Bloody Chicken

December 19, 2003


Hanukkah starts tonight. It is the festival of lights, a minor holiday that has been trotted out to join the solstice carnival.

Melanie at Just a Bump on the Beltway is a practicing Christian who is also gastronomically Jewish.(1) She has been looking forward to cooking a festival dinner. She has been looking into Latkes and the Ashkenazic tradition.

I checked with J, who reminded me that the festival of lights is a festival about oil lights. Anything cooked in oil is proper for Hanukkah. In Israel, apparantly, one of the big hits is a sugary dough, rolled into a log, twisted, and fried in oil - Jewish twist donuts. Any holiday where the ritual food is donuts appeals to my inner Homer Simpson - especially because I do not care for latkes.

But, I am on a low fat diet. Low fat kosher cooking is an oxymoron. We can do it, but mostly by cooking a lot of food at home, eating out rarely, and relaxing our already Reform strictures when we do eat out.(2)

So, we were planning to just cook bloody chicken for dinner tonight. What is that you ask? It is a dish I worked up about a dozen years ago when I had company coming over and all I had in the house was boneless chicken breasts, canned olives, carrots, onions, and the usual pantry staples. Oh, and a body of the very smooth 1984 Hungarian Sangre de Toros - a European lake wine that had softened to the point of innocuousness.

So, I sauteed onions and chicken in olive oil with vast amounts of fresh garlic, added carrots, added wine and tomato sauce, simmered, and finished with olives. We served it with rye bread and the rest of the bottle. Sangre des Toros translates as bull's blood, and so I called it bloody chicken. My mom still cooks it by that original recipe - I wrote it down for her that night. J and I also cook it, but it has evolved to drop the carrots, add the olives earlier, and can be made with or without whatever cheap red wine you happen to have around. Just remember that garlic is a vegetable and you are OK. I would give a detailed recipe, but that would be against the spirit of the dish: chuck stuff in a pot until you like it.

Bloody chicken is good food. It means we will have an open bottle of wine for the blessing. It would have been served with a light caraway rye - instead it will be served with a caraway buckwheat bread (or with stale kaiser rolls.) But, it is not an oil-based food.

Perhaps I will set up a bowl of olive oil to dip the bread into.

(1), In the spirit of Eugene Volokh's discussion about messianic judaism, I wonder if a Christian can be gastronomically Jewish without becoming apostate. One rabbi once, only half jokingly, described Judaism as: "They tried to kill us; they failed. Lets eat!" By joining in the feast, have you accepted the basic tenets of the faith? (3)

(2) The secret to restaurant cooking is to use a LOT of butter. That, more than the mis en place or the simmering pots of stock, is why things taste better when you eat out. Low fat and not mixing milk and meat come into trouble when, as J does, you dearly love roast lamb and you dearly love saute'd vegetables. What we do at restaurants is I order the heart healthy menu, J orders what she desires but asks for no pork or shellfish, and we assume that all side dishes were cooked with magical mystery oil.

(3) I love footnotes in footnotes. And, for the record, I am just teasing Melanie a little. Attending a passover seder or cooking latkes no more makes you Jewish than singing a Christmas carol makes you Christian.

Posted by Red Ted at December 19, 2003 12:42 PM | TrackBack