Their specialty (in case you hadn't guessed) is extra-large mozzarella sticks. Bigger than the kind you'd find in the frozen section of the grocery store, yet structurally sound and far more flavorful. Every time I happened upon one of their stalls, I couldn't help but grab a basket of fresh-from-the-fryer mozz sticks and devour them in five minutes flat.
Who did I have to thank for this wondrously crispy, melty-oozy creation? Turns out—in a very "What a small world!" scenario—we went to the same high school.
Jimmy Warren is not only one half of the duo behind Big Mozz (and the executive chef), he was also a grade or two above me in high school. Which all came full circle when I recently chatted with him over the phone about his best mozzarella stick–making tips.
After graduating college, Jimmy went on to culinary school and worked in some very fancy-schmancy N.Y.C. restaurants, like Del Posto. One day, he and his business partner, Matt Gallira (who was already in the packaged pasta sauce business), decided to sell fresh mozzarella and other cheesy dishes at Smorgasburg. "Eventually enough people came up to the booth and said, 'Hey, you should probably fry this,'" Jimmy explains. "So we thought: Okay, well, let's see how we can make the best mozzarella stick we can.'"
The recipe hasn't changed much from the one they developed in Matt's apartment. And eventually, their mozz-stick enterprise became so popular they had to make it a full-time gig. Today, you can find them all throughout New York and beyond, from Chelsea Market to the Yankees Stadium.
But what if you can't make it to Big Mozz? Make your own. It's really not as hard as it sounds (don't let the hot oil scare you off!). Here are Jimmy's best tips and tricks for making perfect homemade mozzarella sticks, the Big Mozz way:
A truly great mozzarella stick starts with good mozzarella (duh). "First off, you want to start with a good cheese—a mozzarella you'd like to eat raw," Jimmy says. Big Mozz uses a Wisconsin mozzarella you won't be able to find at the grocery store, but you can find plenty of good-quality mozzarellas from Polly-O, Trader Joe's in-house brand, and Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value.
Oh, and this is important: Always go for the low-moisture option. "You have to pick something that has a lower moisture content," Jimmy explains. Which means you should avoid fresh mozzarella, or anything that's been hanging out in water (however tasty it may be). Otherwise, he says, "there are going to be a lot more explosions happening in your fryer." Water and hot oil? Yeah, they don't mix well.
Another hot tip: The colder the mozzarella, the better. "If you have to cut mozzarella that's at room temperature, it'll start to break apart a little bit and you'll be left with really fragile mozzarella sticks," Jimmy says. It doesn't necessarily need to be frozen, he adds, but it should be fresh from the fridge when you get started.
If you want to make a Big Mozz–size mozzarella stick, "it's got to be 5 by 3/4 inches," he adds.
The dredging process is simple: Dredge the piece of mozzarella in flour, shake off the excess, dunk it in eggs, then coat in breading. But there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind for the crispiest-crunchiest results. It starts with the eggs: "You can either buy liquid eggs from your grocery store, or if you want to use regular eggs, you just have to beat them up so they're really nice and smooth," Jimmy says.
At Big Mozz, they use a mixture of fresh garlic, fresh parsley, Pecorino Romano, salt, pepper, and breadcrumbs (yep, that's it). The trick, though, is to slightly over-season it. "You want to add a little bit more salt than you would think, because when you do fry it, you lose a little bit of that sharp salt flavor—you know, that kind of saltiness," he explains. Don't want to make your own breadcrumbs from scratch? Not a problem. "You can use Panko. It's pretty good, too, because it makes it a little bit crispier and lighter in taste," he adds. You can also use go gluten-free with corn flour and crunched-up corn flakes (or gluten-free breadcrumbs).
And while it might seem impossible to riff on such a straightforward dish, Jimmy has a few brilliant ideas for mixing things up. "The one thing that I've been really trying to figure out how to do is a spicy mozz stick, and I think the best way to do that is just crush up a bunch of Flamin' Hot Cheetos"—at which point I interrupted him with an oh my god. Basically, you add the blitzed-up Cheetos to the breading for an instant kick. You could do the same thing with Sour Cream and Onion chips, or any chip really. Which is maybe the best idea I've ever heard.
When picking out a fry oil, you'll want to use something with a neutral flavor and high smoke point, like canola or vegetable oil. "You don't want something that will burn really quickly like butter or olive oil," Jimmy says. You could also use peanut oil—it'll add a little bit more of a savory flavor—but most restaurants avoid it because of allergens.
As for the optimal temperature, Big Mozz uses 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the biggest pot you can find and fill it two-thirds of the way full with oil. You don't want to fill it up too high with oil, otherwise you'll risk splatters, but the more oil you have in there, the more consistent the temperature will stay as you add the mozz sticks to the pot.
Hurray, you're almost ready to start making mozzarella sticks! But first, you'll need a few handy tools:
- Cast-Iron Dutch Oven: You want to use a roomy, heavy bottomed pot to heat the oil in. This cast-iron Dutch oven from Milo (go for the 5 1/2–quart option) would work nicely.
- Stainless-Steel Spider Strainer: A heat-safe slotted "spider" spoon is the best way to safely transport your precious, freshly fried mozzarella sticks to the wire rack for cooling.
- Wire Cooling Rack: Jimmy recommends letting those piping-hot mozzarella sticks cool and drain off all that excess oil on a cooling rack. Slide a sheet pan underneath to catch all those oil drips. This tends to work better than paper towels (especially if you're making a large batch), which will soak up really quickly.
Now go forth and fry, my friends.
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