It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without fried foods like potato pancakes (latkes), jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot) and chicken schnitzel. These foods are prepared and eaten throughout the holiday to celebrate the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. As the legend goes, a small quantity of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasted eight days.
We all love crunchy fried foods whether it’s Hanukkah or not. A particular favorite of mine is chicken schnitzel. Many cultures have their version of breaded, pan-fried cutlets — Italy’s chicken parmigiana, Japan’s chicken Katsu, Puerto Rico’s chicken empanizado, or Austria’s national dish, wiener schnitzel.
Schnitzel found its way with European Jews to Israel, where it is extremely popular all year long. Fried chicken cutlets are surprisingly fast and easy to make, and it’s a dish children will love. It makes an appealing main dish, a filling for a sandwich, or a topping for pasta or salad.
The first step to breading chicken is important; make sure the chicken is completely dry before starting the dredging process. Pat the meat dry on all sides using a paper towel. Use one hand for the dry ingredients and the other for the wet.
Coat the chicken cutlets with flour (I prefer finely ground instant Wondra), rice flour or cornstarch, and shake off any excess. The schnitzel recipe below skips this step. Then dip them in beaten egg, and finally coat them thoroughly and completely with bread crumbs, panko, matzoh meal, cornmeal, or cereal crumbs. Grated Parmesan cheese, grated lemon rind, or herbs can be added to the crumb mixture.
Pat them firmly and set them aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the layers to bond. Heat the oil or fat until hot before adding the chicken, leaving plenty of space between the cutlets. Adjust heat so chicken cooks rapidly but the coating does not burn. Have plenty of patience: Don’t try to turn the chicken until the bottom is golden brown. Gently loosen the pieces with a wide spatula, and turn and cook the other side for the same amount of time. Transfer them to a plate.
Yield: Serves 4
Adapted from “Israeli Soul, Easy, Essential, Delicious” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, Rus Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($35). The zesty citrus aromas and flavors and balanced acidity of Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley sauvignon blanc ($27) will complement this dish very well.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons Hawaij Spice Blend (see below)
2 cups matzo meal
2 teaspoons plus a pinch of kosher salt
¼ cup canola oil
Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally and pound (with a mallet or the back of a heavy pan) to an even ¼-inch thickness.
In a shallow baking dish, beat the eggs with the hawaij.
Place the chicken in the dish and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.
Place the matzo meal in a shallow dish and stir in the 2 teaspoons salt. Dredge the chicken in the matzo meal and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, one or two pieces at a time, and cook until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Drain the chicken on paper towels, transfer to a plate, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
Serve hot in pitas with avocado, tomato, and za’atar, or on a platter with Yellow Rice, Chopped Salad, and Herbed Tahini Sauce.
Hawaij Spice Blend
Yield: ½ cup
¼ cup turmeric
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Combine in a small bowl and mix well. Store in a covered jar.
Herbed Tahini Sauce
Yield: 1½ cups
½ cup tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
½ cup water
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove optional
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped chives
¼ cup chopped basil
Combine ingredients in a food processor until smooth and creamy.