Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Spain

As I continue with my Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge, I have found that there often is a challenge within a challenge. Take, for example, a country like India. It is a country with thirty-six (36) states and union territories, such as Bihar in the north and Kerala in the south.  There are seemingly as many different cuisines within India as there are states and territories. The question becomes, how to choose a main course when there are so many cuisines to choose from. Admittedly, this challenge within a challenge did not present any troubles in the past. I would simply choose a dish, such as Rogan Josh in the case of India, and make it. 

With my most recent challenge, which involves the country of Spain, I decided to take a different approach.  Spain has seventeen (17) different regions, from the Azores to the Balearic Islands with many regions in between, like Galicia, Castille, Catalonia and Andalucia. Each of those regions has its own cuisine, based upon local ingredients, local cooking techniques and time-honored dishes. So exactly how do I choose a main dish?

After much thought, I decided to do something truly random.  I chose a random address in Spain.  That address would put me in a region from which I would make the main course. I turned to the Internet, which has plenty of various random address generators.  I selected one and out popped an address.  That address was located in Seville, a city in the region of Andalusia.

The random address put me in a small alley just a block or so away from the Maestranza. The best description is a picture: 


That's right, a bull fighting arena. The Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla is a 350 year old bullfighting ring that seats 12,000 people. Although construction began in 1749, the Maestranza was not fully completed until 1881. It is still in use today, with bullfighting matches taking place from March through September. However, it is the matches that take place during the Feria Abril de Sevilla or the Seville Fair that attract the most attention.

Yet, this post is not about bullfighting, it is about cooking and food. And, perhaps Andalusia is perhaps the perfect place for this culinary challenge.  The history of the region's cuisine can be traced back to at least 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians established Cadiz. The Phoenicians brought grape vines and olive trees.  The Phoenicians were followed by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths, and, then, the Moors. 

The Moorish rule brought many things to Andalucia, such as irrigation systems, which provided the foundation for large farms and the production of cash crops.  The Moors also brought with them a variety of foods such as oranges, lemons, eggplants, almonds, dates, peaches, apricots, rice, and coffee.  They also brought sugar and spices, such as black pepper, cumin and saffron.

By 1492, the Moors had been pushed out of the Iberian peninsula. That was also the year that Christopher Columbus set sail to the west. The "age of discovery" or the "age of exploration" (both phrases I find to be completely misleading, as the areas that were "discovered" or "explored" had already been found by their original inhabitants) led to even more foods being introduced to the cuisine of Andalucia and other Spanish regions. These include peppers, yams, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and avocados. These ingredients worked their way into the cuisine of the region, creating the foundation for the wide array of dishes that may find their way to the Andalusian table.

SOUP/SALAD

There is an Andalusian saying, "Del gazpacho no hey empachno." It translates as, "you do not get an upset stomach from gazpacho." There is some truth to that saying.  I have made gazpacho many times, and, I have always enjoyed this dish. But, I wanted to learn a little more about its history. 

The central ingredient in modern day gazpacho is the tomato. Yet, tomatoes did not make their way into Spanish cuisine until at least the 16th century. So, does that mean that gazpacho only goes back to the 1500s? The answer to that question is in the negative. The soup - or is it a salad (that's another debate) - actually dates back to at least the time of the Romans. It originated as a soup made with bread, olive oil, vinegar, water, garlic, and salt. It is believed that the dish traveled with Romans as they made their way to the Iberian peninsula. The dish became a staple of the region in Andalucia, especially among the poor. It was not until the 1800s that tomatoes were incorporated into the dish, creating the base of the soup - or salad - that we know today.

The key to a great gazpacho is the tomatoes. They should be fresh, ripe and off the vine. In fact, all of the vegetables that go into the dish - including the cucumber, green pepper, and garlic - should be as fresh and ripe as possible.  By contrast, it is okay if the bread has gone a little stale. While some recipes call for the use of bread, others will suggest that the bread be left out overnight. Personally, I am not sure that it matters much for the soup (or salad), given it is blended and then strained. But, cutting the stale bread into small croutons (or toasting fresh bread), does a lot when it comes to serving the dish.  

