How to make Matzo Fried Chicken

Jessie.jpeg

This story originally appeared on Jewish Food Society. 

Shared by Ellen Gray

Recipe Roots: Nacogdoches, TX and New York City > Bridgewater, NJ > Philadelphia > Maplewood, NJ 

When food writer and professional baker Ellen Gray is baking pies and frying matzo meal-crusted chicken, the memory of Jessie Mae Kirkwood is often with her. “Jessie’s always there,” Ellen says. “She’s always kind of around.”

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When Ellen was little, she lived in the Far Rockaway section of Queens in an intergenerational home with her grandmother, parents, siblings, and Jessie, their housekeeper. “Jessie was my safe haven,” Ellen says. She spent afternoons in the kitchen with Jessie, escaping her brothers’ nagging, seeking advice on dealing with the mean girls at school, and watching her cook. Jessie “was another grandmother to me,” explains Ellen. “She was part of our family for 50 years.”

Jessie was born in 1903 and raised by her grandparents in a religious Baptist family in Nacogdoches, Texas, a town near the state’s border with Louisiana. At 17, she moved to New York where she found work baking pies and cooking for several families including the Vanderbilts. And, in 1949, Jessie came to work fulltime for Ellen’s grandparents Minnie and Bert, living with them, helping cook and care for the family as they operated a shoe store with two locations nearby. 

What evolved in the family kitchen was a blend of traditions. “Jessie was a Black woman from the South originally and she prepared the Seder alongside my mother and my grandmother,” explains Ellen. “You had these very diverse cultures and women from very different age groups… putting this amazing meal on the table.” At Seder, there was capon, homemade gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, and charoset — and everything was made entirely from scratch. 

At times, Jessie’s Southern roots made their mark on family meals. Ellen’s father’s birthday often coincided with Passover and Jessie would prepare matzo meal fried chicken with a hot sauce kick. The dish was a blend of a recipe from Minnie, who used matzo meal for Passover, and one from Jessie, who loved hot sauce. “It was a hybrid from these women: this one woman from the South and this one Jewish woman raised in the Lower East Side of New York.” It brought together the family.

Today, Ellen continues to make the fried chicken recipe at Passover, keeping the memory of two grandmothers alive in her kitchen.

Matzo Fried Chicken

Makes: 4 servings

Total Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Ingredients

3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 cup matzo cake meal

3 eggs, beaten 

¼ cup cashew milk or any non-dairy milk

½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar

¾ teaspoon hot sauce (or to taste)

1½ cups matzo meal 

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley 

Vegetable oil for frying

Preparation

1. Season the chicken: whisk 1 ½  teaspoons of salt, with the pepper and paprika in a small bowl. Place the chicken pieces onto a parchment lined baking sheet and pat all the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces with the salt, pepper and paprika mixture. Set aside.

2. Set up the dredging station: place the matzo cake meal in a wide bowl. Set aside. Add the eggs, cashew milk, apple cider vinegar and hot sauce into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside. Mix the matzo meal, parsley and remaining 1 ½  teaspoons of salt in a separate wide bowl and set aside. 

3. Dredge the chicken: Place a piece of chicken into the matzo cake meal and make sure it’s coated well tapping off any excess. Then dip the chicken into the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off and finally coat the chicken in the matzo meal and parsley mixture creating a thick coating by pressing the matzo meal on to the chicken. Place the chicken onto a plate or tray and repeat the dredging process with the remaining chicken pieces. Set the dredged chicken pieces aside for 10 minutes before frying.

4. Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high to medium heat and add 2 cups of vegetable oil into the pan. Heat the oil until it is sizzling or registers 375 degrees fahrenheit on a thermometer. 

5. Fry the chicken: Carefully place two or three pieces of the chicken into the pan and fry the chicken for about 10 minutes per side until crisp, golden brown and cooked through. Frying times will vary depending on the size of the chicken pieces. The chicken is ready once it registers 165 degrees fahrenheit when a thermometer is inserted into the center of the chicken. 

6. Transfer the fried chicken onto a paper towel lined tray and repeat the frying process with the remaining chicken pieces. 

7. Serve the chicken hot immediately or keep the chicken warm in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.