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A Chicken in Every (Israeli) Pot

January 25, 2007 By:
Rivka Tal, JE Feature
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I guess we can never really trust everything we learned in school. Take this item, for instance: According to the official Hoover archives, Herbert Hoover did not really promise "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" during the 1928 presidential campaign.

The link between Hoover and the phrase "a chicken in every pot" can be traced to a paid advertisement that apparently originated with the Republican National Committee, who inserted it into a number of newspapers during the 1928 campaign.

Hoover did make a variety of optimistic statements during the campaign, such as, "the slogan of progress is changing from the full-dinner pail to the full garage," but he never mentioned "a chicken in every pot."

I guess he never visited the Jewish state.

During my very first few days in Israel more than 40 years ago, I looked up some old-timer-immigrants on a moshav in the central area of the country. Transplanted from the American Midwest, they were now certified chicken farmers. I was amazed to hear that they had chicken for dinner in the pot ... every single day.

I soon discovered that they were not alone. Chicken was then -- and still is -- the standard Israeli main course. Everywhere. From institutions to wedding halls to individual kitchens, you can be sure to find the reva-auf ("quarter of a chicken") the No. 1 item on the menu.

Here's another news item for you: Israeli chickens are much tastier than their U.S. counterparts. I make taste tests on my yearly visits to the States. I don't know what it is, but perhaps that can help explain why the consumption of poultry in Israel has been on the rise since 1998.

According to the economists of Dun & Bradstreet, there has been an increase of 14.3 pounds annual consumption per capita in the Jewish state in the past eight years, which brings the total consumption per person to more than 79.2 pounds annually.

In comparison to other countries in the world, France and Italy consume one-third of the poultry as compared to Israel, whereas in Canada, consumption is similar to Israel. In the United States, however, the consumption stands at 40.8 kilos (89.76 pounds) per person annually, the highest in the world.

Israel produces more than 300,000 tons of chicken and some 100,000 tons of turkey per year. Chicken meat constitutes about 78 percent of all meat consumption in Israel, followed by beef with only 10 percent, turkey with 8 percent, lamb with less than 1 percent and miscellaneous other meats. (Israel lacks grazing areas for cows, you see.)

Interestingly enough, most Israelis prefer the dark meat of the chicken. They request the pulke -- the leg -- and the "triangle thigh." I don't know if a scientific study on this was ever done, but I believe that most Americans prefer white meat.

Chicken breasts in this country are used mainly for breaded-and-fried schnitzel. There are, of course, more health-conscious ways to prepare chicken breasts.

We buy whole chickens -- a case at a time. My son sharpens the knives, and proceeds to cut up and package the chicken for the freezer as follows; first, legs and thighs; then breasts, wings and bones. Bones make the best soup, of course, along with chunks of veggies and herbs: potato, pumpkin, zucchini, parsley, sage, etc.

There are zillions of chicken recipes. Here are a few favorites:

Sesame Chicken Wings

(Meat)

24 chicken wings
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp. red-pepper flakes
11/4 tsps. black pepper
3 Tbsps. soy sauce
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsps. oil
2 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Cut chicken wings in half at joint. (Use the wing tips to make chicken broth.) Trim excess fat, rinse and pat dry. Spread in a shallow food-storage container with a tight-fitting lid.

Place the onion and garlic in a food processor equipped with metal blade. Chop briefly.

Add remaining ingredients, except for sesame seeds. Combine in processor, scraping sides, if necessary.

Pour the onion mixture over the chicken; stir to coat all the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the broiler.

Remove chicken from marinade and place on broiler rack.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Broil for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until chicken tests done.

Makes 4 to 6 main servings, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Herbed Apricot Chicken

(Meat)

1 chicken, cut into eighths
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. finely chopped dried mixed herbs (divided)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 egg, beaten, with 2 tsps. water
1/4 cup oil
1 cup semi-dry kosher white wine
1 package (6 oz.) dried apricots, halved

Rinse chicken with cold water and pat dry.

Combine breadcrumbs, garlic, half of herbs, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Dip the pieces of chicken in the egg-water mixture.

Place chicken pieces, 2 to 3 at a time, in plastic bag. Close and shake to coat well on all sides. Remove and set aside. Repeat until all pieces are coated.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Cook chicken, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 25 minutes, or until chicken tests done. Remove chicken to warm platter; cover and keep warm.

Add the wine, apricots, and remaining fresh herbs to skillet. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is reduced to half, about 10 minutes.

Pour over chicken and serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Nut-Date Stuffed Chicken Breasts

(Meat)

This dish is much easier to make than it may seem upon first glance, and looks and tastes very special. Use your favorite nuts, though pistachios are a perfect foil for the subtle sweetness of dates. A kitchen shears makes it much easier to cut the dates -- dip it into a glass of water when necessary.

4 whole large chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and halved lengthwise
31/2 oz. pistachio nuts, shelled and roughly chopped
31/2 oz. dates, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup semi-dry kosher white wine

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly grease a shallow, rectangular baking dish.

Place chicken pieces, boned-side up, between two layers of clear plastic wrap. Working from center out, pound chicken lightly with a mallet to make pieces about 1/4-inch thick.

Peel off the wrap.

Combine the nuts, dates and seasonings in a small bowl.

Place 1 tablespoon of mixture in the center of each prepared chicken piece. Tuck in the sides and roll up, as for a jellyroll, pressing to seal well. Transfer to the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining pieces.

Drizzle with vegetable oil and wine. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until tender. Remove from oven.

Either serve immediately, or chill in refrigerator for at least two hours, then slice crosswise with a sharp knife for a "pinwheel" effect.

Serves 8.

Rivka Tal is a food writer based in Jerusalem.

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