fat for the oil, which I believe adds tons of flavor. I cook the balls in the soup (after refrigerating only 20 minutes) for the 20 minutes indicated. My soup doesn't get cloudy, and I end up with nice dense sinkers. I also think it's really important that your soup be at a rolling boil.

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