What does the chef of Oxnard’s Tierra Sur cook for Rosh Hashanah? Since his kosher restaurant — located at Herzog Wine Cellars — is closed during the holiday, Todd Aarons has the opportunity to create a family meal at home.
“Rosh Hashanah has lots of foods that are symbolic of having a great and prosperous new year. Leeks, pumpkin or squash, pomegranates, dates and, of course, apples with honey. For our family meal we will have a whole fish such as snapper, which I cook encrusted in salt,” Aarons shared recently on his blog (toddaarons.blogspot.com).
“The first time I had this dish was when I was working at a little Italian restaurant just outside the city walls of Lucca, Italy, called Giamperos. This dish, using branzino [a European sea bass found in Northern Italy], was served tableside by a skilled waiter, because the salt crust needs to be removed and the filets of fish lifted off their bones. Leeks will also turn up on my holiday table as leeks agrodolce [sweet and sour]. This incorporates honey into the meal; usually I use chestnut honey for this preparation.”
At a young age, Aarons was always painting and drawing, but he was especially intrigued by the preparation of ethnic foods. After several trips to Europe in his teens, he fell in love with European table service, traditional regional foods and the pride Europeans take in food preparation.
“I have always been an artist, and feel like I ended up with the medium of food to express myself. Food has a nurturing quality that I like. It is an art that is consumed and it has a short time of existing on a plate before it becomes a part of our sensory memory. Food, like all other art forms, has a well-developed history with common rules and traditions. I enjoy the history and the reinventing of utilizing ingredients,” Aarons said.
While attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Aarons refined his craft with Zuni Café’s Judy Rogers (a favorite chef for this writer).
After receiving rave reviews from such restaurant critics as Ruth Reichl while working with chef-owner Peter Hoffman at Savoy in New York City’s SoHo District, Aarons was invited to study with chef-author Madeleine Kamman at the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards in the Napa Valley.
His travels took him next to Tuscany, where he worked at Dal Delfina with chef-owner Carlo Cioni in the village of Artimino, just outside of Florence, Italy. There he learned traditional family recipes from Carlo’s mother.
“Working for chef Carlo always reminds me of the connection of flavor and the food they produced. The air you breathed in on those olive tree-filled hills is what you tasted on the plate,” Aarons said.
In Tel Aviv and Netanya, he immersed himself in eclectic cuisine and kosher dietary laws.
Now at Herzog, Aarons is devoted to creating a menu in the Tierra Sur Restaurant at the highest levels of kosher cuisine, which includes using locally grown ingredients.
In addition to his Salt Baked Fish, Aarons is planning to include Chicken and Veal Dumpling Tagine With Apples as part of his holiday meal at home. A type of Moroccan stew traditionally cooked in a clay pot with a conical lid, his tagine, which features honey and spices such as cardamom along with apples, has become a family favorite for Rosh Hashanah.
Salt Baked Fish
You might be a skeptic about the outcome of a recipe that calls for 5 to 6 pounds of kosher salt, but this recipe will make you a believer. The salt forms a crust that locks in all the delicate flavors of the fish, while the skin of the fish protects it from absorbing too much salt.
One 5- to 6-pound whole striped bass, California white sea bass, red snapper, grouper arctic char or a small salmon such as Coho salmon (have your fish monger gut, scale, remove the gills and trim all fins).
Fresh herbs (any combination of rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano or savory)
6 to 7 egg whites
1/2 cup water
5 to 6 lbs. kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Whisk egg whites and water together in a large mixing bowl. Add the kosher salt. Incorporate all the salt into the mixture with your hands (use latex gloves if your skin is sensitive). The mixture should feel and look like wet sand. If needed, add more whisked egg whites to achieve this consistency.
Place a 1/2-inch layer of the mixture on the bottom of a baking dish, such as a glass or enamel one that will fit the entire fish. (An oval-shaped casserole dish works best because it mimics the shape of your fish and you will use less salt.)
Rinse your whole fish with cold water in the sink, especially the gutted underside and the head cavity. Place the fish on the bed of salt. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of any combination of the herbs inside the belly of the fish. Cover the fish completely with the rest of the salt mixture. You want to have at least 1/2 inch of salt covering the entire fish, and you should not be able to see any part of the fish when you are done.
