“Hanukkah is all about the oil,” says Sara Bradley, chef and proprietor of Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky. Based on the holiday’s origin story, during which a small amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days, oil signifies the eternal flame that has given hope to Jewish people ever since.
For Bradley, a multigenerational Kentuckian who was raised as a reformed Jew, Hanukkah “was always about fried chicken, potato latkes, doughnuts—everything cooked in oil.” As a chef, she veers into new directions, both at home and at the restaurant, always looking to the oil itself as an essential element of the dish.
Last year, the restaurant served sufganiyot, or yeasted doughnuts fried in peanut oil, drizzled with creamy peanut butter and chocolate sauce. For family, she now makes salmon poached in a green garlic confit oil with a dill and black-pepper horseradish sauce. And her latkes, made with a curried sweet potato base, are fried in rice bran oil.
“It’s a really interesting oil that is pressed from the bran and husk that’s removed from rice, so it’s a good use of byproduct,” Bradley says. “It also yields an extremely high smoke point, up there with peanut and grapeseed oil, and it’s totally flavorless.” The oil is also gluten-free and high in unsaturated fats and vitamin E, and it maintains its consistency in both hot and cold temperatures. “That’s my pantry staple now,” she adds.
This year, Bradley is pulling out the oil to make her sweet potato latkes, while continuing her family traditions, this time with a newborn baby girl, along with her husband and two-year-old daughter. “We celebrate by lighting the candles every night, saying the prayers. It’s been a lot of fun to show my [oldest] daughter,” she says. “She doesn’t really get it yet, but she will.”