It seems that the universal love language of grandmothers across many cultures is cooking up a big bowl of chicken soup. Growing up, my lola (grandmother) would make arroz caldo on days where we just needed a comforting hug in a bowl, which clearly, has so much in common with its Jewish counterpart: matzah ball soup.
Arroz caldo is a rice porridge dish similar to congee, jook or risotto and is typically made by stewing glutinous and/or short grain white rice with chicken and water for hours and hours, until the chicken falls apart and the rice is broken down into a thick and creamy consistency. What makes arroz caldo uniquely Filipinx is the ginger and garlic aromatics that are underscored with the acidity of sweet and tart calamansi, a citrus fruit with roots in the Philippines. These days you are likely to find calamansi in your local Asian grocery store or farmers market if you live in a warm climate, though you can also find it in juice form in the freezer section of most Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find fresh or frozen calamansi, you can also substitute fresh lemon.
For this Jewish-Filipinx mash-up, I made the broth as I would arroz caldo, but without rice and remixed traditional matzah balls by adding ginger and green onions right into the matzah meal. In arroz caldo, browning the chicken first allows for the chicken fat to render. No need to do that here since I used straight up chicken fat instead of oil. In case you need a reminder, I’m here to say that schmaltz is magic, y’all.
I hope this delicious bowl provides that comforting bubbe, or lola, hug we all so desperately need sometimes.
For the broth:
- 4 Tbsp chicken fat (schmaltz)
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken, cut into about 1-inch pieces
- 64 oz (8 cups) chicken broth
- Kosher salt or fish sauce *(most fish sauce is not kosher, this ingredient is optional)
For the matzah balls:
- 1/2 cup of matzah meal
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp of chicken fat/schmaltz
- Kosher salt
For serving (optional):
- Lemon or calamansi wedges
- Fried garlic
- Soft boiled egg
- Thinly sliced green onions
- To make the broth: In a large Dutch oven pot on medium heat add schmaltz. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken and cook just until the outer rawness appears cooked, about 2 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
- Add chicken broth and cover.
- Simmer on medium-low heat for about 20-30 minutes. Add fish sauce or salt to taste. (Most fish sauce is not kosher, so you can substitute with extra salt to your liking).
- To make the matzah balls: In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, schmaltz, green onions, ginger, matzah meal and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, use a 1-inch ice cream scoop to scoop dough. Hand roll into balls. Place back in the fridge while you wait for your water to boil.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add matzah balls to the pot, leaving some space in between the balls. Lower heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- To serve: Ladle soup into a bowl and add 1-2 matzah balls. Squeeze a wedge of lemon or calamansi into the soup.
- Optional step: Thinly slice garlic cloves and fry in oil until golden brown. Top soup with the fried garlic, soft boiled egg, and green onions if desired.