Ear­li­er this week, June Hersh wrote about her per­fect day, her Jew­ish culi­nary jour­ney and unrav­eled the mys­tery of Jew­ish food. She will be blog­ging all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Author Blog.

As a New York­er, I brave the cracked pave­ment, dodge the deliv­ery­men on bicy­cles and boast of my worn Metro­Card. But there is one mode of trans­porta­tion that, while cost­ly, can be more than a way to get from point A to Point B. I rel­ish my place firm­ly seat­ed and belt­ed into the back of the icon­ic yel­low New York City cab. I proud­ly raise my hand, a lit­tle sweaty in the swel­ter­ing sum­mer heat or snug­gly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare pas­sen­ger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and lim­ou­sine com­mis­sion, but because I want to engage him in con­ver­sa­tion and know­ing his name makes our ride more per­son­al and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invari­ably pol­i­tics aris­es, as most of the cab­bies hail from some­where else and came to Amer­i­ca for a bet­ter life. They are at the same time grate­ful for Amer­i­ca wel­com­ing them and vocal about the mis­han­dling of many cur­rent issues. The typ­i­cal cab­bie has the radio on the entire day and their sta­tions seem to hov­er on talk radio where they are inun­dat­ed with polit­i­cal views and pun­dits weigh­ing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica Queens, they have focused opin­ions and a clear­er under­stand­ing of how pol­i­tics func­tion (or don’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

While I too am fas­ci­nat­ed with cur­rent events, I find my con­ver­sa­tion always turns to food. The intrigu­ing accents prompt me to ask, where are you orig­i­nal­ly from?” I have met dri­vers from just about every region Rand McNal­ly can map. There is no doubt that there are a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of dri­vers from Pak­istan, India, and Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries. From kip­pahs to tur­bans, the dri­vers rep­re­sent their region with pride. On one short ride from the Upper East Side to mid­town Man­hat­tan I had the plea­sure of talk­ing to a Jew­ish cab­bie who imme­di­ate­ly sensed I was Jew­ish as well. We talked about chil­dren and par­ents and then I slipped into the con­ver­sa­tion that I had just com­plet­ed writ­ing a cook­book called The Kosher Car­ni­vore. Ah,” he said, you are the per­fect per­son to end a debate for me.”

Hap­pi­ly,” I replied. He began to tell me that for years his wife would pre­pare kosher chick­en for Shab­bat. When he would offer to stop at a reg­u­lar mar­ket to buy a bird, she would reply adamant­ly, it needs to be a kosher bird.” Why?” he would ask, we’re not kosher.” Oh,” she would reply, what do you know? My moth­er tells me it’s a bet­ter bird.” He then asked me for my informed opinion.

I was in a posi­tion to set­tle an argu­ment that had endured for decades. I could bring glo­ry to the dri­ver who was right in say­ing it didn’t mat­ter or lend cre­dence to his moth­er-in-law who felt it decid­ed­ly did. What to do, what to do??? I find the truth and the facts always work best, so I replied with clear con­vic­tion. A kosher chick­en is superior!”

That’s not only my pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion, but a con­clu­sion reached by America’s test kitchens and pub­lished in their mag­a­zine Cooks Illus­trat­ed. After test­ing a num­ber of well-known brands, they con­clud­ed with­out a doubt that kosher chick­ens are the best. It makes sense. After all, kosher birds are essen­tial­ly brined as a result of the kosher­ing process and while they can be a bit more feath­ered and in need of elec­trol­y­sis when you get them home, they are def­i­nite­ly plumper and juicier.

He looked a bit deject­ed and sor­ry that he ever brought the dis­cus­sion up. I told him he would need to make peace with both his wife and, more hum­bling, with his moth­er-in-law. He then shared with me that his wife had passed sev­er­al years ago and his moth­er-in-law long before that. He now felt he owed them both an apol­o­gy that was impos­si­ble to deliv­er. I apol­o­gized for enlight­en­ing him and end­ing the debate not as he hoped I would. He chuck­led and said, at least the next time I go to Scars­dale for Shab­bat din­ner at my daughter’s, I will be sure to tell her I can stop at the kosher butch­er to pick up the chick­en. She will be so impressed that I knew instinc­tu­al­ly which bird to buy!”