Speaking of service, gazpacho should be served with accompaniments, like those croutons.  While croutons are a traditional accompaniment, so are tropezones or chopped vegetables. These include tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and cucumbers. There may be others, such as ham and egg.  Each one of the accompaniments should be served in separate bowls.  The guest is provided with the bowl of gazpacho and then he or she can decide which accompaniments - and how much - to add to the soup (or salad). 

Finally, as to that debate about soup or salad, I have always thought of gazpacho as a soup.  It is after all a liquid with additional ingredients added to it. However, most Spanish cookbooks refer to gazpacho as a salad or liquid salad. This fact, which I did not know before undertaking this challenge, may require me to reassess my thoughts about what exactly is gazpacho.

GAZPACHO ANALUZ

Recipe from Culinaria Spain, pg. 422-23

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Gazpacho):

  • 2-3 slices of white bread
  • 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled seeded and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of wine vinegar or sherry vinegar 
Ingredients (for the Garnish):

  • Cubes of white bread
  • Small cubes of tomato
  • Bell pepper, diced up small
  • Diced onion
  • Cubes of ham
  • Hard-boiled egg, diced up small

Directions:

1. Prepare the soup. Roughly break up the white bread, and pour some water over, then leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.  Put the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and garlic in a blender, then add the bread and finally the oil.  Puree the entire mixture.  Add enough water as necessary to give the soup the required consistency. 

2. Continue preparing the soup. If necessary, pass the soup through a fine sieve.  Season with salt and vinegar.  Place the gazpacho in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. 

3. Finish the dish. Serve it very cold with separate bowls of white bread cubes, small pieces of bell pepper, diced onion, cubes of ham and diced had cooked eggs, which each person mixes into their soup themselves.

MAIN COURSE

For the main challenge, I was perusing Andalusian recipes when I came across a recipe for Pato a la Jerezana or Jerez-style duck.  This recipe is quintessentially Andalusian based on the "Jerez," or use of sherry in the dish.  The region is known for its production of sherry, which is a fortified wine made from Palomino grapes. The wine is aged using the solera method, which is also use for port or balsamic vinegar.  The method requires the use of as little as three or as many as nine barrels.  One barrel is filled with the sherry, and, over time, some of that sherry is moved to the next barrel, a process known as running the scales. Only the sherry in the last barrel is bottled and sold.  

This recipe presented an actual challenge for me.  I had to break down a whole duck into its constituent parts (wings, legs, breast and thighs).  I have broken down whole chickens, and, I assumed that the process would be the same.  The process was very similar, except in one respect.  As I was removing the legs, I was looking for the thighs. I separated the leg at the joint, but I could not see much of any thigh. (By the way, ducks are harder to disjoint than chickens.) I went back over what I did and proceeded to the next leg.  I removed it at the joint, but, once again, not much in the way of any thigh meat.  I thought I did something wrong, until I realized something.  Duck legs are shorter than chicken legs, and, as a result, ducks have smaller thighs. This is the reason for duck confit, which is basically the leg and the thigh.  

Once I butchered the duck, pretty much in every sense of the word, I proceeded to making the dish. The recipe is fairly straightforward for a braise: brown the meat, remove, add the vegetables, then some liquid and return the meat back for a period of time.  The time period for the braise - 45 minutes - seemed rather short; but, with the duck broken down into pieces, I assumed that would account for that timeframe. 

Once it was done, the dish was very good and rich. The combination of the rendered duck fat and the bacon made the resulting sauce very fatty (which was probably intended by the recipe's authors and Andalucian cooks).  As I look back on the dish, I probably could have used a separator to remove much of the fattiness, and then returned the liquid to a pot to cook and and become more concentrated. These ideas went beyond the recipe and are good notes for the next time when I try to make this dish.  However, for now, I think that I have completed the challenge!

PATO A LA JEREZANA (JEREZ STYLE DUCK)

Recipe from Culinaria Spain, pg. 422-23

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 duck, weighing about 4.5 pounds
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5.5 ounces of streaky bacon cut into strips
  • 2 onions diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic diced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and cubed
  • 7 ounces of pitted green olives
  • 1 cup of stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, oregano, bay leaf)
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 2 cloves
Directions:

1.    Prepare the duck. Wash the duck and pat dry.  Cut into equal sized portions.  Rub thoroughly all over with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a braising pan and brown the duck portions on all sides until nicely golden brown.  Remove the portions and set them aside.

