Chicken with Apples and Fennel
Question: How long does it take five young professionals in San Francisco to come to consensus on high holiday plans via email and text? I’ll never know the answer. My friends and I started discussing it at the end of August and went in circles for weeks. It was like the set-up to a bad joke – liberal Jews, raised reform, reconstuctionist, conservative, one a convert, all of us with a slight twinge of traditionalism mixed with egalitarianism, and none of us are currently members of a particular synagogue. We even specifically started “shul shopping” by going to some shabbat services looking for a place with the right mix for all of us. The only thing I learned is that the perfect shul does not exist, but in line with the old joke, the one that each person won’t set foot in, does. Luckily, through an impromptu shabbat dinner, we all ended up at the same table and settled on plans within ten minutes. It was a High Holiday miracle!
The dinner came together because I was looking for a Rosh Hashana recipe and serendipitously one appeared in my inbox. I subscribe to a few recipe list and one for salmon with apples and fennel appeared and I knew I was on the right path. Salmon is a pain to make for a crowd because it can easily get dried out, plus it is expensive, not to mention that my good friend, Sarah, now won’t eat fish because she believes it is all unsustainable and toxic. Chicken is almost always the answer for a meal for a crowd of Jews and what I turned to. Since I was sort inventing this recipe I decided a test run was necessary before my larger Rosh Hashana shabbat dinner and invited my friends to serve as guinea pigs.
After working all day and grocery shopping the thought of doing the photography was feeling a bit overwhelming so I called in an old debt and enlisted my good friend Ryan Simon to serve as the official photographer. He has been nagging me to upgrade to an SLR, so this seemed like a good opportunity to let him show me the goods and if it might be worth the investment. All the photos on this post are his, and I threw in a couple of extra because they were particularly good, so I urge you to click and enlarge them.
I also suggest you to look back at some past Rosh hashana recipes as we have a really nice collection going. I personally will be reviewing the how to braid a spiral challah post so I can impress my guest next week. L’Shana Tova!
These are best enjoyed with a nice IPA
A few weeks ago Amiee and I went to learn how to butcher a lamb. It was fun and we learned a great deal about breaking down whole quadrupeds. But on a more immediate level we got to try some of Ryan Farr’s chicharrones. Now there is a Jewish version of this, gribenes. I have made them before, usually a result of using chicken thighs for something where the skins weren’t needed and I would slowly render them down and feed them to the kids (my son calls them “chicken chips”). But recently I was breaking down a whole chicken for sausages (post on the way) and I thought that I would try to remove the skin in one go and then render that down. The results were astounding, so I am sharing the results here. By the way, its kosher for passover and you get about a half a cup of nice clean fat (schmatlz) to boot.
Well the heathen chicken wagon rolls forward with entry number two. Sumac berries are the red ripe berries of the the non-poisonous variety of the sumac tree found in the Middle East. Not to be confused with its North American relative. It is widely used in Jewish and Arab cooking and almost any Arab restaurant worth its salt (from the old Roman custom of paying soldiers in salt) will have a sumac rubbed chicken on the menu. The presence of it in a Jewish establishment marks the menu as coming from the Syrian, Lebanese or Land of Israel Jewish communities. The flavor is bright, tart and reminiscent of cranberry or currant.
I found mine in a middle eastern market here in Berkeley. I am always of two minds when shopping in these places. On one hand I lived for several years in Israel, have an array of Arab friends and even spent a week eating my way through Amman. So I am tempted to ask for things with a degree of comfort and even engage with the staff about whether the Za’atar is fresh and the pita local. On the other hand by doing so I know that sooner or later I will be asked where my knowledge comes from (I do not look in any way Middle Eastern). That is usually a relationship killer. But not always, I recall the owner of a Kebab place in Kansas City who was from the West Bank. He told me he loved American Jews- they were his best customers. In the end I kept my mouth shut and bought some ground sumac, some za’atar and some fava beans. The za’atar and the fava beans are for another day of cooking however.
The other thing I should point out is that I roast my chicken butterflied. This is a technique that I use to allow for a more even cooking time (the breasts and thighs cook at the same speed) and you get a nice expanse of crisp skin as a bonus. Also it should go without saying that you should brine your chicken. I added a tsp of sumac and a tsp of smoked paprika to the brine.
Recipe after the jump
Schnitzel fresh from the oven and ready for dinner
Schnitzel is an Israeli staple. It is served so often in Israeli hotels and youth hostels that many tourists are convinced that there really isn’t any other entree in the Israeli diet. Now, the traditional Austrian dish is made with veal cutlets. While veal is part of the Israeli diet, Israelis tend to consume their veal on skewers of grilled meat. In fact most good skewer restaurants will offer not only chicken and turkey but also goose, veal and sometimes pork (called white steak so as not to use the word “pig”).
Now the common Israeli schnitzel is usually chicken and sometimes turkey (a very common source of meat in Israel- most of the schwarma is in fact turkey, flavored with lamb fat). If you go to an Israeli butcher on a Friday afternoon you can see them breaking down chickens and pounding the breast meat into a uniform thickness.
Now, you might ask yourself whether making schnitzel is worth all the work since you can go down to the grocery store and get some chicken tenders. To that I say, if you want to eat over-fried shoe leather that was made hours ago go ahead. But one taste of fresh schnitzel and you will be off the tenders for life.
My twist is that I oven fry it. I have a moderate fear of frying. Well its not so much a fear of frying but a fear of fry mess. Amiee and I share an aversion to mess. In fact we are both a bit nutty about keeping our kitchens “just so” and for me the idea of spattering oil all over the stove is a bit more than I can bear on a regular basis. Hence my oven fry scheme.
Directions after the jump
Ok, for anyone who followed my last post and now has a small container of chicken fat in the fridge- here is a use that will let you die happy. You may note that I am a fan of the Cook’s Illustrated cook book (see my last post). That is because they happily test 15-20 ways of cooking something before putting into the book. As an extra bonus, you get the back story of how they developed the technique which allows a tinkerer like my self to tweak it slightly (in this case replacing the vegetable oil with chicken fat).
The full details after the break. Continue reading
Schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat is an Ashkanazi comfort food. My mother told me that when she was a child she would eat it smeared on bread as a snack after school. Like most of the food that came with the Jews from Eastern Europe, schmaltz is a food of poverty. Meat was very expensive for most and a real luxury (why do think that Shabbat dinners only rated chicken, and only around big holidays like Passover they splurged for brisket- a really lousy cut of meat?). The result of this condition is that no part of the bird was wasted. This is often referred to as the “snout to tail” approach to food as championed by Anthony Bourdain and others. Since I had just purchased two whole chickens and broken them down into parts for other meals I was faced with the question of what to do with the carcasses. Continue reading