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Freeing The Seder

The familiar smells of matzo-ball soup, braised brisket, and sizzling tsimmes welcome family and friends to a Seder meal as old as tradition but sparked with a few surprises: salmon in the gefilte fish? Don't plotz.

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Surely there are nearly as many "traditional" New York Seders as there are New York Jews. Here, four of the city's best chefs honor the past while conjuring a divine Passover meal, combining the Eastern European Ashkenazi and Spanish-influenced Sephardic styles. Peter Hoffman's chicken simmered with dates, honey, and lemon, for example, is a perfect companion to Mark Strausman's heady, slow-cooked, fork-tender brisket. And while we have nothing against macaroons, our trio of desserts -- Anne Rosenzweig's almond Pavlova with lemon curd and strawberries, Hoffman's orange flan, and Jo-Ann Makovitzky's chocolate cake (flourless, to be sure) -- gives you three new ways to make this night different from all other nights.

The Recipes
All recipes serve eight.

Salmon Gefilte Fish With Carrots
ANNE ROSENZWEIG INSIDE

Fish stock:
1 salmon or whitefish frame, cut up
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 6 cloves
2 carrots, chopped roughly
1 parsnip, chopped roughly
7 black peppercorns
1/4 cup white wine
Salmon gefilte fish:
1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and cut in chunks
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 small carrots, peeled; 1 sliced thin, 1 cut in chunks
1 small parsnip, peeled, cut in chunks
2 eggs
1/4 cup matzo meal
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 cups fish stock (recipe above)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped dill

Fish stock: Put all the stock ingredients in a small stockpot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil; then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for just 15 minutes, skimming often. Strain and reserve the stock. (Can be made two days ahead.)

Gefilte fish: Chill the fish and vegetables. Place the onion, the carrot cut in chunks, and the parsnip in a food processor, and chop finely. Add the salmon and process to a coarse purée. Add eggs, matzo meal, salt, and pepper, and process until combined.

Place fish stock and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a light simmer. With cold, wet hands, form the fish mixture into 8 quenelles. Poach the quenelles in the simmering stock, covered, for 2 minutes. Remove the quenelles to a shallow bowl and set aside.

Reduce the stock by half, remove from the heat, and stir in the sliced carrot and dill. Pour the stock over the quenelles and chill. Serve with beet horseradish.

The Best Chicken Soup With Matzo Balls
JO-ANN MAKOVITZKY TOCQUEVILLE

Soup:
1 large chicken (preferably kosher)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 8 to 10 pieces
1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and cut into 8 to 10 pieces
2 celery stalks, each cut into 8 pieces
1 bouquet garni (cheesecloth filled with 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 10 whole black peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Garnish: fresh dill sprigs or small dice of carrot and leek
Matzo balls:
2 tablespoons melted chicken fat (reserved from recipe above)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup matzo meal
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons chicken soup (recipe above)
2 tablespoons chopped dill (optional)

Soup: Wash the chicken and remove any innards, and place in a 5-to-8-quart soup pot. Add the vegetables and bouquet garni and enough cold water to cover the chicken and vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 1 and 1/2 hours, making sure the soup does not boil. The chicken meat should fall off the bone easily; if it does not, continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the soup through a colander into a pot of similar size and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

Skim the fat from the top of the soup, reserving for matzo-ball recipe (see below). Reheat the soup, and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

Matzo balls: Mix all the ingredients, plus 1 teaspoon of salt, together in a bowl using a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Fill a 5-to-8-quart pot three-quarters of the way with cold water, and bring to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons salt. With cold, wet hands, form the matzo mixture into 8 balls. Drop, one at a time, into boiling water. Cover, and boil gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the balls from the water with a slotted spoon, and place in the seasoned chicken soup. Reheat 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Do not heat for too long, or the matzo balls will start to disintegrate.

Note: Matzo balls can be made 4 hours in advance and kept warm in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Do not refrigerate; they will harden.

Chicken With Dates
PETER HOFFMAN SAVOY

2 large chickens, cut into quarters
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
3 large onions, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon honey
3 cups light chicken stock
1 pound dates, halved lengthwise
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon saffron

Season the chicken parts with salt and a generous amount of pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the chicken in batches, and brown on all sides over high heat. Remove the chicken and set aside.Add the onions to the skillet and cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Add spices, honey, and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Skim the fat from the surface. Add the dates, lemon, and saffron, and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Serve the chicken with some of the dates and sauce.

Italian-Jewish-Style Brisket
MARK STRAUSMAN
CAMPAGNA AND FRED'S AT BARNEYS NEW YORK

1 beef brisket, about 5 to 6 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, cut in 1/4-inch dice
2 sticks celery, cut in 1/4-inch dice
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 chicken livers (poached, if you keep kosher)
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 bottle red wine
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock
Garnish: 4 sprigs of parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Trim the brisket of most of its fat and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole, and sear the brisket on both sides until it starts to brown. Remove the brisket from the casserole. Add the diced vegetables and garlic, and sauté for about 5 minutes over medium heat or until onion is translucent. Add the rosemary, chicken livers, tomatoes, and bay leaf, and return brisket to casserole. Completely cover the meat with the wine, adding chicken stock if necessary.