2.  Continue preparing the dish. Fry the bacon, onions and garlic in the oil until translucent. Add the carrots and fry briefly.  Stir in the tomatoes and the olives, and then pour in the stock. Add the bouquet garni and cloves.  Bring to a boil and at that point, return the duck to the pan.  Braise, covered for approximately, 45 minutes.  About 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir in the sherry and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. 

*    *    *

In the end, I think I can say that I have successfully completed another personal culinary challenge.  The Jerez-style duck was very good. The dish combined culinary elements of Andalucia - from the olives to the sherry - to prepare a dish that utilizes a not so common protein (namely, duck).  While I think that I did a good job with respect to the main course, the true star of this challenge was the gazpacho. The soup - or salad - had the brightness of vegetables, the tartness of the sherry vinegar, and even the garlic. The accompaniments, which went beyond the typical tropezones, also helped contribute to the dish.  

More importantly, I have now completed 40 challenges, which means I am half way through my personal culinary challenge to cook dishes from around the world.  It took over 10 years to reach this point; and, I am hoping that it won't take another ten to finish the journey. I have several challenges in the works, which you can see on my Around the World in 80 Dishes page. Having reached this milestone, I am going to use that momentum to complete more challenges in a timely fashion.  Until next time,

ENJOY!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Oxtail Ossobuco

A while back, my beautiful Angel bought me some oxtail from Costco. It was two packs of oxtail, each about two pounds.  These packs would constitute my first efforts at using this ingredient. My first attempt was Cola de Res al Mole. A Mexican-inspired dish with a relatively simple mole sauce. It was a great effort and a very delicious meal. 

I still had one package of oxtail left. I also had one question: what to do with it?  I reviewed a bunch of recipes on the internet, and came across one of my favorite dishes. Ossobuco. This standard for this dish involves veal shanks, although one can find it prepared with beef shank, lamb shanks and even pork shanks. The use of the shank bone is ideal because, as the name suggests in Italian, it is a hollow bone.  Well, not entirely hollow, there is bone marrow, which is perhaps my favorite part of the dish. 

Oxtail is completely different than a shank. What it lacks in gelatin, it makes up for in gelatin. It is a cut that is ideal for braising, a long cook that helps to break down the oxtails and that provides the basis for rich sauce. When using oxtail, it is ideal to find pieces that are relatively the same size.  This helps to ensure that the pieces cook evenly. I just used the package that I had, which had a range of pieces from big to small.  Needless to say, by the time I was done, the small ones were just bones (the meat had already fallen off and was in the sauce) and the large ones were just about right. 

While this dish was good, I think I did a better job with the Cola de Res al Mole. At some point, I will get some more oxtail and try some new recipes. 

OXTAIL OSSO BUCCO

Recipe adapted from All Things Barbecue

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4.5 pounds of oxtail segments
  • Hickory smoked salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, medium dice
  • 2 large carrots medium dice
  • 3-4 ribs celery, medium dice
  • 12 cloves garlic, divided
  • 3 cups (1 28 ounce can) San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, divided
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups dry white wine (Orvieto, Trebbiano, Prosecco)
  • Beef stock
  • Zest of two lemons

Directions:

1. Brown the oxtail.  Preheat the smoker, grill or oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Season the oxtails with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the oxtails, shaking off excess flour and transfer to a hot Dutch oven. Sear and brown on all sides, working in batches to avoid overcrowding.  Transfer oxtail segments to a plate and repeat with the remaining oxtail segments. 

2. Sauté the vegetables.  Add the olive oil to the Dutch oven.  Stir in the onions, carrots, celery and crushed garlic cloves and cook, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add about 1/3 of the bunch of parsley to the Dutch oven, as well as the thyme and bay leaf.  Pour whine over the veggies and bring to a simmer.  

