What, more chicken? Somehow we couldn't leave it at the chicken from the soup from last week. It wasn't enough. We have to cook a chook which takes centre stage, and is not an afterthought when you’re making stock…
Or maybe it’s just a historical pull that won’t let us leave chicken alone.
The connection between people from this region and chickens goes back a long, long way. Further than anyone knew.
BONES, DEM BONES…
At a site called Maresha in central Israel, less than an hour’s drive south of Jerusalem, the team found thousands – and I mean thousands – of well-preserved chicken bones. Yes, that pile on the cute chicken plate at Haifa University is just a small part of the trawl of bones found at the Hellenistic site - more than at any other site from the same date anywhere else.
“Before that, we do not see anyone in Rome, or in the rest of Europe, eating chicken,” says Haifa University researcher, Lee Perry-Gal. “After the Romans exported what they saw at Maresha, chickens became a culinary craze throughout the Empire."
"It was like a new cell phone. Everyone who was anyone began raising and eating chicken.”
Chickens and Christians
So it seems that the Romans brought two major exports back from the Holy Land – Christianity (which we knew about) and Chickens (which we didn't).
“Rome was a world power which also became a culinary centre, and Roman cooks prepared dishes using ingredients from around the Empire. Once chicken arrived, it became extremely popular. And from zero chicken production prior to the Roman arrival in Israel, we see that in the following hundred years chicken production became a major industry throughout Europe,” says Perry-Gal.
And – ahem – the chickens were not barbequed, like most other meat dishes. They were boiled – soup, people! – or stewed or fried. So move over Colonel Sanders, the Holy Land has first dibs on the chicken and to mark that, one more week of chicken recipes is called for here!
a two way street
The Food is Love project is built on the premise that grandmothers teach their families how to cook. But sometimes it goes the other way. This week Jerusalem grandmother Rina Mevorach prepares a recipe which one of her grandsons taught her.
“I like it,” says Libyan born Rina, now nearly 90 years old, and a splendid, tireless cook herself.
“It’s a quick, easy recipe that's always tasty, and I don’t mind learning from my grandson, no of course I don’t! Sometimes I teach him and sometimes he teaches me. What’s important is that we stay connected to each other,” says Grandma Rina.
1. Chicken with Soy, Honey and Orange
- One large chicken, jointed or 5 or 6 Marylands ie thigh plus leg or 12 chicken legs
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
Each liquid doubles the previous one
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup honey or silan (date honey)
- 1 cup orange juice – squeeze it yourself, or pour it from a bottle: both work
Chopped coriander, to serve
- Fry the chicken pieces in a little olive oil to seal ie 5 minutes on either side, till they're brown.
- Add the liquids to the pot. Throw in the whole garlic – if they cloves are large, you can chop them in half - and grated ginger. Cook over a low-medium heat, covered, for 45 minutes, till ready.
- Sprinkle with chopped coriander, and serve with rice or couscous, or whatever grain you like best.
Jerusalem test kitchen
I found this a very forgiving recipe.
I didn't have orange juice, so I squeezed some lemon juice instead. I threw in some potatoes that I had some to use up, and they only added to the occasion. I also used some star anise, a gift from a departing friend, and that added something too. Maybe next time I might add a cinnamon stick as well.
The only thing I might do differently: I used a very flavourful local honey – maybe too flavourful – and next time I might just use silan, the more neutral local date honey.
Verdict: quick, easy, tasty, no-fail. This will become a family favourite.
Melbourne test kitchen
In Melbourne, Amanda Hampel made Grandma Rina’s grandson’s chicken and loved it.
"Mmmmmmmm that smells so good!!"
She made it the centrepiece of her Friday night meal, and served it with roasted sweet potato, pumpkin & potato, quinoa vegetable salad, spinach & ricotta pie. (Something for everyone in a household with meat eaters. vegetarians and gluten free and fructose free diners!)
“I used freshly squeezed orange juice and a combination of chicken breasts (skin off) & drumsticks (skin on), and I seared the chicken before adding the ingredients.”
The verdict: They all loved it! Quick, easy & delicious ❤️
SYDNEY TEST KITCHEN
In her Sydney test kitchen, graphic designer extraordinaire Judy Ingram suddenly missed her mother, and had a hankering for her roast chicken, a baked version of the classic Hungarian stove top dish, Chicken Paprikas.
2. Paprika Roast chicken, Hungarian style
- 1.5 kilo chicken cut in half ie flatten as much as possible by cutting through the backbone, but not all the way. Keep the backbone to flavour to roast.
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika – Hungarian is really best
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper
- optional: 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Cut the chicken in half down the front first. You are aiming to flatten it not to create four quarters, so when you turn it over and cut the back bone, you leave part of it attached. Watch Judy do it!
2. Preheat oven to a high heat - 200 degrees. Make a paste from the crushed garlic, paprika, salt, pepper and oil. Massage lovingly into the chicken.
3. Put in a flat baking pan like a cookie pan, or onto a sheet of foil in a glass dish, and put your feet up for 45 minutes and the chicken is done. “But check after 35 depending on size of chook and oven temp.”
4. Best to rest the chicken for 10 mins before serving. Great with potatoes and salad or boiled green beans.
VERDICT: Judy says the house smelt like it did when her mother was cooking and that the chicken was just as delicious.
There is lots more to say about how to roast a chicken so that it remains juicy and the breast doesn't become dry. It’s always a problem because the different parts of the chicken cook at different speeds. We will come back to this subject, and this vital, ancient, beloved food group!!!!