Chicken. Just Chicken.
“Jews and chicken,” said Grace Adler on the 2006 finale of the now-resurrected Will & Grace. “It’s deep and it’s real.”
There’s no debating that Jewish cuisine would wither without chicken. No chicken means no schmaltz, which means half the delicious things your grandmother used to make suddenly become half as delicious. No chicken means Shabbat dinners with a giant empty spot on your plate, a hole that no meatloaf or risotto or tofu scramble can fill. No chicken means matzo ball soup with kneidlach floating in—what? Beef bouillon? Hearty vegetable? Mushroom barley? Hot water? Come on.
But what explains Jews’ connection to chicken, as opposed to, say, beef or lamb? Simple. As anyone who’s ever eaten both kosher and nonkosher meat can attest, kosher red meat is second-rate. (Yes, yes, I’m sure your butcher is a magician, and your preparation is perfection, and your roast is top-notch. But please. Try treyf beef, just once. Seriously.) Kosher versions of pork products like bacon and sausage are best left undiscussed—and uneaten. As for fish, what’s kosher is perfectly lovely, but leaving shellfish off the menu altogether is like listening to a symphony without the woodwinds; what’s there may sound wonderful, but everyone can tell that something’s missing.
Chicken, on the other hand, is the one place where the Jews got it right in the flavor department. Kosher chicken is so vastly superior to any treyf bird—bigger, juicier, more flavorful—that they’re barely birds of a feather. Perdue’s legendary Oven Stuffer Roasters look like sparrows next to an average kosher chicken; Tyson’s scrawny and pale (so pale!) birdlets can’t compete, either. Have you ever seen a treyf drumstick? More like a matchstick.
So of course Jews love chicken. It’s the only place on a kosher menu where they don’t have to settle for second best.
Wayne Hoffman is executive editor of Tablet.