3. Continue to cook the oxtail. Add the tomatoes and return the oxtail segments to the Dutch oven.  If there is not enough liquid to cover the oxtail segments, then add some beef stock.  The beef does not need to be fully submerged.  Transfer the Dutch oven to the grill or the oven. Cook, checking the liquid level occasionally.  If the liquid reduces all the way, add more beef stock.  Cook until the meat is nearly falling off the bone, about 2.5 to 3 hours.  If the liquid is still fairly runny, transfer the oxtails to a plate and cover with aluminum fil and leave the pot in the cooker or in the oven until the liquid is reduced or thickened. 

4. Prepare the polenta and gremolata. During the last 30 minutes, prepare the polenta according to the instructions on the package. Prepare the gremolata by mincing the remaining parsley leaves and garlic and tossing it in a bowl with the lemon zest. 

5. Finish the dish. Spoon the polenta at the bottom of the plate.  Place the oxtails over the polenta, sauce with the liquid and sprinkle the gremolata on top. 

ENJOY!

Monday, May 17, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Somalia

A Somali poet and scholar, Axmed Ismaaciil Diiriye Qaasim, once penned the poem, Macaan iyo Qadhaadh (Sweet and Bitter). The poem is a kind of metaphor for his homeland:

Consider the aloe - how bitter is its taste. 
Yet sometimes there wells up a sap so sweet
That it seems like honey in your mount. 
Side by side the sweet and the bitter run.

The poem goes on, but, it is the last line quoted above that caught my attention. The sweet and the bitter, side by side. While the poet may have had someone else or something else in mind, those words provide an apt description of Somalia. 

For most of its recent history, the bitterness has gotten all of the attention. Since the onset of civil war in 1991, the country has been gripped in a seemingly endless state of violence. As the central government disintegrated, various groups began to assert themselves and battle each other for control.  The costs of these battles, over the course of the past thirty years, has resulted in the death of approximately 500,000 people, the displacement of more than 2,000,000 people, the disintegration of governing institutions, and the destruction of infrastructure and public services.  If one were to reach back further in time, before the civil war, he or she would encounter a history marked by military rule and colonial conquests, both of which have their own price tags with respect to death and destruction. 

Yet, for all this bitterness, there is still the sweet. Somalia is a land of natural contrasts running along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. There is a diversity of environments, from the coastal forests and mangroves in the southwestern region (along the Indian ocean and the border with Kenya) to the bushlands and thickets of the Somalia-Acacia Commiphora Bushlands. There is also an interesting diversity of plants and animals. Somalia supposedly boasts of the largest population of camels in the world, as well as lions, Sudanese cheetahs, African bush elephants, gazelles, zebras and, of course, the Somali wild ass. 

The sweet can be found not just in the place, but also in the Somali people and their culture.  For example, there is a long literary tradition. The 19th century British explorer, Richard Francis Burton, once wrote in his book First Footsteps in Eastern Africa that the land which would become Somalia 

teems with poets ... every man has his recognized position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines - the fine ear of this people causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetic expressions .... Every chief in this country must have a panegyric to be sung by his clan, and the great patronize light literature by keeping a poet.

There are approximately thirty different forms of Somali poetry, many of which  differ in terms of the number of syllables per verse: from Gabay, with 14 to 16 syllables, to Hees Xoolad, with only 4 to 5 syllables. 

The sweet is not only found in the poetry of the Somalis, but also their music because, historically speaking, both were tied together.  Poetry would be set to music by way of a chant or a song. The words were always more important than the music. Indeed, some genres of poetry -- such as Gabay, Jiifto, or Geeraar -- were typically accompanied by the clapping of hands, without any musical instruments. Another form of poetry, Buraanmbur, which is recited at formal occasions such as weddings, is recited with the use of drums.  And, if one travels into southern Somalia, the poetry may be performed with a variety of different instruments such as drums, flutes, hand carved clappers and a lyre. 

Colonialism brought changes to Somali music, most notably the separation of music from poetry.  English, French and Italians introduced music as a stand alone concept in its modern form, which was reinforced by the radio. Somali musicians incorporated foreign genres, such as American soul, Jamaican reggae and Arabic maqaam, with their own traditional musical instruments and folk stylings. 

The literary and musical history and traditions of the Somali people are just one of the many aspects of the sweet that can be found in Somalia.  It is unfortunate that such sweetness does not prevail over the bitter, which tends to get the most attention.  

