British Jews are increasingly adapting traditional Friday-night recipes to suit modern times. So how do we do it — and what happens to roast chicken?
Traditionally, whether you are devoutly Orthodox, a practising Liberal, a little lapsed or even just plain traditional, Friday night is spent around the table with your family. It is the Jewish equivalent of Sunday lunch.
Surveys suggest that fewer than three in 10 UK families sit down to a meal together more than once a week. Even those meals are often eaten in front of the television.
Is this true of Jewish families? How many still cook and eat together on a Friday? And do they still opt for the traditional, chicken soup/roast chicken blow out — or have tastes changed?
Nutritionist Ian Marber, co-founder of the Food Doctor empire, comes from traditional stock and always sat down to a Friday night with his family — “when else could we fight en masse?” These days, Marber’s family Friday nights are “more Jamie than Jewish” with a modern British menu. The spats have been replaced with conversations about “who’s died and who’s ill”.
Geoff Lynn from Southgate, North London, recalls that his family always ate cold fried fish on Friday nights, in line with the tradition of his half-Sephardi grandmother.
“I think it’s a tradition brought over by Dutch Jews in the 18th century. One night when my grandma was around for dinner, my mum served the fish hot because she hadn’t had time to let it cool down properly. When the fish was served, grandma was as horrified as if she’d just been given a pork chop.”
Others who enjoy the Friday night meal do not feel obliged to stick to the traditional menu. For example, Rachel Harris, a graphic artist from Hendon, North-West London, likes chicken but does not always roast it. “The other week I made a kosher version of chicken tikka masala, which is much more like what everyone else in Britain has on Friday night. Obviously we had challah rather than naan bread — it went together really well.”
Jane Leigh, a trainee solicitor from Bushey, Hertfordshire, has a very British Friday night. “Tomorrow my mum will be making steak and mushroom pie. It’s great for cold winter evenings, although perhaps less so for June.”
David Singer, from Edgware, always makes a vegetarian Friday night meal: “My wife doesn’t eat fish or meat so dinner is often a vegetarian paella or a Moroccan tagine. This does not mean there are not traditional aspects. We always have challah and usually strudel for dessert.”
However, the majority of those questioned do enjoy the traditional meal, and that means some kind of roasted meat. Sarah Bloomfield, a full-time mother from Manchester, says: “I usually make chicken soup with matzah balls. Sometimes I make a different soup but, unless it is French onion soup, it is greeted with derision from my family.
“This is usually followed by roast chicken, lamb or duck as these are our favourites. My secret for the chicken is to roast it (actually l always cook two so we have food for the weekend) for about four hours — having thrown in onion, lemon juice and chicken stock powder — on a low light, covered until the last 30 minutes. Chicken seems to get better and better the longer it cooks.”
Most people we spoke to still sit down to a Shabbat meal. Many still eat chopped liver or chicken soup (although rarely both) and also roast a chicken. Lockshen pudding has been widely replaced with a (marginally) less stodgy chocolate roulade, pavlova or healthy fruit platter.
Barry Halper, from Barkingside, Essex, admits that he sometimes throws a Friday barbecue if it is a nice summer evening — not something the Chief Rabbi would approve of.
Some choose to let others do the work. Adafina Deli in St John’s Wood sells increasing numbers of ready-to-heat Friday-night meals, as do other delis. But whether the cooking is done at home or on someone else’s stove, Friday night dinner certainly seems alive and well — even if it is as likely to be chicken curry as chopped liver, these days.