Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine has always been important to Brooklyn-based food lovers Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz. Both grew up on classics like matzo-ball soup and kugel, creating a lasting association between those foods and happy, family-filled times. “It brings up important and wonderful emotions for us, and it also tells the story of who we are, individually and collectively,” Alpern says.
The two bonded over this shared interest when they met in their 20s about a decade ago. But through their careers working with chefs, food distributors and cookbook authors, they noticed their friends weren’t cooking or eating these foods anymore, and there was a wave of Jewish deli closures across the country.
“We saw that there was this dismissal of this cuisine as a cuisine that was worth exploring further,” Alpern says. “Ashkenazi food was sort of laughed at, kind of disparaged. Gefilte fish was the butt of jokes.” They realized that this was partly because many Jewish Americans are accustomed to processed inventions like jarred gefilte fish and potato latkes made from boxed mixes. “The awful perception of the food is mostly the Americanization of the food, not the essence of it,” Yoskowitz says.
Energized by the sense that something needed to be done, he and Alpern joined forces in 2012 to found the Gefilteria, a company that started as a gefilte fish shop and grew to include events and workshops. It also led to the publishing of The Gefilte Manifesto, the duo’s 2016 cookbook of Jewish recipes for the modern age. And now, Alpern and Yoskowitz are featured in an online educational series from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research called A Seat at the Table.
According to Yoskowitz, Gefilteria’s goal isn’t to preserve the cuisine—which implies keeping things as they were—but rather to usher it into its next phase. “We really wanted to celebrate that dynamism and reinvigorate this culture of an exciting, evolving food tradition.”
As the self-proclaimed “history nerds” delved deeper into the cuisine, they discovered principles still relevant today. “The No. 1 lesson of the shtetl kitchen is resourcefulness,” Alpern says, using a term that refers to a small Jewish community in Eastern Europe, where winters were long, cold and harsh. “Every ingredient mattered, everything that you could get flavor out of mattered, so the principles that inform the way we eat as local-eating, farm-to-table, chefy folks totally ties into this ancestral cuisine.”
Nowadays Hanukkah is associated with, quite frankly, junk food: Fried potato latkes, jelly-filled doughnuts and chocolate coins. But Alpern and Yoskowitz point out, there’s actually an earlier tradition of a full meal centered around a whole-roasted goose. The bird was a symbol of Hanukkah celebrations in Ashkenazi Jewish homes in Eastern and Central Europe until the mid-20th century, when other meats became more accessible.
Geese were purchased in the fall and fattened up in preparation for a big Hanukkah feast on the Friday-night Sabbath of the eight-day holiday. Families would harvest the feathers to make bedding, roast the goose whole, render the fat to fry latkes in and save the liver (aka foie gras) for the Passover meal in the spring. “That was just the rhythm of the season, of the cycle of life,” Yoskowitz says. “It all came together in a way that felt like a more robust meal, and one that looked, in some ways, kind of like a Christmas goose, a Christmas table.”
Alpern and Yoskowitz’s recipe calls for just five ingredients but yields a festive showstopper for any celebration. “There’s something about bringing an entire duck or goose to the table that feels like drama, and that’s what the holidays deserve,” Alpern says.
If you do substitute duck for harder-to-source goose, the duo say it’s an easy switch. The weight of your bird will determine how long to cook it. And be sure to have a food thermometer handy. “Checking the internal temperature is always important for meat, but there’s a lot of unknowns when you’re making a whole bird,” Yoskowitz says.
Apples and onions are stuffed inside the bird and scattered around the roasting pan, where they absorb the goose drippings to create a delectable side dish. Their inclusion is an homage to the Alsace-Lorraine region: “The term Ashkenazi refers, historically, to Ashkenaz, which was the land where Ashkenazi Jews originally had their roots, and that actually refers to Central Europe,” Alpern explains. That includes Germany and France, “so the sort of cradle of Ashkenzai culture is actually in and around Alsace.”
She says the finished dish should be lush and “fatty in a good way, but not greasy, with a crispness on the outside as well … and then the apples and the onions all around have sort of melted.” Alpern suggests accenting that richness by bringing “calmer and cooler” tastes to the table, like a fresh salad or a raw-cabbage slaw, “and of course a wine that refreshes your palate in between bites.”
Wine comes into play at many of Gefilteria’s pop-up dinners and special events, and when it does, sommelier Michele Thomas helps choose the pairings. Her pick for this dish reflects the Alsatian inspiration: Pierre Sparr Alsace Riesling Grande Réserve 2018. “This kind of meal calls for a wine with plenty of acid to cut through the delightfully fatty bird and beautiful fruit to accent the savory-sweet combo of apples and onions,” Thomas says. “Alsatian Riesling is ideal because it’s got that acidity and the body to stand up to the textures in this dish, as well as great fruit and floral notes.”
She offers a second option at a slightly higher price point, Marcel Deiss Alsace Blanc 2018, which similarly complements the “rich, round flavors” of the feast. Wine Spectator shares even more options for pairings from recently rated releases below.
A seamless wine pairing can help add to the festive feeling during this unusual year. And to Yoskowitz, sharing the story of the Hanukkah goose adds value to a holiday that’s often outshined by the razzle-dazzle of Christmas. “When you learn that there was actually a whole separate tradition and a food tradition that goes along with it, it somehow makes it feel a bit more special.”
