Continuing with our Italian Hannukah dinner, after the first course of riso coll’uvetta, proceed to the second course of chicken which is, of course, fried in olive oil. This dish is popular in Rome and all over Italy for Hannukah.
The day before, cut up your chicken into ten pieces (two wings, two drumsticks, two thighs, and the breast cut into four pieces, in half along the breastbone and then in half again across). Place in a large bowl and marinate with the juice of a whole freshly squeezed lemon, salt, pepper, a finely minced garlic clove or two, a generous grating of nutmeg (very unusual!) and a good pour of olive oil. Let it marinate in the fridge overnight. Mix at least once during this period to ensure even marination.
The next day, when you are ready to cook, let the chicken come back to room temperature by removing it from the fridge about an hour ahead of time. In a large, heavy skillet, heat enough olive oil to come at least 2cm (3/4 inch) up the sides until it is quite hot (but not smoking). Then take each piece of chicken (tongs are very useful here) and dredge it successively in flour and then in beaten egg, and then immediately into the hot oil. Fry over moderate heat until the chicken is golden brown on all sides. This should take about 15-20 minutes. If you are not ready to eat the chicken right away, you can keep the pieces warm, on a baking rack set over a cookie sheet in the oven.
Serve hot, sprinkled with additional salt (preferably some fine sea salt) with some lemon wedges on the side, and accompanied by a nice green salad.
NOTES: The dish is not at all difficult to make and, aside from the overnight marination, is quite quick. For the really impatient, some recipes say that one hour’s marination is enough. The main ‘trick’ of this dish is to regulate the heat of the oil so that the chicken pieces cook at the right pace—not too slow, or the result will be greasy, but not too fast, either, or the outside will brown before the inside is cooked. If the oil bubbles up gently around the edges of the chicken pieces as you are frying, but does not ‘boil’, then you are on the right track:
It also helps to use a small chicken, so that no piece is too large and will cook through in a shorter period of time. If you are serving a crowd, you may want to buy more than one small chicken rather than one big one. If, for whatever reason, it seems that the chicken is done on the outside but not yet cooked through on the inside, a brief spell in a moderately hot oven will help.
I have to say, this dish was quite a revelation. The taste was hard to describe—both familiar as an Italian dish yet somehow… different. Among other things, the nutmeg gave it an usual, almost ‘oriental’ taste. But it was very good. In fact, even after a primo of riso coll’uvetta, two of us managed to polish off a whole chicken…! Dessert, on the other hand, was just a few pieces of fresh fruit.
By the way, a third recipe, one for what is probably the most famous Italian Jewish dish, and more specifically Roman Jewish, dish—carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichokes, is one you should surely try when artichokes are in season. It is one of the signature dishes of Roman cuisine.