Saturday, September 7, 2013


Happy New Year, everybody! It’s Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year (the year is 5774). This holiday came very early this year. It’s still summery where I live in southern Spain. No pomegranates or quinces, fruits so typical of this holiday, have come to market yet. We are still basking in late-summer fruits—luscious  ripe figs and grapes.

In Spain, the fruit most associated with New Year’s—the New Year that turns on January 1—is the grape. Twelve grapes, actually, one consumed on each strike of the midnight bells to assure 12 months of good fortune in the coming year. So, melding my customs a bit, I am serving grapes for the Jewish New Year.

Black grapes make a leafy arbor on my patio. The green ones, above, tumble over the sides of a terraced hillside. I'm told that this hillside was once completely planted in vines--before the phylloxera blight of the late 1800s.

 Spain has the most extensive vineyards on earth, most of them dedicated to the production of wine grapes. There are also large plantations of table grapes. The muscatel, in particular, is especially esteemed. Intensely sweet, these grapes are also dried to become famous Málaga raisins, pasas.

When grapes are pressed, they produce mosto—grape juice or must. Left to ferment, it becomes wine. The mosto can also be pasteurized to be served as a non-alcoholic beverage. Or it can be slowly reduced to a thick grape molasses, called arrope. Fruits and even vegetables are preserved in this intensely sweet syrup (see a recipe for pumpkin in arrope).

Chicken simmers in spiced grape juice, a lovely holiday meal.

Chicken Braised in Spiced Grape Juice
Pollo al Mosto

Where there are vineyards, there will be food cooked in the juice of the grape. This chicken dish is adapted from a renaissance recipe in a little book, Carlos V a la Mesa, by L. Jacinto García, describing culinary trends in the 1500s. The sweetness of the grapes and the aromatic spices make this dish especially appropriate for Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps it was served in this way in Toledo, pre-1492.

To make your own grape juice: Choose any variety of grape—red, black, green, gold—that tastes good. Remove stems and wash the grapes. Use a food mill, processor or blender to crush the grapes. Sieve the pulp, saving the juice and discarding pips and skins. You will need about ½ pound of grapes to make ¾ cup of strained juice. Add lemon juice to the fresh grape juice. Use the juice within a few hours or else bring it to a boil, cool and refrigerate to prevent it from beginning to ferment. Unsweetened bottled grape juice can be substituted for fresh grape juice in this recipe.

Serves 4-6.

3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped leek
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup hot water
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, coarsely cracked
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ cup grape juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Sliced butternut squash or carrots
2 egg yolks
Grapes to garnish
Parsley to garnish

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan and brown the chicken pieces on medium-high heat, about 5 minutes per side. Remove them and reserve.
Add the leek and sauté until softened, 3 minutes.

Combine the crushed saffron with hot water and allow to infuse at least 5 minutes. In a small bowl combine the ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt.

Return the chicken to the pan with the leeks. Add the grape juice, lemon juice,  saffron water, and spices. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer the chicken for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces. Add the squash or carrots, if using. Cook until chicken is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

Remove chicken to a serving platter and keep it warm. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl with some of the liquid from the pan. Stir the yolks into the pan and cook without boiling, uncovered, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with grapes and sprigs of parsley.

Chicken with grapes and butternut squash.


  1. Shanah Tovah, Janet! Loved your article. The recipe sounds delicious.

    One question: Why do you need to add lemon juice when you make grape juice?

  2. Faye: Feliz año! The lemon juice prevents oxidation--darkening of the juice. Not really an issue with red grape juice. Also, in context of the recipe, lemon juice adds a little tang to otherwise very sweet sauce.