Search for the perfect matzo ball


Light, dense, airy, hard, fluffy, doughy. We all have our own adjectives to describe the perfect matzo ball. With Passover only weeks away, I embarked on a quest for the perfect matzo ball.

I started my search in Chicago at the legendary Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen. Located in the South Loop, Manny Raskin built a solid reputation on thinly sliced corned beef sandwiches, homemade kishke, and chicken soup with matzo balls.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

On a recent family trip I schlepped my entire family to Manny’s for lunch where I had the pleasure of speaking with Manny’s son, Ken Raskin, who now runs the restaurant.

“Our matzo balls are medium to light and a bit on the eggy side,” Raskin told me. “And the key to making great matzo balls,” he continued, “is to know the feel of the matzo meal and adjust the recipe accordingly.”

And the secret ingredient to the unique, superior flavor of Manny’s matzo balls… schmaltz, of course. Ken pointed out that vegetable shortening could be substituted for the schmaltz in his recipe, which I’ve included below, to create a vegetarian version.

Back in St. Louis I caught up with Chef Akram Ali Hassan of Kohn’s Kosher Market. He suggests that cooking method is the key to producing good matzo balls. Hassan adds chicken base to his pot of boiling water and, once the matzo balls have been added, he turns down the heat, covers the pot, and allows them to simmer for 20 minutes.

“Don’t overcrowd,” Hassan warns. “Otherwise they’ll come out in different shapes and sizes.”

He then removes the lid and let’s the matzo balls sit in the hot liquid for five minutes until they sink.

Next stop Westwood Country Club.

I spoke with Westwood Country Club’s chef, John E. Bogacki.

“We do sell a lot of these matzo balls. Children especially love them.”

Truly unique, Bogacki uses clarified butter as the fat in his matzo ball mixture. He recommends refrigerating the uncooked matzo ball mixture for a minimum of one hour and as long as overnight. This step allows the butter to congeal, making the cooked matzo balls lighter. (For those who keep kosher serve Bogacki’s version of matzo balls in vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.)

Over at Meadowbrook Country Club, Roundsman David Stuckman offered this advice.

“The key to good matzo balls is in the mixing and cooking to proper time specification.”

Stuckman mixes eggs and soybean oil together and then gently folds in the matzo meal. He suggests refrigerating this mixture for at least five minutes. Using a small ice-cream scoop, Stuckman scoops the mixture onto a cutting board and rolls each scoop into a ball. He is careful to not overwork the mixture, which makes the cooked matzo balls tough. The matzo balls go into a pot of boiling water, the heat is reduced, and they simmer for 20 minutes with the lid off.

On the upper west side of Manhattan, the two ingredients that turn an ordinary matzo ball into one worthy of a spot in the glass case at Dean & Deluca’s are seltzer water and schmaltz. I included the on-line recipe so that you can create these gourmet balls in your very own kitchen.

All the chefs I spoke with recommend cooking the matzo balls in a liquid other than chicken soup. This will keep the soup from becoming cloudy. Just before serving, warm matzo balls should be placed in a bowl and covered by a ladle or two of soup and any vegetables.

Don’t be afraid to jazz up the flavor of your matzo balls by adding a teaspoon of finely minced garlic, fresh herbs, or grated fresh ginger, onion or shallot to the egg mixture. And for something new and different consider stuffing your matzo balls, Lithuanian style, with a meat or cinnamon and fruit filling.

And finally, for any of you with a truly heroic appetite for matzo balls, you might want to start training for the matzo ball eating contest at Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen in Houston next March. This year, Joey Chesnut won the contest by eating 78 matzo balls in eight minutes.