Alsatian Roasted Goose or Duck with Apples and Onions
Reprinted from The Gefilte Manifesto.
Note: Modify your cooking time according to the size of the bird you procure (about 20 minutes per pound). For example, if roasting a 9-pound goose, your cooking time will be about 3 hours. When buying a raw duck or goose, you will want to plan for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per guest, so that 9-pound goose will feed 6 to 9 people. A goose will generally be available in a much larger size than a duck, but the ranges vary widely. In both cases, the key is to monitor the roasting so that the bird does not dry out.
- 1 goose or duck
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 to 6 baking apples such as McIntosh (or more if serving a large crowd), 1 quartered, the rest left whole
- 1 or 2 large onions, quartered
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Boil a kettle of water to use for basting the bird.
2. Begin by trimming and removing excess fat from the bird and discard, or set aside if repurposing for schmaltz or other use. Using your hands, carefully create space between the skin and the meat of the bird. Using a paring knife, carefully prick the skin of the bird all over. This will allow the fat to drain. Be careful not to prick the flesh, however.
3. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper, then stuff it with as many of the apple and onion quarters as you can. The whole apples and remaining quartered onions should be placed in the bottom of the roasting pan. Secure the bird's legs, wings and neck tightly against the body with cooking twine (see illustrations below).
4. Place the bird in the roasting pan, breast side up, and roast for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° F and turn the bird on its side. Baste with a couple of tablespoons of boiling water every 20 minutes or so to remove accumulated fat. As noted above, plan to roast your bird for 20 minutes per pound. Halfway through the roasting time, turn the bird onto the other side for even cooking.
5. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, season the skin with salt and pepper, and increase the oven temperature to 425° F so that the skin browns. Roast until the thickest part of the bird reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.
6. Let the bird sit for 15 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving. While carving, take the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan and place them in a small saucepan on the stovetop to reduce the liquid by at least one-third of its original volume. Serve the goose or duck on a platter, ladled with the reduced cooking liquid and surrounded by the apples and onions from the pan. Makes 1 roasted goose or duck (exact servings will vary depending on size of bird).
Note: The technique outlined here is one of the simplest and most straightforward methods for trussing poultry of all kinds, including goose, duck, turkey and chicken. Trussing a bird before roasting it helps it remain moist and also holds in place any stuffing that may have been placed in the bird’s breast cavity. While there are many different trussing methods used by chefs, the one here is effective for all skill levels.
9 Lively, Aromatic White Wines
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Gewürztraminer Alsace 2017
Score: 91 | $16
WS review: A lively, medium-bodied white, with firm acidity providing fine cut and balance, this offers yellow peach and preserved lemon flavors, accented by crushed pine and mineral notes. Drink now through 2025. 1,800 cases made. From France.—Allison Napjus
Riesling Alsace 2017
Score: 91 | $25
WS review: A sleek, minerally white, with well-cut acidity defining flavors of white peach, pine and preserved lemon, showing a rich hint of passion fruit coulis. Fine and creamy, offering a lasting finish. Drink now through 2027. 30,000 cases made. From France.—A.N.
Riesling Pfalz 2018
Score: 90 | $24
WS review: Well-knit, with hints of lanolin gliding along the citrus and Jonagold apple notes, showing hints of cream in the background. Very expressive, backed by depth and a firm structure. Long finish. Drink now through 2027. 2,500 cases made. From Germany.—Aleksandar Zecevic
Riesling Kabinett Rheinhessen Jean-Baptiste 2018
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: Not too sweet, this delivers subtle, zesty flavors of grapefruit and apple, layered with spice notes. Hints of wet stone appear on the finish. Features a very appealing texture and should be a good match with food. Drink now through 2026. 2,950 cases made. From Germany.—A.Z.
Riesling Alsace Côte de Rouffach 2017
Score: 89 | $30
WS review: Elegant and creamy, this fresh white displays a subtle, well-knit range of Asian pear, almond skin, fleur de sel and anise notes, backed by citrusy acidity. Drink now through 2024. 1,000 cases made. From France.—A.N.
Pinot Gris Alsace 2018
Score: 89 | $18
WS review: There's a pleasing plumpness to this light- to medium-bodied white, with juicy acidity enlivening the flavors of ripe Gala apple and melon, accented by hints of candied ginger, almond blossom and guava. Drink now through 2023. 9,000 cases made. From France.—A.N.
BORGO SAN DANIELE
Riesling-Malvasia Venezia-Giulia Jiasik 2018
Score: 88 | $18
WS review: A mouthwatering white, with zippy acidity framing an appealing mix of Gala apple, peach skin, Thai basil and ginger notes. Lithe and light-bodied, with a clean-cut, stony finish. Drink now through 2022. 1,600 cases made. From Italy.—A.N.
Riesling Mosel 2018
Score: 88 | $18
WS review: A lovely sipper, with sweet yellow apple, peach and apricot flavors, balanced by lively acidity that runs throughout, lending focus and support. Notes of cream mark the finish. Drink now. 2,000 cases made. From Germany.—A.Z.
PRINZ ZU SALM-BALBERG
Riesling Rheinhessen Two Princes 2018
Score: 88 | $15
WS review: A charming, off-dry style, with penetrating acidity cutting through the white peach and yellow apple flavors. Hints of vanilla spice mark the inviting finish. Drink now. 2,800 cases made. From Germany.—A.Z.