Sim­ple Spatch­cocked Chick­en and roast­ed root vegetables

Grab your dic­tio­nary and you’ll find that spatch­cock is a method of split­ting (but­ter­fly­ing) achick­en. It’s a fun word, which you can use to impress your friends or win at Scrab­ble. If time is crunch­ing, but you want to make a crispy, fla­vor­ful roast chick­en, but­ter­fly­ing is a great option.

Behind the Counter
Have your butch­er, but­ter­fly the chick­ens. You can do this your­self by remov­ing the back­bone and press­ing down on the breast till flat.

Alter­nate cut turkey parts(=$)
About 2 to 4 serv­ings
Start to Fin­ish Under 1 ½ hours

1 (3 1/2 ‑to-4-pound) chick­en
1 to 2 table­spoons olive oil
1 tea­spoon kosher salt
1/2 tea­spoon fresh­ly ground black pep­per
1/2 tea­spoon papri­ka
2 car­rots, peeled and cut into 1‑inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1‑inch pieces
1 medi­um cel­ery root, trimmed, peeled and cut into small dice
1 medi­um leek, split and rinsed, white part only
4 sprigs rose­mary
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 head of gar­lic, unpeeled, with the top cut off
1 to 2 cups chick­en stock
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of half a lemon
1 tea­spoon corn starch

Dry the chick­en and place the bird on a paper tow­el-lined plate, refrig­er­ate, uncov­ered for 1 hour. This can be done ear­li­er in the day, cov­er the chick­en if it sits longer than an hour. When ready to roast, pre­heat the oven to 425 degrees, and take the chick­en out of the fridge. Driz­zle olive oil over the chick­en and sea­son both sides with salt, pep­per and paprika.

Pre­pare the veg­gies by cut­ting the car­rots, parsnips and cel­ery root into 1‑inch thick pieces. For the cel­ery root, remove the Medusa look­ing end and stand the cel­ery root on this flat side. Using a wide knife, cut around the root, hold­ing one hand on top of the cel­ery root and turn­ing it as you go. Cut off the remain­ing end. Cut the cel­ery root into rounds, then into cubes.

For the leeks, remove the tough green ends. Split the leeks down the mid­dle length­wise, andthen cut them length­wise again. Rinse them thor­ough­ly under cold run­ning water, pat dry. Donot sep­a­rate the leeks into strands, they roast bet­ter when they are left intact.

Place the leeks, rose­mary and thyme in the cen­ter of a roast­ing pan. Lay the chick­en, skin side down on top of the leeks. Sprin­kle the car­rots, parsnips, gar­lic and cel­ery root around the chick­en. Driz­zle a lit­tle olive oil over the veg­eta­bles and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Pour 1 cup of stock into the pan.

Roast at 425 degrees, uncov­ered, for 20 min­utes. Using tongs, turn the chick­en over and con­tin­ue roast­ing for 20 min­utes longer. Posi­tion the legs so they slight­ly cov­er the breast, this will help the legs brown while pre­vent­ing the breast from over­cook­ing. Baste the chick­en with the col­lect­ed juices, and roast until a meat ther­mome­ter insert­ed in the thigh por­tion reads 160 to 165 degrees. Remove the chick­ens to a plate, and cov­er loose­ly with foil. They will gain 5 to 10 degrees while resting.

Remove the veg­eta­bles with a slot­ted spoon and cov­er to keep warm. Remove the gar­lic cloves and squeeze the gar­lic from each clove, into the roast­ing pan. Dis­card the out­er skins. Take the roast­ing pan and place it on the stove. Skim off some of the fat, and then add the remain­ing stock, wine, lemon and 1 tea­spoon of corn­starch. Whisk to pick up any brown bits in the pan and incor­po­rate the ingre­di­ents, being sure to mash the gar­lic into the sauce. Heat the sauce until it thick­ens. Spoon the sauce over the chick­en and veg­eta­bles and serve.

June Hersh has been blog­ging all week for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and the Jew­ish Book Council’s Vis­it­ing Scribe. Her new book is The Kosher Car­ni­vore.

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June Hersh is a five-time pub­lished author, with four cook­books and one Holo­caust pho­tog­ra­phy book. She focus­es on food his­to­ry, main­ly the con­nec­tion between Jew­ish expe­ri­ences and food mem­o­ry. June’s books are writ­ten with a char­i­ta­ble fla­vor, as her pro­ceeds ben­e­fit not-for-prof­it Jew­ish-relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions. She has been fea­tured on radio, TV, in print, and hun­dreds of book talks relat­ed to her work.