While everyone is familiar with the usual suspects of Rosh Hashanah cuisine— apples and honey, round challah, honey cake–there are countless other foods that are traditional at the start of the Jewish year. These include pomegranates, beets, black eyed peas, dates, and even the spice fenugreek. And for our purposes: fish.
Why fish? Fish multiply quickly and in quantity. On Rosh Hashanah, we eat fish in hopes that the coming year will be one of plenty. Another explanation is that fish are particularly lucky because the evil eye cannot reach the underwater depths where they live. Eating fish expresses the desire that the Jewish people should similarly be free of evil and bad thoughts.As with everything Jewish, there are multiple interpretations. In fact, some Jews specifically avoid fish on Rosh Hashanah, because the Hebrew word for fish, dag, is similar to the word da’agah, or worry.
In some communities, there is significance associated not just with fish, but with fish heads (and the heads of other animals, like sheep and roosters). These have historically been placed on the Rosh Hashanah table, with a special prayer recited over them: May it be your will, God, that we be like the head and not like the tail.
If the thought of a fish head on your dinner table makes you squeamish, you are not alone. Instead, why not serve some special fish dishes at your Rosh Hashanah meal? While the obvious is gefilte, here’s an alternative appropriate for the holiday.
Fish baked in parchment is delicious to eat, fun to prepare with the whole family, and very healthy. The use of parchment steams the fish and makes it extra moist. If you are preparing this ahead of time, simply keep the fish in the parchment and reheat it until hot. Cut open the package just prior to serving.
It’s best to try to track down restaurant grade sheets of parchment paper (16″x24″), likely available at restaurant supply stores. Otherwise, cut a roll of parchment to size.
For another fish dish perfect for Rosh Hashanah, try this Italian sweet and sour fish.
6 sheets parchment paper, 16
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 5-6 ounce fillets of salmon, skin removed
1 tablespoon and 12 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 lbs firm sweet apples, such as Gala or Braburn
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Fold a 24-inch sheet of parchment paper in half width-wise and cut out a heart shape about 3 inches larger than each fillet of salmon.
Mix brown sugar and lemon zest and set aside.
Cut the apples around the core and cut slices of roughly 1/8″ thick. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning.
Heat a large skillet on high, almost to the point of smoking. Add olive oil and immediately add the apple slices, keeping them one layer thick (you can cook in batches if necessary). Turn down the heat to medium-high. Leave undisturbed in the skillet for one minute, until the apples have developed a golden crust. Toss and continue to sauté until they are tender, but not mushy. Remove from the heat.
Open up one sheet of parchment paper (it is now a heart shape). Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil on one side of the fold, and place 1/6th of the cooked apple slices on top of the oil. Then place one salmon fillet on top of apples, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons brown sugar/lemon zest mixture. Drizzle another teaspoon of olive oil on top so that the parchment on top does not stick.
To close the package, fold paper and make small overlapping folds to seal the edges, starting at the curved edge of the heart. Make sure there are no gaps so that the steam cannot escape.
Repeat process for each of the other five salmon fillets.
Fill a baking sheet or large casserole dish with the parchment packages. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until package is puffed up and the fish is opaque. Do not overcook.
Before serving, reheat in parchment at 300 degrees for 6-8 minutes, or until hot throughout.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.