Last year, I put together several recipe roundups for Rosh HaShanah and the High Holy Days. In those posts, I showcased the traditional symbolic foods – apples and honey, squash, long beans, fish, pomegranate, etc. This year, I’m bringing you recipes using many of those symbolic foods and my approach to holiday cooking – preparing beautiful tasty food well ahead of time with excellent ingredients and minimal fuss. My Chai-Spiced Honey Cake is the perfect example – bake it in advance and freeze it!
As it happened, Nude Bee Honey contacted me, offering to send me a gift set of four of their single-varietal honeys for the new year. What could be better than showcasing beautiful honey for Rosh HaShanah?
When the package arrived, the first thing I did was put a generous spoonful of the wildflower honey in my tea. I seem to have caught the dreaded seasonal cold – sore throat, lost voice, general lethargy. Thus fortified, I dove into recipe prep, digging through my fruit and vegetable drawers for inspiration for a salad, hot vegetable side, and meat main dish. Sweet foods are popular for the New Year not only because of tradition, autumn brings with it some beautiful sweet produce – the first winter squashes, crisp apples, and juicy pears. My CSA veggie box has included pump red grapes for the last few weeks, and after seeing Epicurious’s post about the many uses of roasted grapes, I just had to include them. If you need another reason to put grapes in holiday dishes, bear in mind that they too are important symbols in Jewish tradition – they are one of the seven species of the land of Israel, and once processed into wine and juice, have a special blessing used for sanctification blessings.
I grabbed the prettiest little onions from my hanging basket – I hoard these as they come in the veggie box each week and roast a large batch of them with meat or other vegetables until they are sweet and a little singed. Another alternative would be leeks, as they are a traditional food for Rosh HaShanah.
With the grapes and my favorite protein (whole chicken legs all the way baby!) selected, and honey being a key flavor, I cast a wider net for additional seasoning. Indian spices are hugely popular right now, and thanks to a generous foodie friend, my spice drawer is overflowing with garam masala, cinnamon, spicy chilies, and turmeric. Turmeric and garam masala joined the flavor brigade and I cut handfuls of thyme from my container garden.
My favorite way to prepare chicken legs is my modified approach to braising – my previous go-to technique was a traditional braise: browning the protein on the stove top, then making the braising liquid, and finish the meat on top. It is very tasty, but our kitchen has no ventilation and the searing leaves us with a smoke-filled apartment. My modification uses the high heat of the oven to roast the chicken until the skin is golden and supremely crispy, then adding the braising liquid to the pan while the pan is still in the oven. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Cheater’s Braise!
The Cheater’s Braise works best if most of the flavoring agents are underneath the meat – I made a bed of thyme first, then seasoned the underside of the chicken with salt, pepper, spices, and a goodly drizzle of blueberry honey.
I tucked the grapes and halved onions under and between the chicken legs and festooned the whole skillet with more thyme. I seasoned the top of the chicken, under and on top of the skin with kosher salt, pepper and little extra spice.
Into the oven it went at high heat (425°F, 218°C). In the meantime, I prepared the braising liquid, mixing more honey with sherry and white wine vinegar. You could do this with lots of different liquids – vermouth, wine, cider, stock, citrus juice, the list goes on! I really love including vinegar in the liquid because of the character it bring to the dish. This is even more true with a sweet meat like this honeyed chicken – the sourness cuts some of the sweetness. The resulting pan juices will be so delicious! After 20 minutes, I added the liquid, being careful not to pour it on the skin of the chicken. CRISPY SKIN AT ALL COSTS!
After another twenty or so minutes in the oven, the chicken was tender, sweet, and juicy and the grapes and onions were soft and saucy. This is the perfect dish for holidays because it is festive, simple, and easy to make in small or large batches. It works in a skillet, dutch oven, or baking pan! It is delicious fresh from the oven, or cold or reheated later. Succulent, savory, sweet, and celebratory!
Chag Sameach! Shanah tovah, u’metukah! A happy and sweet New Year, from me to you!