DINNER MOST FOWL
"All fit birds you may eat. But these are they that you shall not eat: the eagle, ossifrage (bearded vulture), and osprey. And the glede, the kites (or falcons), and the vultures. And every raven of its species. And the ostrich, the nighthawk, the cuckoo, and the hawk of its species. The little owl, the great owl, and the horned owl. And the pelican, the carrion vulture, the cormorant. And the stork, the heron of its species, the lapwing (or hoopoe), and the bat." Deuteronomy 14:11-18
In this week's parsah, the Torah lists the unacceptable species of fowl, but only states, "Of all clean birds you may eat," without listing them or even describing their physical characteristics. Rashi explains, "And of the birds, (the Torah) specified for you the unfit ones, to teach that the fit birds are more numerous than the unfit, therefore it specifies the less numerous." Although it is generally accepted that the unfit fowl are birds of prey, we cannot determine the exact identity of some of the forbidden birds. Therefore, in order for any fowl to be considered kosher, it must have a mesorah ("tradition"). This means that penguins and cockatoos, which have no mesorah, cannot be part of a kosher meal.
Today, chicken serves as the centerpiece of Shabbat dinner in many Jewish homes. This, however, was not always the case. Chickens, descended from a red jungle fowl of southeast Asia, were domesticated more than 4,500 years ago, and gradually made its way westward. A rooster was pictured in the tomb of Tutankaman, dating about 1350 BCE. Although a Hebrew seal from the time of the Judean monarchy contained the image of a rooster, revealing its presence in pre-Exile Judea, the chicken's move into Jewish cookery was rather slow.
Ironically, the chickenís initial popularity and the reason for its spread throughout the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires had nothing to do with its eggs or flesh but rather with the aggressive roosterís ability to fight, one of manís earliest sports. Since this form of entertainment never found favor among Jews, chickens remained a minor figure in Jewish circles until relatively late. The most common fowl in the Near East in those days, and among the few domesticated species, were doves and their close relative, pigeons. In Biblical times, most birds were caught wild. Also enjoyed were geese, ducks, quails and partridges. Later, the fowl of choice for early Ashkenazim was the goose.
As the majority of Ashkenazim moved eastward in the wake of the First Crusade and later the massacres following the Black Death, chicken emerged as their most important food animal, although, for the majority, it was a luxury reserved for the Sabbath and special occasions. Many Jewish families kept at least a few chickens in their yard or in coops. Another major reason for chickenís widespread popularity is that they fly worse than any other small bird, not longer than 13 seconds, so they are easier to catch. (Something I can personally attest to after a summer on a kibbutz.) When the hen had passed its egg-laying days, it went to feed the family. On Thursday or Friday, the chicken was taken to the shochet (ritual slaughterer). Afterward, the housewife would defeather, kasher, and cook the chicken in honor of the Sabbath. No part of the bird was wasted: The feet, head, wing tips, and gizzards went into the soup pot to be transformed into a rich broth or braised with onions to make a fricassee; the fat was rendered into schmaltz; the skin was cooked to make gribenes; the liver was grilled, chopped with a little schmaltz and hard-boiled eggs, and used to fill doughs, such as knishes and kreplach, or perhaps mixed into a kugel; the neck was filled and roasted (helzel); the feathers became stuffing for pillows, mattresses, and quilts; and, under extremely desperate circumstances, even the bones were ground up and fried.
In Europe, few homes had an oven. Therefore, the two most prominent ways of preparing chicken was roasting on a spit over an open fire or poaching over the fire. In the Teutonic manner, the animal was generally cooked and served whole, rather than cut into pieces as favored by Sephardim. As ovens became more prominent in the nineteenth century, oven-roasting became the standard form of preparation.
(4 to 5 servings)
Arguably the most
popular of all Ashkenazic Friday night entrees was roast chicken, a dish
that could be left to finish cooking over the dying embers after lighting
the Sabbath candles. Although
most Ashkenazim prefer the flavor of ungarnished roast chicken, Hungarians
often flavor the chicken with marjoram and Greeks with lemon and oregano.
Rumanians commonly serve it with mujdei (garlic sauce).
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (220 C). Combine the carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes in a shallow roasting pan. (You can omit the vegetables and place the chicken on an oiled wire rack in the pan.)
2. Wash the chicken inside and out. Pat dry. If desired, stuff. Tie the chicken legs together to hold their shape. Tuck the wings under the body. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub the oil over the chicken. Place the chicken, breast-side up, on the vegetables in the roasting pan.
3. Roast, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees (175 C). Invert the chicken so that its back is up and roast, basting occasionally with the pan drippings, for 15 minutes. Turn to one side and roast, basting occasionally, for 15 minutes. Turn to the other side and roast, basting occasionally, another 15 minutes.
4. Return the chicken breast side up and roast until browned and the thigh juices run clear when poked deeply with a fork or the thigh meat registers 170 degrees (77 C) on a meat thermometer (15 to 40 minutes per pound unstuffed; 30 minutes to 1 hour per pound stuffed. Total cooking time runs from 50 minutes to 1Ĺ hours for unstuffed; 1ĺ to 2 hours for stuffed). Cover loosely with foil and let stand about 15 minutes before carving. (The internal temperature will continue to rise.)
Sult Csirke (Hungarian Roast Chicken): Combine 2 tablespoons margarine or schmaltz, 1 minced small onion, and Ĺ teaspoon dried marjoram, and place in the cavity of the chicken.
(Italian Roast Chicken): Rub the chicken skin with olive oil and place 1
tablespoon chopped fresh or 2 teaspoon dried sage and 1 unpeeled clove
garlic in cavity of chicken. If
desired, roast the chicken on a bed of cubed potatoes mixed with a little
chopped fresh or dried rosemary.
(6 to 8 servings)
In Syria, Jews maintained a hierarchy to their foods. Grains and vegetables were the most plentiful and inexpensive and would be found at every meal. Chicken was more limited and was rarely served during the weekday, but generally starred as the Friday night entree. Beef and other fowl were more expensive and reserved for special dishes or occasions. Lamb was generally served only for the most festive of events.
This and several similar recipes, using pasta or potatoes, were designed by Syrian Jews to slow cook for several hours, thereby providing a warm and flavorful dish for Friday night dinner. Today, these slow-cooked chicken dishes remain the heart of Syrian Friday night dinners.
1. Cut the roasted chicken into 8 to 10 pieces, or bone and shred the chicken. Remove the wire rack from the roasting pan and stir the stock and spices into the pan juices. (If you want a less fatty dish but slightly less flavorful, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the pan juices.) Add the rice, then bury the chicken in the rice.
2. Cover and bake in a 350-degree (175 C) oven for about 30 minutes or in a 250-degree (120 C) oven for 2 to 3 hours.
Gil Marks is the author of the James Beard Award finalist The World of Jewish Cooking, The World of Jewish Entertaining, and the recently released The World of Jewish Desserts. If you have a special request for a future recipe, forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org