Place the fish in the preheated oven one hour before you plan to serve it. Cooking time will vary from 45 minutes to one hour. Check internal temperature at 45 minutes with a meat thermometer. The fish should reach 145 F.
Place the entire fish on the table inside its baking dish. Crack the top crust using a meat tenderizer or the back of a big metal spoon, and remove the top layer of crust carefully. Peel off the skin of the filets, gently remove the meat from the bones and serve.
Makes six servings.
Chicken and Veal Dumpling Tagine With Apple
2 tablespoons pure olive oil or canola oil
1 cup baby cippolinni or pearl onions, peeled and whole
6 Braeburn or Granny Smith apples, firm and tart (peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes)
1/4 cup Baron Herzog Sauvignon Blanc
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or sage leaves, chopped
Chicken and Veal Dumplings (recipe follows)
Sea salt to taste
In a large sauté pan with a lid, heat oil and add the onions. Sauté until they begin to brown and then add the apples. Continue to cook over a medium flame until the onions and apples are both caramelized. Be attentive and continuously shake and stir your contents, otherwise the sugars will quickly burn on the bottom of the pan.
Add the Sauvignon Blanc and let the alcohol dissipate for 30 seconds. Add the honey, vinegar, chicken stock and chopped herbs and cook uncovered on a low flame for 5 minutes. Add the chicken dumplings, cover with the top of a tagine and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning with sea salt. You may do this last step 10 minutes before serving.
Makes six servings.
Chicken and Veal Dumplings
6 boneless chicken thighs (approximately 1 pound)
1 pound veal stew shoulder meat
1 cup of crustless French baguette or other rustic hearth-baked bread
4 ounces soy milk (full fat — 4 grams or higher in fat content) or Mocha mix
4 garlic cloves
1/2 medium-size Spanish onion
1/2 tablespoon ground green peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
kosher salt to taste
Take crustless bread and saturate it in the soy milk. Grind the thigh meat and veal through a medium die, or have your butcher grind it for you. If you are grinding it yourself, send the garlic and onion through the grinder after the meat to help clean out the inside, otherwise mince the onion and garlic by hand.
In a mixing bowl, place the ground meat, minced garlic, onions and spices. Give the meat a good preliminary mix with your hands. Place the meat, the soaked bread and any remaining soy milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Fix the paddle attachment to the mixer and begin to mix the meat on a medium speed. While the meat is mixing, add the egg, egg yolk and 2 teaspoons of salt. Turn mixer up to a high speed and whip for two minutes. The mixture should be stiff.
Take a small sample and cook it in a skillet. Test for salt level and adjust.
Roll your meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch diameter balls. Add oil to a skillet and brown the meat dumplings, but do not cook them all the way. Plate dumplings and reserve for tagine.
Makes six servings
Leeks in Agrodolce
(Sweet and Sour)
6 leeks, dark green tops shaved down and removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pinches sea salt
1 cup Baron Herzog Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 sprig of each, fresh thyme and oregano
1/4 cup dried black currants
Leaving the root end intact, shave down the top of each leek and then slice the root end in half lengthwise. Wash leeks under cold water and then place in a bucket of cold water so sediment falls to the bottom. Remove and dry leeks on a kitchen towel.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add leeks one at a time. Using tongs, gently cook the leeks over a medium flame for approximately 10 minutes (avoid browning). Sprinkle the sea salt over the leeks as they become translucent. Lower flame, tilt the sauté pan away from you and add the wine. Turn flame back up and add the vegetable stock, honey, vinegar, herbs and currants. Bring to a boil, reduce the flame and simmer. Place a piece of parchment paper fitted to the sauté pan over the leeks and continue to simmer approximately 5 minutes, until leeks are supple and the liquid has been reduced to a glaze. If more time is needed, add a bit more vegetable stock and cook longer. The parchment will steam the leeks and allow for the reduction of the sauce at the same time.
Makes six to eight servings.
Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1999) and “Judy Zeidler’s International Deli Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1994). “Judy’s Kitchen” appears on Jewish Life Television. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.