Cover the casserole and bake in the oven for 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours or until the meat is fork-tender. If the liquid reduces by more than half during cooking, add a small amount of chicken stock.

Transfer the meat to a dish and keep warm. Remove the herbs, and purée remaining liquid in a blender with the vegetables and chicken livers until smooth. If the sauce is a little thin, return it to the casserole and reduce over medium-high heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Slice the brisket and arrange it on a deep platter with the sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Tsimmes
ANNE ROSENZWEIG

2 tablespoons oil or chicken fat
1 large onion, peeled and diced
5 large carrots, peeled and cut into approximately 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup ginger ale
2 cups chicken stock or water
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup whole pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried apricots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large sauté pan or pot, heat the oil or chicken fat over moderate heat. Add the onion, lower heat, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add carrots, ginger ale, and stock or water, and cook for 7 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots and sweet potatoes are tender. (More stock or water may be needed; do not let the mixture dry out.) Season well with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead.)

Asparagus-and-Caramelized-Spring-Onion Farfel
ANNE ROSENZWEIG

4 tablespoons olive oil or chicken fat
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 bunches scallions, white part cut into 1/2-inch pieces, green part into 1-inch pieces Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 eggs
3 cups farfel (or crushed matzo)
2 cups hot chicken stock

Heat the oil or chicken fat in a large skillet over medium heat, add onion, lower heat, and cook approximately 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until caramelized. Add the white parts of the scallions and cook for 5 minutes. Add the green parts of the scallions to the mixture, remove from heat, and set aside to cool.

Bring a small pot of water to boil, and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. When it returns to a boil, add the asparagus and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and refresh in ice water. When asparagus is cool, drain and add to onion mixture.

Mix the eggs with the farfel in a large skillet, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, to lightly toast and dry out the farfel. Stir in the vegetables and half the stock. Continue to stir until the liquid is absorbed. Add the remaining stock and cook until just juicy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Almond Pavlova With Lemon Curd and Strawberries
ANNE ROSENZWEIG

Lemon curd:
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 whole eggs
5 egg yolks (reserve 4 whites)
7/8 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 lemons
Pinch salt
Pavlovas:
4 egg whites
Pinch salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Lemon curd: Whisk all the ingredients together in a metal bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes thick and puddinglike. Chill over ice, whisking often. When it cools, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (May be made up to 2 days ahead.)

Pavlovas: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugars, and continue beating until the mixture is thick and stiff. Carefully fold in the ground almonds and vinegar, using a rubber spatula.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place 8 dollops of the meringue onto the sheet and, using a spoon, form them into ovals that are slightly depressed in the center (like a soap dish). Bake for 35 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the Pavlovas cool and crisp in the oven for about 11/2 hours or overnight. (May be done in advance; store in an airtight container.)

To serve: Place a Pavlova on each plate, fill with lemon curd, and top with sliced strawberries.

Orange Flan
PETER HOFFMAN

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup blanched almonds
Zest of 1 orange
7 eggs
1 and 1/4 cups fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small stainless-steel or enamel pan. Bring to a boil over low heat until the sugar melts. Swirl the pan (do not stir) and continue to heat until the sugar turns golden, and immediately remove from heat. Carefully divide the caramel among 8 ramekins, making sure that the bottom of each ramekin is covered. Set aside.

Grind the almonds in a food processor. Add the remaining sugar, the orange zest, and the eggs, and process until smooth. Add orange juice and Grand Marnier, and process quickly. Pour the mixture into the ramekins and place them in a baking dish. Set the dish on the middle rack of the oven and pour hot water into the baking dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven, and set aside to cool in the water bath for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

To serve, cut around the edge of each ramekin and unmold, allowing the caramel to pour over the custard.

Passover Flourless Chocolate Cake
JO-ANN MAKOVITZKY

Cake:11 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken up
5 and 1/2 ounces kosher margarine
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
6 eggs, separated
1 egg white
1 cup sugar
Garnish:
1 pint blueberries or raspberries
1 pint strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Place the chocolate and margarine in a metal bowl, and place over a pan of simmering water. When it's melted, stir in the liqueur. Set aside in a warm place.

Beat the 6 egg yolks together with 1/2 cup of the sugar in a bowl, until the mixture turns lemon-yellow. In another bowl beat the 7 egg whites together; when soft peaks form, add another 1/2 cup sugar, and beat until medium peaks form.

Fold the egg-yolk mixture into the chocolate; then fold in the meringue, a third at a time. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees and bake for a further 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan, and then remove.

Garnish: Clean and cut berries to desired size. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and liqueur, and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

To serve, slice the cake into 8 pieces. Spoon berry mixture gently over each slice.


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