Have you ever been bitten by a chicken? No? Chicken don’t bite? Are you sure? What about figuratively, rather than literally, when a whole bunch of people, almost three million of them, got bitten, that is, obsessed, by the same idea? It happened about thirty three hundred years ago, and those people were by no means hungry. In fact, they have just escaped harsh slavery in Egypt, witnessed the entire Egyptian army drowned, accepted the Divine Law – the Torah – and were fed miraculous food, Man (Manna from Heaven). It looked like pearl barley and it tasted “like pastry baked in honey” (Exodus 16:31).
Actually, they didn’t even need sun block, as they were surrounded by a Divine Cloud that provided an equivalent of perfect climate control, in the same way as Man was the Divine Food that offered perfect nourishment. But you know human nature! The same, albeit perfect, food for forty years, day in and day out? Nah, we want variety. We can just imagine a bite of chicken breast, tender and juicy, flavored just right and cooked to perfection – ahhhh!
“No problem, guys!” – said the A-mighty, and in His infinite Wisdom and Kindness, made Man taste “like whatever one imagined” (Ibid.)
To commemorate those forty years in the desert, every year we build booths called Sukkoth and dwell (or at least eat) in them for eight days. This is not a photo of our Sukkah (Google image credit), but ours looks exactly like that. Climate control clouds would’ve been extremely helpful in South Florida, but a couple of fans, strategically positioned, serve us and our guests just fine.
I think I’ve been bitten by a chicken too, but my idea was to flavor it with honey. Honey plays a significant role in Judaism, to the extent that on Rosh Hashana, the Head of the Year, AKA the Jewish New Year, we dip first challah, and then apple into honey, for a sweet year. In my family tradition, we dip challah in honey instead of salt until the end of Sukkoth. But first I dipped my chicken bites into flour. I discovered this great kosher GF flour that works beautifully with every recipe, so I cut a couple of chicken breasts into bite size cubes and dusted them with it. You can use regular all-purpose flour, if you prefer.
Then I covered them and baked them for twenty minutes at 350 F. Remember to mist your baking pan with oil, and mist the chicken bites on top as well, before putting them in the oven. Uncover and bake them for five more minutes.
Meanwhile, we can flavor honey with soy sauce, lemon juice, and grated ginger. A few hundred years after the forty-year desert experience, a great judge and hero Shimshon (Samson) posed a famous riddle: “From the devourer came forth food; and from the strong came out sweetness” (Shoiftim 14). The riddle was based on a curious incident. Walking in the desert (here is the desert again!), Shimshon killed a lion who was attacking him – literally tore the lion apart with his bare hands!- and, having returned to that spot after a while, found bees who made their home in the lion’s belly. The bees, as the bees do, were busily producing honey, teaching us an important concept: from the negative comes positive – the sweetness of honey.
Let’s pour our flavored honey over chicken bites and sprinkle some sesame seeds, for a little crunch. Five more minutes in the oven; meanwhile, let’s get into the fun part of Sukkoth – shaking the Lulav and Ethrog.
The “Four Kinds” or “Four Species” that you see being shaken symbolize the unity of different kinds of people, different levels of knowledge, different customs, traditions, beliefs, and observances. We all come together in the Sukkah, surrounded by blessings, and sending blessings every day to all people of the world.
This is how I will serve my Honey Chicken Bites tomorrow, when the holiday starts. They could be served as an appetizer or a main course, and they are equally delicious hot, warm, or cold. With this not exactly miraculous, but very meaningful food I wish Hag Sameach, a Freileche Yom Tov – a happy holiday to one and all!
- 2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cubed bite size
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (gluten free or regular)
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 inch (2.5 cm) ginger, grated
- Sesame seeds to sprinkle
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly mist baking pan with oil.
- Dredge chicken bites through flour. Shake off excess flour, place chicken bites on baking sheet, mist them with oil, cover, bake for 20 minutes.
- Uncover chicken bites, bake for 5 minutes.
- Mix honey with soy sauce, lemon juice, and ginger. Pour over chicken bites, sprinkle with sesame seeds, bake for 5 minutes.
- Serve hot, warm, or cold.