Friday, May 23, 2008

Buried in the sand with chicken

I am watching the news and writing to you. One of these activities has to stop because it is not doing any of us any good. I renew. I reuse. I restore. And I move on. No amount of my fretting up and down the east coast will stop gas and food prices from becoming more staggering with each passing day. I planted a garden to share with you, literally and figurativly. I watch the local news long enough to memorize the faces of the children searched for on today's Amber alerts, (because this is serious, serious stuff and we all need to commit to helping these families). After that, I'm out. Once in a while, and always on Wednesdays, I have my nose buried in the New York Times, but more and more often I am finding burying my head in a sand a far more rewarding experience.

Speaking of sand, there is a mighty good deal of it in Syria, I imagine. I will not be able to verify this suspicion of mine soon however, as this is not a place one gets to visit, generally speaking, owning to certain and uncertain dangers therein. But, I am pleased to advise you, there is no overt danger, nor any displeasure what-so-ever in a chicken dish Susan Loomis Hermann writes orginated in Syria in her book Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin.

There are so many glowing things to say about this dish but I am afraid saying them all might lead you to believe it is less straight forward and honest than it truly is. This is good, clean, fresh food, they way I imagine food might have been before friers entered civilization: The poached chicken is soft and tender under a crunchy bed of croutons and a simple, cooling yogurt sauce.

Makes you wonder if the things we ate first are not still the things we should go to to feel better, to feel whole, to help us amass the strngth and courage to unbury our heads each day.

As for myself, I have my chicken and it's not a bad place to spend a season or a year, a big sand pile. It's not wrong to stop the noise and tune out the catastropic inflationary warnings. It's wrong not to eat this chicken.

I bid you good day, from my invisible self-made desert.

Syrian Chicken

4 servings

Adapted from Cooking on Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis Hermann

Okay, let me tell you straight away that I had to omit the mint because the garden has not yielded any as yet and neither did a visit to the market. Secondly, same goes for pine nuts. I let the mint go and used toasted pistachios instead which I browned in a dry pan (Ms. Loomis called for 2 teaspoons of butter to toast the nuts). Still it was wonderful, still I dream of this chicken sitting, leftover, in my fridge right now.

One of the mysteries of this recipe, which I would ask Ms. Hermann had I the opportunity, is the inclusion of a baguette to provide the crunch in the dish (which it definately needs). The dish was said to remind a Syrian friend of hers of home, and I wonder if a baguette would have been the bread of choice had he been making the recipe in Syria. I reread the notes before the recipe because it seemed the baguette called for was out of place. I still think it is. But, it doesn't matter, the recipe is correct just as it is and best left alone. If there was another bread form more authentic to the dish, I will probably never know.

One chicken, 3.5 - 4.0 pounds, cut up
2 large white onions, quarted
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
10 black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
1/2 baguette, cut into 1" cubes


2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini, well-stirred
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed and toasted


1/4 cup pistachios or pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup flat leaf parsely
10 fresh mint leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot set over high heat, place chicken, onions, garlic, cumin seeds, salt, and pepper. Cover with water 2 inches above. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about one hour until meat separates easily from the bone when pierced with a fork. Remove pot from heat and allow chicken to stand in broth for ten minutes before removing to your cutting board. Retain one cup of the broth and save the remainder for another, later use (I froze mine for future chicken stock needs).

Meanwhile, as the chicken cooks place the cubed baguette onto a dry baking sheet and place in the oven. Cook, turning once or twice until it is toasted on golden on most sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Shut the oven off and place your low, wide bowl of a serving dish into the warm oven to heat.

Now make the sauce: In a medium bowl combine the yogurt, tahini, minced garlic cloves, lemon juice, and the toasted crushed cumin seeds. Taste and add lemon juice to taste as you wish. Place in the fridge until you are ready to plate the dish.

Into a small dry skillet over medium heat place the pistachios or pine nuts and toast until pistachios are a brighter green or until pine nuts are a golden brown. Remove from the pan to a plate to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Get your serving pan out of the oven and place a half cup of the reserved broth in thebottom of the dish. Place the dish next to your board. On to your cutting board transfer the chicken, piece by piece, removing all of the meat from each piece with two forks and being sure all pieces are bite-sized before placeing them into the stock in your serving dish. If the meat is not covered with stock, add more from the remaining 1/2 cup that has been reserved, this will keep it from drying out.

Mince the parsely and mint leaves.

Now assemble the dish: Scatter the baguette cubes on top of the chicken. Cover the bread cubes with the yogurt sauce. Scatter the toasted nuts over, then the minced parsely and mint (while Ms. Hermann allows that you could serve the yogurt sauce on the side, if you wish, I have no intention of agreeing: It may seem odd to you, do it anyway, trust is part of life).

Serve it up with a big spoon and a watercress salad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree this is a great book. This recipe is one of my favorites too.