Quick Recipes and Easy

Matzoh Balls – Floaters or Sinkers?

“How do I like thee?

Let me count the ways…”(with apologies to Elizabeth Barrette Browning)

With the possible exception of the finest European dark chocolates, I reckon with all my heart and soul there is no finer food than the lowly Matzoh Ball. What’s the huge deal, you might question? Isn’t a matzoh ball just a dumpling made out of crushed matzoh crackers? On one level, I suppose the uninitiated could logically make this assumption. But, all it takes is one tiny nibble of a chicken soup-soaked matzoh ball for your senses, with gusto, to burst forth in a kaleidoscope of the warm fuzzies. Of course, it is a given matzoh balls must be served with piping hot chicken soup, accompanied by a panoply of fresh carrots, onion, and egg noodles swimming in a bowl of golden bouillon.

Matzoh, a flat, easily crumbled, unleavened bread, has been around since time immemorial. It is one of the traditional foods of Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus and the subsequent freedom of the Israelites fleeing from Egypt and the Pharaoh. Tradition states that Israelites were in such a rush to leave Egypt they did not have sufficient time to allow the leavened (with yeast) bread to rise. Matzoh is eaten as a symbol of the unleavened bread taken by the Israelites. It is said that since there was no time to bake regular, leavened bread in ovens, the women laid out the unleavened matzohs on flat rocks, dependent upon the sun to bake the matzohs. Jewish law dictates that matzoh is to be made solely of flour and water.

As you can see, matzoh has a long, long pedigree. Matzoh is part of Jewish tradition and Jewish life. Part of the matzoh ball tradition, perhaps even of its inherent mystique, involves two schools of thought, those involving the “floaters” and those supporting the “sinkers.” By now, you must be thinking I am an escapee from a rubber matzoh ball room. Each school has its own fervent followers, sometimes causing family members to sit on opposite sides of the matzoh ball fence.

To clarify this feud, we need to explore the construction of matzoh balls. They are traditionally made of matzo meal, eggs, schmaltz (chicken stout), liquid, egg noodles, plus seasonings, generally salt and pepper – I am partial to a generous helping of garlic. One can select the liquid used: water, chicken or vegetable stock, or bouillon, preferably fresh. This liquid becomes the base for your matzoh ball soup, with sautéed onions, diaphanous celery, rich egg noodles, and bright orange carrot coins all adding to the flavor.

When forming the matzoh balls, be sure to keep your hands wet throughout the process or else you will be wearing very sticky matzoh meal dough all over your hands, on your fingernails, under your fingernails, in your eyelashes and brows, and on whatever or wherever has been anointed with this ancient goo. Believe me, you do not want to get it stuck in your hair unless you are considering wearing a variation of the elfin look for many months to come.

Once you have all the ingredients together, it is time to assemble your matzoh balls. With wet hands, pat the balls into a roughly spherical shape, the size of which ranges anywhere from the size of a golf ball to that of an orange. Gently drop them into salted, boiling water or stock (stock improves the flavor greatly). Boil the balls for 20 minutes or more in a covered pot. The matzoh balls will have swollen during the boiling, but do not worry. It is perfectly normal; if your balls have not expanded, something went incorrect somewhere down the line. At this point, we have come to the earlier-discussed “floater”-”sinker” controversy

Floaters are light and fluffy in texture, while sinkers are heavier and firm, much like a paperweight. Recommendations for producing sinkers vary from chilling the mixture for less time, using more eggs, reducing cooking time, increasing the amount of matzoh meal, and occasionally removing the cover during cooking. Advice for floaters runs the spectrum from rapidly beating the eggs, separating the eggs and beating the whites, gently mixing the eggs into the matzoh meal, and adding seltzer or club soda to the mix.

I am not sure where I stand on the issue. I do like a matzoh ball which goes down gently but on the other hand, I do not like chasing fragments of matzoh balls around and around the bowl of soup; by the time I capture the bits and pieces of matzoh, they have all but really disintegrated. When I was in high school, my mother, father, uncle, and I would always, without fail, attend the Passover seder at the house of my dad’s and uncle’s Army buddy. Let me tell you, eating the matzoh balls served there each year was an experience in gustatory terror. Not only were these matzoh balls sinkers – they were downright injurious to your teeth and digestive system. Looking back after all these years, these balls could have easily been used as hockey pucks. They were immune to the blandishments of any cutting tool, from knife and fork to hacksaw. Besides being boiled, our hostess baked and possibly fried them. Certainly a food not to be forgotten.

Besides matzoh soup being symbolic of Jewish tradition, it is, in all of its golden glory, the supreme comfort food. Whether you are pleased and want to celebrate your excellent fortune, sad and need to drink up its comforting warmth, or ill with any ailment from a mild cold to major, complex surgery, matzoh ball soup is the answer when nothing else will do.

Fress! Eat hardy! Devour and delight in!

Terry Kaufman is Chief Editorial Writer for niftykitchen.com/” target=”_blank Niftykitchen.com, niftyhomebar.com/” target=”_blank Niftyhomebar.com, and niftygarden.com” target=”_blank Niftygarden.com.

©2007 Terry Kaufman.

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