Out of the blue I decided to have a Rosh Hashanna dinner party. It was sort of my turn to host a dinner for my circle of friends anyway. And I get points for touching on the major Jewish holidays. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t celebrate any of them,” one told me. This tells me that having to endure my mediocre food is a small price to pay in exchange for observing tradition. Whew. That relieves some of the pressure.
Some, not all. But this year I was determined to make it easy for myself. This would be a simple meal: Roast chicken, salad, soup. Everyone else would bring the side dishes, deserts and libation. I made my shopping list, checked it twice, and steeled myself to keep on top of it all on a weeknight.
I found a recipe for roast chicken with pomegranate glaze and rosemary that sounded simple enough. Adapted from a Barbara Kafka favorite, this recipe promised a rich, dark brown bird with a savory gravy brightened by pomegranate seeds. Here it is:
5 to 6 stems of fresh rosemary, and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary.
5-to-6 lb. chicken, excess fat removed, giblets reserved for stock.
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
seeds from 1 pomegranate (about 1 cup)
juice from 1 large or two small pomegranates (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chicken stock
Wash and dry bird. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, garlic and a sprinkle of salt in the cavity. Lay chicken on top of whole rosemary stems in a heavy roasting pan. Pour 1/4 cup pomegranate juice over the chicken and scatter 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary over it. Sprinkle bird with 1 teaspoon salt. Roast for 50 minutes. If the chicken is browning too fast, reduce heat to 400 degrees and open over door for a minute to lower the temperature quickly.
Continue roasting at lower temperature. The chicken should be a gorgeous mahogany brown. Tilt chicken over pan to drain juices, then remove chicken and rosemary sprigs to platter. Spoon out fat. Place pan over medium high heat and pour in chicken stock and remaining 1/4 cup pomegranate juice. Bring this to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Lower heat and simmer for one minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add any juices that have collected on the platter. Pour some juice over the chicken and top with the remaining pomegranate seeds. Serve rest of juices in a sauce-boat. Serves four.
Sounds pretty straightforward. Until one of many variables inherent in the weeknight dinner party occur.
Such as: guests who arrive at different times. People are busy. People get there when they can, after finishing up work, sitting in traffic, picking up kids. How do you keep a chicken warm when you planned on eating at, say, 6:30, but eating doesn’t get underway until an hour later?
How do you manage eight (eight!) starving kids who need their pasta NOW! and you realize that paper plates and cups were not on your shopping list?
How do you cope when the chicken you roasted for 50 minutes per the recipe, which has been sitting in a 200-degree oven for an hour keeping warm, is not, in fact, actually cooked through?
Are you supposed to scrape up the black bits in the bottom of the roasting pan for the sauce? And if so, why does the sauce come out tasting like burnt chicken stock with pomegranate undertones? If you pick black burnt bits from the sauce off the top of a roast chicken when nobody’s looking, does that make you a better home cook than you actually are?
My friends are very forgiving. The carrot and ginger soup from Trader Joe’s was a hit, and even I can make a pretty decent salad out of fancy greens, heirloom tomatoes, feta and toasted walnuts. The chick peas Joey made from a Nigella Lawson recipe were delicious over the cous-cous with cranberries. And the menfolk insisted the chicken, finally on the table after another 20 minutes in the oven, was tender and lip-smacking. I chose to believe them. And I had plenty of alcohol on hand to assist me.
The kids all got ice cream. The adults feasted on apple pie. All store bought. All delicious. And we all gathered around to dip apples into honey while I pontificated in the shallow end about the Jewish New Year.
My New Year’s resolutions: Take some cooking classes. Forget about roasting chickens for a while. And let other people throw the dinner parties.