Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Piece by Piece - Parshat Lech Lecha

If you've ever been to a bris and had to close your eyes out of squeamishness, you may need to do so while reading this week's portion. In Parshat Lech Lecha there's actually more than one of these incidences. A bris - or a brit, means covenant, and in this week's portion there are two covenants. One is the commandment for the old school version (the ceremony done on an 8 day old baby boy), and the other is a one time deal between Abraham and God. It too involves blood and drama, but no sensitive areas are harmed.

Early on in the portion God repeatedly promises Abraham that he will become a great nation - as numerous as the sands on the earth and the stars in the sky. But Abraham really can't figure out how God is going to pull through on that promise since he and Sarah are getting up there in years.

So, like any good man, Abraham asks for some assurance, some proof that he is in fact going to be the forefather of a great nation. God wants to prove that he'll stick with Abraham and make good on his promise so He enacts a new covenant, a fantastical one to really impress the pants off of Abraham.

God instructs Abraham to gather some materials together for this covenantal performance. Abraham herds a young cow, goat, ram, a turtledove and a young bird. Faithfully following God's next instructions Abraham cuts each animal in two and places each half opposite the other on the ground. This covenant is titled "brit ben habetarim" which literally means, the covenant between the pieces.

But before God gets to the good part of the performance, He delivers a Debbie downer. "Your offspring will be strangers in a land, enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. I will execute judgment on that nation and your nation will go free with wealth." While the length of the nation of Israel's slavery in Egypt ends up being a few hundred years shorter than this decree, and sure we do end up nice and wealthy, it's still a pretty depressing thing for Abraham to ponder on.

Now that Abraham hears the news of the bad fate that will eventually befall his supposed nation, God kicks things up a notch. The sun sets and it's showtime. A smoking pillar of fire appears and slowly passes through the pieces of cut meat splayed out on the ground. Right there and then God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising the land of Israel to him and his nation again, laying out it's boundaries. And Abraham almost believes him (it's not till the next portion that Sarah actually gets knocked up).

This fantastical covenant story had me first thinking turduken. That's where a chicken gets stuffed into a duck which gets stuffed into a turkey. While I never made this myself it would be kosher - and if you stuffed it into a goat or cow you'd get ever closer to the Biblical text here. But seriously how would one cook through all that meat? Instead I'm going to play off of the young bird used in the covenant and bake a Cornish game hen, a young chicken. These frequently go on sale in Florida near where my brother lives and he's perfected a recipe and shared it with me. He even said I could share it with all of you.

Orange Glazed Cornish Hens
Adapted by Ben Horen from this recipe

1.5 cups rice
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 orange
2.5 cups chicken stock
6 cloves garlic peeled
2 Cornish game hens
1/4 cup honey
1/4 vegetable oil
1 tbsp grated orange peel

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a skillet over medium flame warm the olive oil and saute the onions and celery. Add the rice, thyme, sugar and salt after several minutes and continue to stir for another minute.

Spread the rice mixture into the bottom of a baking pan, cover with chicken stock and whole cloves of garlic. Place the hens on top of the rice mixture, breast side up.

Remove 1 tbsp of zest from the orange and set aside. Peel the orange in one continuous piece. Cut in that peel in half and put one piece in each of the hens. Juice the remainder of the orange.

Mix the orange juice with the honey, vegetable oil and orange zest. Spread this glaze over the Cornish hens.

Bake the dish uncovered for 40 minutes, then cover and bake for 40 minutes longer. You can brush any leftover glaze over the chicken from time to time as it bakes.

A picture of the Cornish Hen chef (aka my brother) on a recent trip of his to Boston.

Thank you to Sam for the stunning poultry shots.

And thank you for all of your votes - the contest ends at 12pm this Friday - I really appreciate all the support so many of you have shown.

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