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Mediterranean Roast Chicken

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By Barbara Beltrami

You know, for a long time now, Jewish cuisine around here has been mostly from descendants of Central European and Russian immigrants; consequently, when we think of Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, we think of traditional holiday fare passed down from ancestors who came from those countries. 

But there are Jewish populations all over the world, and some of them have immigrated here in recent years and brought their own holiday fare with them. So this year, I’m going to integrate their traditions into my Hanukkah menus, and I hope you will too. 

I’m thinking that the ubiquitous roast chicken is the perfect way to highlight the special flavors of various other Jewish cuisines. A favorite version of that would be one with dried fruit and almonds from Morocco or a lemony Mediterranean one. But I’d also love to try a recipe for Chinese roast chicken that I am told goes back to the Jewish colony in Shanghai many years ago. Can I make roast chicken three out of the eight nights of Hanukkah? The flavors are all so different, why not?

Moroccan Roast Chicken

YIELD: Makes 4 servings


1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup pitted prunes

3/4 cup dried dates

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

One 4 to 5 pound whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3/4 to 1 cup water

1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds


In large cast iron skillet heat half the oil over medium-high heat; add onions and, stirring occasionally, cook until deep golden brown, about half an hour. Transfer to large bowl, add dried fruit, sugar and cinnamon. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread fruit mixture over bottom of large roasting pan. Rub chicken with remaining oil, turmeric, and salt and pepper; pour water around chicken and roast for one hour. 

Rotate pan and add more water, a little at a time, if fruit mixture is starting to dry out; roast another 45 minutes, until chicken is browned and juices run clear when thigh joint is pierced. Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Transfer with any juices to warmed platter, sprinkle with almonds, arrange fruit around edges and serve with Israeli couscous. 

Mediterranean Roast Chicken

YIELD: Makes 4 servings


1/4 cup olive oil

Juice from one freshly squeezed lemon

Grated zest from one lemon 

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

One 3 1/2 to 4 pound roasting chicken, washed and patted dry

4 garlic cloves

1 onion, quartered


Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl combine the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, salt and pepper; rub mixture inside chicken cavity and all over outside of chicken. Stuff cavity with remains of lemon, garlic and onion, sprinkle outside with more salt and pepper and place breast side up on rack in roasting pan. Roast 50 to 60 minutes, until skin is dark golden and juices run clear when thigh joint is pierced with a fork. Serve with roasted potatoes.

Shanghai Roast Chicken

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings


1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon dried mustard

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 whole 4 to 5 pound roasting chicken, rinsed and patted dry


In small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except the chicken. Transfer to large resealable bag; add chicken and turn to evenly coat with spice mixture. Rotating every few hours, refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Reserving marinade, place chicken on wire rack in roasting pan and roast 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours until dark golden brown and thigh juices run clear when pierced with a fork. 

In medium saucepan, heat marinade to boiling and occasionally baste chicken with it. Remove from oven, let sit 10 minutes, then carve and serve with rice and grilled scallions.