My grandmother used to tell me that in the ancient times, before the destruction of the Bais haMikdash, there were bitter conflicts over a traditional Galilean delicacy, chicken cooked in milk. Galileans, presumably, were defending their right to their ancestral recipe, asserting that chicken is not meat, and therefore, it shouldn’t be a problem combining it with milk. The actual war that ultimately led to the destruction of the second Temple and our subsequent exile, claimed my grandmother, started with these conflicts. I believed her – what wouldn’t you believe when you are little and are listening to fascinating stories spun by your bubbe.
I grew older and got a hold of Josephus’ Judean Wars. Not only was he there, but he was also a very active participant in those events, albeit not in a very noble role. Not only was he tasked with a mission to record for history the account of the war, but he also ended up being the only historian on the scene whose account survived. Sure, he was a traitor, and most of the times we don’t even like to mention his name, but the fact remains – he was there! At some point he even held an important official position in Galilee. If a chicken baked in milk in a clay pot truly caused a major upheaval in human history, shouldn’t he have mentioned something about it? He does mention the recipe, briefly, but as nothing more than a local curiosity.
Not willing to contradict my grandmother, I kept my mouth shut, but filed this bit under “bubbe mainses.” (A propos, “bubbe mainses” has nothing to do with grandmothers; etimologically, it comes from stories, or “mainses” about the heroic adventures of Prince Bova, or Bubbe, in Yiddish pronunciation). Grandmother, however, tried to experiment while keeping within the kosher prohibition of mixing meat with milk. She tried to bake chicken in mayonnaise, which is not a bad idea, and I’ll post a recipe pretty soon. It was not what she was trying to accomplish, though. To this day, I don’t know the reason for her determination to get this challenge beat somehow, but here in the US, I did it!
We start with veggies. Spray your pot with oil lightly and cover the bottom with a thin layer of diced tomatoes. Next, a “zhmen’ke” (that’s a handful – a very exact measure used by my grandmother) of grated carrots and the same amount of coarsely chopped bell pepper.
Just look at these mushrooms! They are practically asking to be used for something delicately delicious (sometimes I surprise myself with my own silliness!). They go into the pot next, cut into large chunks. I am usually generous with garlic – Jewish penicillin – and a few celery leaves will only be helpful. In the background, you see an unmarked ziplock bag. That’s my collection of cut stems of various herbs, mixed together and frozen. I use them for soups, stews, and casseroles.
Pieces of chicken minus skin are arranged on top of the vegetables. Now comes the paradoxical part – chicken baked in milk without mixing meat and milk. Historically, as I have discovered much later, one of these disputes is mentioned in the Gemorrah (Talmud Bavli, Hullin, 116a), where Rabbi Jose of Galilee specifically argues with Rabbi Akiva about this ancient recipe. That occurred in the early 100’s. By the 500’s, at the time of the completion of the Talmud, the prohibition was so strongly entrenched that the recipe was almost eradicated even from the books. Certainly today, following the Rambam’s injunction, we won’t even think of serving chicken on a plate used for something dairy. But this is America, and everything is possible – “What a country!” exclaimed Yakov Smirnov on national television.
Enough mystery, secret revealed – Tofutti! Fake pareve soy imitation of sour cream called Sour Supreme. Some cinnamon and cumin, salt and pepper, and a nice splash or two of sweet red wine. This is Rashi Light that we use for Kiddush, but any sweet red wine will do, if it’s not too heavy. Mix it up really well, making sure that the chicken pieces are coated with Tofutti, cover tightly, and bake. Alternatively, you can use your crock pot or pressure cooker. I have a microwave pressure cooker that enables me to save a lot of time and preserve all the juices and intense taste of food.
Served on a bed of quinoa, with a glass of chilled, crisp Alfasi Chardonnay, it makes a delicious and unusual main dish.
- 1 whole chicken, cut up in 8 pieces or equivalent weight of chicken thighs or quarters
- 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup grated carrots
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped bell pepper
- 1 lb mushrooms, cut in large chunks
- 3 -4 cloves garlic, squeezed
- 1/2 cup of mixed herbs, to taste
- 1/2 cup Tofutti Sour Supreme
- 1/4 cup of sweet red wine
- Cinnamon and cumin to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 350 (if you are using crock pot, turn on high)
- Lightly spray pot with oil, cover bottom of the pot with diced tomatoes
- Add grated carrots and chopped peppers
- Add mushrooms, garlic, and herbs
- Arrange chicken pieces on top of vegetables
- Add Tofutti Sour Supreme and wine
- Season, mix well and cover tightly
- Bake in oven for 40 minutes, in a crock pot for 20 minutes on high, then turn to low and cook for at least 4 hours or until ready, in a pressure cooker 20 minutes total