My NJB (nice Jewish boy) of a husband has an interesting background.
His father grew up in Brookline, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood on the western edge of Boston. His mother was a Southern belle, the toast of the town in Little Rock, Ark. They met when Dad moved to Little Rock for a job, and they fell in love.
But they faced significant adversity — mixed marriages were not the done thing in 1957, and their experience was no exception. Despite these difficulties, they married and shared 50 wonderful years together, which resulted in four kids, nine grandchildren and many wonderful traditions.
As a Southern woman, my mother-in-law was genetically engineered to make delicious fried chicken. As a Northeastern urban Jew, my father-in-law had an affinity for deli salads.
This menu offers homage to them — to their backgrounds, their traditions and the amazing meals and memories we created and shared around their holiday tables.
This year, Rosh Hashanah is tinged with sadness for us — the folks both passed away recently, and we sold their home in August. But one of the last festive meals we had at the house was an amazing fried chicken dinner that used matzo meal for the coating to ensure a crunchy crust.
It seemed obvious to me that I needed to recreate it this Rosh Hashanah in honor of the people who welcomed me into their family, introduced me to Jewish traditions and helped me find a path to creating my own.
While I know this is decidedly non-traditional for the Rosh Hashanah meal, it has special meaning for us this year, and it is delicious regardless of the occasion.
Southern Jewish Fried Chicken
Use a deep fat thermometer for precise cooking.
We served our fried chicken with chipotle hot sauce. Some people like to drizzle their fried chicken with honey, maple syrup or molasses (I don’t, but it would hit the Rosh Hashanah theme of a sweet year nicely). Others sprinkle it with vinegar. Truth be told, this stuff is so good it really does not need any adornments.
Serves four to eight depending on appetites and desire for leftovers
8 pieces bone-in, skin-on chicken (breasts, legs, thighs as preferred by your crew)
⅔ cup matzo meal
⅓ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
1-2 quarts vegetable oil
Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. If the breasts are large, cut them in half.
In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs.
In another shallow bowl, mix the matzo meal, flour and spices.
Dredge the chicken pieces in the eggs, then in flour/matzo mixture to coat thoroughly. Lay them on a cooking tray or a large, flat plate.
In a large skillet or pot, fill the oil to a depth that will just cover the largest piece of chicken (approximately 3 inches) and heat to 375 degrees on a deep fat thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer, let the oil heat for several minutes and, when it begins to form small bubbles, drop a matzo crumb in. If it sizzles, begin cooking the chicken.
Place the chicken pieces carefully into the oil. (You may need to cook this in several batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and reducing the oil temperature.) After about six minutes, turn the chicken over with tongs and cook it for another five to six minutes.
You may wish to cut one of the thicker pieces to ensure that it is cooked through — I always do, even though it makes serving it a bit less aesthetically pleasing. That beats getting sick!
When done, place the chicken on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Let it sit for a few minutes and serve.
Sabi’s Potato Salad
My father in law — who everyone called “Sabi” as a diminutive of the Hebrew “saba” for grandfather — made this every July Fourth for the family barbecue. He was into his 90s before he handed over the mantle — or, in this case, the wooden spoon — to the next generation. This is best made a day ahead to allow the salad to chill thoroughly and the flavors to meld.
12 large boiling potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
1½ cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Paprika for garnish
In a large pot of salted water, boil the potatoes with the skin on, for about 20 minutes. The potatoes are done when they are tender and can be easily pricked with a fork.
Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool. Peel the potatoes and cut them into bite-sized chunks.
Place the potatoes in a large bowl, and add the onion and celery.
Add the mayonnaise and stir gently. Sprinkle white vinegar over the mixture — or use my father-in-law’s trick: If the mayonnaise jar is nearly empty, pour vinegar into the jar, cover it, shake it up and pour the resulting mixture over the potatoes.
Add the salt and pepper, and stir well.
Chill for several hours or overnight. Garnish with the paprika and serve.
This dish is another one that straddles cultures.
Cabbage appears frequently in Jewish cuisine, and it is a rare deli that doesn’t offer a version of slaw with a corned beef sandwich on rye. But Southerners are big on slaw, too — it generally accompanies slabs of brisket or ribs when they come out of the barbecue pit.
This is a standard-issue deli-style coleslaw — no cilantro or kimchi vibes here; there’s just good, familiar southern or Jewish slaw.
Like the potato salad, this dish is best made a day ahead to allow the cabbage to tenderize and the flavors to blend well.
Serves eight to 12
1 head cabbage, shredded
4 carrots, grated
1 small onion, chopped finely
¾ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons pickle juice (dill or sweet depending on your preference)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Chill overnight.
Dessert was a bit of a conundrum in this meal. My mother-in-law believed that the only dessert worth having was plain vanilla ice cream. But kosher diners would not chase chicken with ice cream. My father-in-law was a big fan of fruit compote and poached pears, but for me that doesn’t really scream indulgence. Besides, this meal calls for a casual, picnic-style dessert.
Makes two dozen
2½ sticks margarine
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch pan.
Melt the margarine and add the cocoa powder. Mix in the sugar.
Add the remaining ingredients, stirring well.
Pour the batter into the pan, and bake about 30 minutes until just done.
Cool, cut and enjoy.
Happy Rosh Hashanah!