As soon as I publicly announced my New Year’s blogolutions, it was only a matter of time before I just as publicly failed to execute any of them. If you had your money on week one in the When Does Maya Follow Through pool, you wouldn’t have been throwing it away—I do like to procrastinate.
I’d say it’s better late than never, but even this first installment in my cookbook chronicles is kind of a cheat—I made this dish in 2011.
As a card-carrying member of the tribe, it’s in my DNA to crave Chinese food at Christmas time. So, for Christmas Eve (do Jews really celebrate Christmas Eve? We do, it turns out, when Christmas Eve falls on the fifth night of Hanukkah) dinner, my mom and I put together a winter-holiday mashup of a feast: Peking chicken (who has time for duck?) and latkes.
The latkes were the only immutable menu selection—it’s not often that I’m home for the holidays, and I dream of my mother’s potato pancakes—but we hadn’t yet chosen an accompaniment. Inspiration struck while flipping through my newly acquired copy of Essential Pepin, a holiday gift, given with the ever-so-slight fear of enabling my cookbook-hoarding tendencies, from my mother. A short list of ingredients and the opportunity to dovetail two Jewish traditions? I was sold.
While I was whisking together the four ingredients (balsamic vinegar, honey, soy, and Tabasco) that would be the basting sauce for the chicken, Mom did the hard work. Using the ingredient list from her mother’s recipe (straight from that classic Jewish cooking bible) and the methodology from a recipe clipped, years ago, from the Washington Post, potatoes were boiled and grated, batter was mixed, oil was heated, and batter was fried.
Per tradition, the first batch wasn’t quite right—or so we told ourselves as we broke off a bite or two, just to make sure.
Even given the oil splatters and ensuing kitchen mess, it’s a wonder that we don’t think to eat latkes year-round. There’s nothing like a fresh-out-of-the-pan fried potato.
They stole the show, in fact—the chicken turned out to be something of an afterthought. A word of warning: Low-sodium soy sauce is not the way to go here. Though the meat was juicy and moist, it practically begged for more salt.
Luckily, the latkes were more than willing to take center stage. Best supporting player, hands down.
By Jacques Pepin, from Essential Pepin
1 chicken, about 4 pounds
1½ teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
12 ounces small button mushrooms, cleaned
½ cup water
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large pot.
2. Meanwhile, remove the wishbone from the chicken. Fold the wings of the chicken under its back and truss it with kitchen twine to help maintain the bird’s compact shape.
3. Lower the chicken breast side down into the boiling water. Return the water to a boil over high heat (this will take about 3 minutes). As soon as the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer the chicken gently for 2 minutes. Drain and place the chicken breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan.
4. Mix the honey, soy sauce, Tabasco, and vinegar together in a small bowl. Brush the chicken on all sides with some of the mixture. Roast breast side up for about 30 minutes.
5. Brush the breast side of the chicken again with the honey mixture, then roast for another 30 minutes.
6. Arrange the mushrooms in one layer under the rack in the pan and add the water. Brush the chicken with the remaining honey mixture and roast for 15 minutes longer.
7. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Pour the accumulated juices and the mushrooms into a saucepan. Let stand for 2-3 minutes, then spoon off as much fat from the surface as possible, and reheat if necessary.
8. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the juices and mushrooms.
4 large potatoes (or enough for 2 cups when ground)
A pinch of baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons flour
1. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Turn heat to high and allow to come to boil. As soon as potatoes are boiling, put a kitchen timer on for 10 minutes.
2. When timer rings, remove potatoes from stove and cover with cold water. Drain immediately, then cover again with cold water. Let sit five minutes. Then remove and pat dry.
3. Using a hand shredder or food processor fitted with a medium disc, shred potatoes (with skins on). The potatoes should be slightly softened, but still firm enough to produce shreds. (If the peel separates from the potato, discard it. If the peel gets grated in with the potatoes, incorporate it into the mixture.)
4. In a large bowl, blend shredded potatoes, grated onion, beaten eggs, flour, salt, pepper and baking powder.
5. Place newspaper on work surface (near frying area) and cover with a few paper towels. [We use a layer or two of paper towels on a baking sheet.]
6. In a large deep skillet (you can use a Dutch oven to avoid splatters), pour in enough vegetable oil to about half to two-thirds filled. If using an electric fry pan, set the temperature to 350 or 375 degrees, depending on how fast you want the pancakes to cook.
7. Drop potato batter by teaspoons (for small ones) or soup spoonfuls in dollops, flattening slightly with a metal spatula if desired. Brown one side, turn once, and complete cooking on other side. (These cook remarkably quickly, so take care not to overbrown them.) Try to achieve a puffy center while retaining some crisp shreds of potato on edges. Eat right away or freeze. To reheat, place latkes on a large wire cake rack on a cookie sheet. Warm at 250 degrees until crisp.