Jewish holidays in posh restaurants? These days it’s not a surprise.
In fact, Hanukkah celebration menus can be seen in select fine dining restaurants in New York, and Passover seders are common for Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles — he has closed Spago and celebrated the ritual meal there for several years.
When I was executive chef at many high-end restaurants, it was my pleasure to present special menus for the holidays — I especially enjoyed the eight sparkling nights of Hanukkah, with our practice of having guests light the many menorahs positioned around the restaurant throughout the evening.
The special menus were not only enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish guests, they were “educational” for the staff as well, the majority of whom had never celebrated Hanukkah.
Here are some recipes from the 1993 Hanukkah celebration at the Painted Table in Seattle, which first appeared in the Hanukkah edition of the Jewish Transcript for 1993:
Potato, Sweet Potato and Apple Latkes served with a Maple-Brandy Pear Sauce and Crème Fraiche
3 med. potatoes, peeled and held in cold water
3 med. yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and held in cold water
2 med. onions, peeled and quartered
3 tart apples
2 to 6 Tbs. potato starch, flour or matzoh meal
4 whole eggs or 6 yolks
2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
vegetable oil for frying
Grate the potatoes by hand or with the grating blade of a food processor. Place in a strainer over a bowl and leave for a few minutes to catch all the liquid given off by the potatoes (containing the potato starch you’ll use later). Meanwhile, grate the sweet potatoes and drain in the same way as the potatoes, finely grate the onions by hand or in the food processor and grate the apples coarsely, covering them as soon as they are grated with tight plastic wrap (right on the surface of the apples) to prevent browning.
Mix the grated potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples and onions together in a large bowl. Carefully pour the drained liquids from the grated potatoes off the potato starch, which will have collected in the bottoms of the bowls. Discard the liquid and measure the remaining starch. Add enough more potato starch, matzoh meal or all-purpose flour to make about 6 to 8 Tbs. and add it all to the potato mixture. Beat the eggs until frothy and add along with the baking powder, salt, pepper and spices. Mix thoroughly but gently to avoid breaking up the potatoes and apples too much. You may hold the batter in the fridge, well-covered, for up to and hour, but it will turn brown if you wait too long to cook the latkes.
To cook the latkes, heat 3 Tbs. of oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over moderate heat until it shimmers (be sure not to let the oil get too hot or the latkes will burn before cooking through). Spoon 2 Tbs. of batter into the pan for each latke, flatten slightly with the back of a spatula, and cook three to four minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Drain briefly on paper towels and hold in a 220º oven till all the latkes are cooked (and the cooks are full from eating scraps!) Serve with the pear sauce that follows, or a fruit or applesauce you particularly like and, for a dairy meal, plain sour cream, sour cream mixed with yogurt and vanilla or crème fráiche (recipe follows). I also like to use these latkes as a side dish for meats and poultry during Hanukkah. Cooked latkes freeze well but the batter doesn’t keep, so cook the whole batch up at once and freeze what you don’t use. Freeze them in a single layer and bag them in reclosable freezer bags when completely frozen. Thaw at room temperature or in a slow oven (250º) and heat at 350º when thawed. You can also heat just a couple of latkes in a toaster oven, from frozen to “toasted.”
Serves 6 at a latke party
Pear Sauce with Brandy and Maple Syrup (or Honey)
10 ripe D’Anjou or Bartlett pears
1 cup fresh apple cider, or pear or raspberry cider
juice of 1 orange or 1/2 lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup pure maple syrup or honey
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup brandy, cognac, Poire William (pear liqueur), B & B, Gran Marnier or your favorite liqueur
Peel and core the pears and cut into 1-1/2” pieces. Put into a non-reactive (enamel, stainless steel or Calphalon-type) 3-quart pot with the cider, the cinnamon sticks and the maple syrup or honey. Cook over moderate heat till the pears are quite soft and mushy. Add the citrus juice and simmer 5 minutes longer. Remove the cinnamon sticks and puree through a food mill or in a food processor till the sauce is very smooth. Add more maple syrup, honey or citrus juice to taste. Stir in the liqueur or vanilla and serve warm or chilled.
Makes 6 cups
Homemade Crème Fraiche
3 cups heavy (or whipping) cream — half and half will not work
1/4 cup buttermilk or 3 Tbs. lemon juice
Mix together the cream and buttermilk or lemon juice in a small, clean, non-reactive bowl with a clean whisk — just stir till well mixed. Do not whip. Place in a warm spot in the kitchen (or anywhere in the house), do not cover. Let sit overnight or eight to 12 hours without disturbing. The crème fráiche should be almost as thick as sour cream, or as thick as heavy pancake batter. If it is still not “made” stir in a little more buttermilk or lemon juice and let sit another four - six hours. Cover and refrigerate before using. Will keep up to 10 days if well chilled. Do not freeze.
Makes 3 cups
For many of my restaurant Hanukkah celebrations, I paired latkes with a “dressed-up” beef brisket. Here is one version, a sweet-sour “sauerbraten” type:
Brisket of Beef Braised in Red Wine with Prunes, Apricots and Ginger
1 5 lb. beef brisket or chuck roast
1-1/2” piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in fine strips
2 cups dry red wine (for kosher, Bartenura or Herzog make some lovely dry reds)
2 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
3 Tbs. Dijon or coarse ground prepared mustard
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1/4 cups brown sugar
1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs. vegetable oil for searing the meat
2 large onions, peeled, halved lengthwise (stem to root) and sliced crosswise into thin strips
16 large prunes, soak in hot water until soft (you can add some brandy if you like)
18 dried apricots, soaked like the prunes then halved
1-1/2 to 2 cups water or salt-free beef stock
Ground allspice and black pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 325º. Mix ginger, red wine, salt, mustard, garlic, bay, brown sugar and vinegar. Pour over the beef and marinate overnight. Drain off the marinade, reserve it and pat the meat dry. Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid (you can also use a 4-quart stove-top pot with a tight-fitting lid. Season the meat with salt, pepper and allspice and sear on all sides. Add the onions, then pour the marinade over the meat and add the water or stock. Bring to a boil, cover and put into the 325º oven and cook for one hour. If cooking on top of the stove, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook very slowly for one hour. Add the prunes and apricots and cook one hour more, or until the meat is very tender (up to 3-1/2 hours or more, adding more liquid as needed). When done, the meat should be easily separated with a fork. Remove the meat from the sauce and keep warm. Strain out the fruit and keep warm, covered. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil and, using a large tablespoon, skim off the fat that collects to the side of the boil. Discard the fat, and simmer the sauce for about five minutes. Slice or gently pull apart the meat, spoon over the prunes, apricots and onions and serve with the sauce.
Serves 6 to 8
Have a light-filled, happy Hanukkah with some great food! Enjoy and I’ll have some new thoughts and recipes in the New Year!