I have been arguing with Aimee Levitt about the gustatory joys of matzo since we first joined The Takeout months ago. She says the only reason that I love matzo is because I’m a shiksa. For me, matzo is an occasional treat, something I eat only whenever I please. It’s possible that my chosen friend detests matzo because she is, in her words, “forced to eat it.” Maybe if it no longer felt like an obligation, she could enjoy matzo the same way we delight in our other sacred food traditions, like turkey on Thanksgiving or several apple cider doughnuts per day throughout the fall.
I promised Aimee that during the eight days of Passover when eating matzo becomes a mandatory chore, I would develop not one, but two brand-new, matzo-fied recipes so that she and her brethren would not have to “suffer” (again, her words) through any bland unleavened bread. Then I, an Italian-American Catholic, reminded my Jewish friend that both of our cultures are built on the pillars of food, guilt, and suffering. We laughed and laughed, then we felt deep shame over our laughter and filled ourselves with snacks to quell the pain. Though we might disagree on the merits of matzo, there are so many ways in which our tribes are very much the same.
One of the easiest ways to make anything taste good is to cook it in schmaltz, a.k.a. rendered chicken fat. This is something Ashkenazi Jews have known for hundreds of years, and I figured this was a great way to get Aimee aboard the matzo love train. My favorite way to make chicken thighs is by cooking them low and slow in a cast iron skillet, rendering the fat out of the chicken skins, making them so crispy they shatter like glass. In this recipe, I add some thinly sliced red onion and garlic into the schmaltz as it renders, moving them to the cool areas at edges of the pan as they brown, and then add lemon slices to char in the chicken fat. Once the chicken thighs come out of the pan, fat pieces of matzoh get toasted in the flavored schmaltz, which makes them taste like the very opposite of “suffering.” Finally, the schmaltz and charred lemon become a dressing for bitter, leafy greens—another food that both of our cultures have a deep appreciation for. The type of greens you use is entirely up to you; I’m partial to dandelion greens, but escarole, kale, or curly endive are also fantastic.
If this doesn’t convince Aimee of matzo’s vast culinary potential, well, then that’s a “her” problem, not a “me” problem. I, and my entire goyische family, will swear on a stack of bibles and haggadot that this chicken can make anyone believe in the power of matzo. I’m pretty sure you will, too. Once you’re done licking the skillet clean, please make sure you tweet at Aimee to let her know just how spectacular you think matzo is. She’ll love to hear all about it.
- 4 bone-in chicken thighs
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 4 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 extra large lemon, quartered
- 1-2 pieces of matzo, broken into large pieces
- 1 large head escarole, curly endive, or your favorite dark, bitter green
- 1 tsp. oregano
- Olive oil
- Kalamata olives (amount depends on how much you like olives)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
Coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil, then set over medium-low heat. Blot the chicken thighs well with paper towels, then season the skin side generously with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Arrange the thighs in the skillet skin-side down, being sure to spread out the skins so they’re in full contact with the bottom of the pan. Season the other side with salt, pepper, and dried oregano, then leave the chicken completely alone for 15 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil, then bring it down to a vigorous simmer. Cut the greens into large pieces, keeping the hearty stalks and delicate leaves separate. Cook the stalks in gently bubbling water until soft, about 3-5 minutes, swishing them around to loosen any dirt that might be stuck in the leaves (the dirt will sink to the bottom). Add the leafy greens, swish them around, and simmer for another 2 minutes. Use tongs or a spider to move the greens to a strainer set over a large bowl, then set aside.
Use tongs to check the bottoms of the chicken thighs to make sure they’re cooking evenly—as great as cast iron pans are, they’re terrible at heating evenly, so some of those chicken pieces might need to switch spots or get shifted around a little bit. If any of the chicken thighs are sticking to the pan, don’t force them to move! They’ll release when they’re good and ready — just leave them be and check them again in a minute or two.
Once the chicken thighs have been repositioned, scatter the red onions and garlic in the spaces between them. Keep on cooking low and slow, moving the onions and garlic around occasionally, for another 10 minutes. As pieces of onions and garlic begin to brown, use tongs to pile them up along the side of the pan, where they won’t be submerged in schmaltz.
After 10 minutes, put the lemon wedges in the pan, cut side down. Once again, check the bottom of the chicken thighs: If they are golden brown you can flip them over and continue cooking for another 5 minutes before moving to a plate. It’s okay if some chicken thighs take a few minutes longer to cook than the others; what’s most important is that all the skins get crisp and golden, and all that beautiful chicken fat gets rendered out.
When all the chicken thighs have been removed from the skillet, flip the lemon wedges so the other cut side can blacken and move them to the side of the pan with the onions and garlic. Add the large matzo pieces, coat well with the schmaltz, and turn the heat up to high. Toast the matzo on both sides until golden, then move it to the plate with the chicken.
Add the blanched greens, stirring them with the onions and garlic, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Saute for a minute or so until steamy—if the pan starts looking a bit too dry, add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Put the chicken thighs back in the pan, scatter kalamata olives and the schmaltz-toasted matzo on top, and serve immediately.