Why is chicken so incredibly popular on Jewish tables around the world? Maybe it's that it's among the few kosher bird species that is widely domesticated, or perhaps it's that historically, chicken has been a more readily available and affordable source of animal protein than beef, lamb, or sheep. Maybe people just find them tasty and easy to cook with. Whatever the reasons, one common thread—and possibly a major factor in why these poultry dishes became iconic—is that many were reserved for Shabbat and holidays, which upgraded the status of chicken from plain to celebratory and turned it into a traditional fixture on festive tables within the community.
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Chicken soup has a near-universal appeal; recipes for the golden elixir are found in cultures around the world. But if there's a version with major crossover recognition, chicken matzo ball soup, aka "Jewish Penicillin," is a top contender. The Ashkenazi classic is oft-cited as the epitome of an iconic Jewish food (though as a diaspora cuisine, Jewish food culture is remarkably broader). But what's also interesting is that the matzo meal-based dumplings that set this soup apart make a decidedly niche holiday ingredient a year-round fixture on grocery shelves.
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Whole roasted chicken is a fixture on countless Friday night Shabbat dinner tables, but why? One important factor is that historically, access to meat was a luxury for many, and was therefore often reserved for Shabbat. Traditionalists may make it the same way week after week, but the beauty of roasted chicken is that once you've mastered the basic technique, it's an easy recipe to adapt. Take a no-frills approach, as with this simple roast chicken; surround your bird with seasonal vegetables or punch up the flavor with aromatics like citrus and spices.
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Schnitzel, a German dish traditionally made with veal, is incredibly popular in Israel, where immigrants from Germany adapted the recipe using chicken, vegetable cutlets and even tofu. But breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlets are perhaps the most iconic version, though oven-baked schnitzel is common as well.
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A staple of the Moroccan Jewish Shabbat table, chicken with preserved lemon and olives is a wonderfully aromatic dish. Though traditionally cooked in a tagine this recipe also has instructions on how to cook it in the oven. Serve it over steamed couscous, which will sop up all of the delectable sauce.
If you can't find kosher-certified preserved lemons, you can make your own. Just remember it takes about a month before they'll be ready to use, so plan ahead.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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Plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan, is also a signature dish of the Bukharan Jews of Central Asia. Often slow-cooked in a wood-burning oven, it is served to guests as a symbol of hospitality, for holidays and at special life events including weddings. There are lots of variations on plov, but the Bukharan version eschews dairy ingredients and non-kosher meats in favor of oil and lamb, beef or chicken. Special occasion additions to the layered dish can get quite elaborate, though this simple chicken version is easy enough to make on a weeknight.
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Doro Wat, the national dish of Ethiopia, is also the traditional Shabbat dish of the Beta Israel Jews. The slow-cooked chicken stew features lots of onions, spice and whole in-shell eggs that cook in the stew. If you give this Doro Wat recipe a go, opt for oil if you want to keep things kosher.
It's interesting to note, though, that because the Ethiopian Jewish community was both ancient and isolated, the Talmudic-era prohibition against mixing dairy and chicken was not historically observed, and using niter kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter, would not have been forbidden in that community.