Any Jewish holiday is defined by the foods that go with it: oven-dried cardboard for a week around April; cheesecake in June, or thereabouts; anything provided that it is eaten in the garden shed with the roof taken off in October; latkes in December. I could go on, for the calendar in a culinary phenomenon. At the same time, though, each family has its own traditions that fit with the mood and requirements of the holiday. It's what marks you out as a family. My family has never been one for doing things by the book, so you'll normally find us eating chicken at New Year, rather than the more usual fish. Fish is seen as lucky, you see. It's how you'll be wanting to start the New Year.
Rosh HaShanah has a fairly wide variety of foodstuffs that are associated with it. Round things are good: they symbolise the turning of the earth, of the seasons, of the completion and beginning again of the year. For the entire month of Tishrei challah, the bread eaten on Shabbat and on festivals, will be round, rather than plaited. Sweet foods are expected too, signifying a sweet year. Apples and honey are the most common. In fact, honey will be used to make hamotzei on that round challah, instead of salt. It will be honey cake served with tea. Foods that are dark, or bitter, or sour are avoided, though. No black olives, no endive.
This recipe was something that I first produced for Rosh HaShannah many years ago. It was my attempt to create something that covered as many bases — cultural and familial — as possible: chicken, apples, and honey. When we sat around the table to eat all that I could say was: 'I have no idea how I intended this dish to turn out, but it wasn't like this.' There was nothing inherently bad about my first attempt at this dish, it just wasn't right. I knew that I had the basis of a recipe there, but it was going to require perseverance. After years of experimenting, I've finally hit upon a recipe that crosses the bridge between palate and imagination.
Quite a few British people I know have an aversion to eating fruit with meat, I think that it is associated with the mixing of sweet and savoury flavours. Growing up in a Sephardi household I am entirely accustomed to it: dried fruit is frequently added to meat dishes. Furthermore, chicken with apples is something commonplace in Normandy. This dish does not come out overly-sweet, as the apples are balanced by the mustard, wine, and thyme, but it does certainly appease the taste buds towards the front of your mouth. If you do try it, please let me know what you think.
It's probably quite important to warn you that I very rarely measure anything when I cook: I go by what looks, feels, and tastes right. I suppose I expect you to do the same with this recipe: if the apples are small, add another; if you want a stronger mustard flavour, increase it, if you think it needs more thyme, go for it. Whatever works for you. This recipe will serve four people comfortably, eight if you need to economise. If you are not meat-eaters, then Quorn fillets work well as a substitute. If you'd rather not use wine then use chicken or vegetable stock.
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
- 8 chicken thighs, boned or bone-in, it's up to you. You could use breast if you prefer.
- 4 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced in 1.5cm cubes
- Somewhere around half a bottle of white wine, preferably dry. Whatever you'll be drinking with the meal goes best.
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 heaped tspn mustard, grain or Dijon
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
Begin by heating the oil in a large, preferably shallow, flameproof casserole and cooking the onions until translucent. Then add the chicken pieces and seal them in the hot oil. Remove the chicken to a plate, lower the flame to something much slower and deglaze the pan with roughly half a glassful of the wine. When all the sticky bits that were on the bottom of the pan are now incorporated into the wine and forming the basis of a sauce stir in the honey and mustard and add the apples, thyme, and seasoning. Return the chicken to the pan, pour over the rest of the wine. Increase the flame slightly to something slow-medium, cover the pan, and allow it cook over a gentle heat until the chicken is ready. I'd allow between twenty minutes and a half-hour, but this will vary depending on the bone being in or out of your meat.
When the chicken is tender and there is no pink meat, remove the lid of the pan and raise the heat to allow the sauce to thicken slightly and make sure that the apples are soft. You should be able to squash them against the side of the pan using a wooden spoon. This shouldn't take very long as you're not looking for a very thick sauce. Well, maybe you'd prefer a thicker, more puree-like sauce. The choice is yours. Don't forget, cooking is about what works for you. Oh, that's it. I don't think that I've forgotten anything.
I always serve this with mashed potato, although I've no idea why, broccoli, because my brother likes it, and carrots, because they always seem to be lurking somewhere, and look pretty on the plate.