Cooking and serving multiple dishes, even in a kitchen with two ovens, can be complicated, so advanced cooking is helpful.
Hosting a Rosh Hashanah dinner can be challenging — how to serve multiple traditional dishes that look and taste great, often for a large group. Some families make it easier by assigning certain dishes to family members so that some dishes arrive ready-to-serve.
Advance planning and shopping are essential. Many hosts and hostesses cook ahead and sometimes freeze certain dishes. Some hostesses set their table days ahead. Sharona Shapiro of West Bloomfield, who hosts many kosher dinners, advises hosts to get serving platters and utensils ready in advance as well, and to plan seasonal table decorations.
Cooking and serving multiple dishes, even in a kitchen with two ovens, can be complicated, so advance cooking is helpful. However, care must be taken not to overcook items made in advance and then reheated. Also, food safety — ensuring that foods are not left unrefrigerated too long — is very important.
Tips for Chicken Soup
Chicken soup is on most menus for the High Holidays. It can be cooked a few days in advance and refrigerated or made earlier if frozen, but it’s important to allow enough time for defrosting — at least a day in the refrigerator. Cari Herskovitz Rosenbloom, owner of Chef Cari Kosher Catering, recommends that the matzah balls be kept separate until the soup is reheated.
Cooked matzah balls can be placed on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper and then placed in the freezer until they become hard. Then they can be stored in a container or freezer bag and returned to the freezer. She recommends placing the matzah balls in the soup when it is reheated without defrosting them.
Every cook has his or her own technique for chicken soup. Herskovitz suggests, “Start with a hearty, rich vegetable stock and a 3- to 4-pound broiler chicken. Cool and refrigerate it soon. Bring it to a boil on the stove when reheating.”
Experienced cooks agree that good soup depends partly on the proportion of chicken and liquid, which should just cover the chicken. Too much liquid in relation to the amount of fresh chicken will result in a tasteless soup.
Soup amounts served to each guest may vary depending on the type of soup bowl. One-half cup of soup plus one or two matzah balls will fill a traditional soup bowl, but Herskovitz says that many contemporary soup bowls are larger, and 8 ounces may be required.
Brisket — Fresh, Frozen and Well-Traveled
Many families serve brisket for Rosh Hashanah — some savory, some sweet with varying degrees of fat depending on individual preference and the brisket cut chosen. If it has been cooked in advance, Herskovitz recommends taking it out of the refrigerator an hour in advance, then reheating it for 40 to 45 minutes at 200 to 225 degrees. “You’re not recooking it. You’re rewarming it,” she says.
Some cooks make and freeze their brisket in advance. Dale Cohodes, a former Detroiter who lives in Highland Park, Illinois, is well-known for bringing a cooked brisket when visiting out-of-town family members for the holidays. After cooking and cooling the brisket, she slices it and places it with the sauce in a Pyrex dish lined with aluminum foil and saran wrap. Once it’s frozen, she removes it from the dish, retaining the foil and saran, adds another layer of wrapping and double bags it in two freezer bags. Then it goes in the freezer until she leaves, when she puts it in her checked suitcase. To date, her brisket has traveled well and been thoroughly enjoyed at her destinations. (She has not flown with brisket during this summer of air travel delays.)
Other main dishes, such as chicken Marsala can be made ahead as well. Herskovitz recommends reheating chicken Marsala (without a breading) at 200 to 225 degrees separately from its sauce. She notes that chicken Marsala includes wine, which is acidic and helps to preserve food, so it is a good dish to make in advance.
Keeping Foods Safe
Rosh Hashanah dinner leftovers are welcome, but care must be taken to make sure that they have not been unrefrigerated or kept too long. There is a misconception that many cooked foods can be eaten many days later but that depends in part on how long they have been kept out of the refrigerator. Food is often cooked in advance, left on a counter for a few hours, then placed on a table for several hours during dinner and then sometimes left out for hours during kitchen cleanup.
Chef Cari says that most foods can be kept for three to four days if held at a safe temperature. Foods like chopped liver, gefilte fish and salmon have a shorter life than brisket, which she says can be refrigerated safely for four to five days because of its fat; she recommends storing it in its liquid.
According to the USDA, “Refrigeration slows but does not stop bacterial growth. USDA recommends using cooked leftovers within three to four days.”
However, some high-end refrigerators claim to store foods safely for a longer period than traditional refrigerators.