MAIN COURSE

Turning to my personal culinary challenge, I needed a main course from Somali cuisine for my personal culinary challenge.  I went through quite a few recipes before I decided to make Surbiyaan Hilib Adhi, which is dish of lamb with rice that very much resembles a biryani.

Biryani originates from the Persian word burian, which means "fried before cooking." While it may have originated in Persia, biryani became a staple of the royal kitchens of the Mughal empire. The empire ruled over a large territory that included substantial parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. As with any empire, the Mughal could not withstand time, or, for that matter, colonialism.  However, biryani - with its combination of vegetables and meats - continued to thrive throughout the subcontinent. The dish also extended its reach, especially to the east, into the Arabian peninsula.  It became known as zurbian in Saudi Arabia and zurbiyan in Yemen. Eventually, the dish crossed the Red Sea into Somalia, where it became known as surbiyaan.   

SURBIYAAN HILIB ADHI (LAMB WITH RICE)

Recipe from My Somali Food

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 onions, 1 sliced and 1 chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 5-6 cups water, plus 3/4 cup water
  • 2 pounds lamb, medium cut
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 2-4 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 cardamom seeds cracked
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Directions:

1. Caramelize the onions. Heat the oil over medium heat, add the sliced onion and fry until brown.  Add the raisins and cook until they puff up. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

2. Soak the saffron.  In a small bowl, add the saffron and then pour 1/4 cup of hot water into the bowl.  Let it soak for up to 20 minutes.

3.  Boil the rice.   Bring 5-6 cups of water to a boil.  Add the rice and cook for a few minutes.  The rice should be cooked to half way.  You can test this by trying to break the rice in your hand.  Drain the rice in a colander and let it cool until needed.

4. Cook the lamb. In a large pot, fry the lamb with the oil until brown on all sides.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until brown. Add the cardamom, cinnamon stick, and lemon juice. Then add the garlic, tomatoes, spices and cilantro. Mix the ingredients together and then cook for 3 minutes until fragrant.  Add 1/2 cup of water.  Let simmer while covered on medium heat until boil, and then lower the heat for 10-15 minutes.  

5.  Finish the dish. Add the rice and spread it out so that the top is even.  Add the caramelized onions and raisins, followed by the saffron water.  Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until it begins to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  The bottom of the pan will be dry and there will be no water left so make sure not to burn the bottom.  Remove the pot from the heat and serve immediately. 

DESSERT

Although I was looking forward to the lamb dish, I did a lot of research to find another dish that I could prepare as part of this challenge.  Ordinarily, I am looking for side dishes or appetizers, but, this time I came across something that could either be a breakfast or dessert. It is Malawah. It is a crepe like pancake made with ground cardamom and ginger, which, along with the sugar, provide the sweetness.

MALAWAH (SOMALI SWEET PANCAKE)

Recipe from The Spruce Eats and The Somali Kitchen

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2.5 cups milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Honey, sugar to garnish
Directions:

Whisk or blend the eggs, sugar, milk, salt and cardamom and ginger.  Then pour approximately 1/4 of a cup of the mixture the pan in a circular motion.  Once the pancake is brown, flip and cook briefly on the other side.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.  Serve immediately with honey or sugar as a garnish.

*    *    *


In the end, I think that the main course of Surbiyaan Hilib Adhi was a success.  I think my prior experience with making biryanis in the past, along with my general experience preparing plovs, pulao and polos -- all rice dishes with some form of protein -- helped with making this dish. The Malawah were also very good. However, I failed to get the circular motion down, which is why my Malawah look more like pancakes that crepes with a circular design. 

I also have to note that this challenge presents a milestone in my personal culinary challenge. It marks the first time I have completed challenges for an entire region.  The region is the Horn of Africa. I previously completed a culinary challenge for Ethiopia (#1), Eritrea (#19) and Djibouti (#30). Somalia (#39) represents the final country in region and it was a huge success. 

One last thought.  The two dishes that I made for this culinary challenge have analogues in the cuisine of a nearby country with an unfortunate history: Yemen. While the random country generator may choose my next challenges, I think I may make a stop to explore Yemeni cuisine very soon.  Until next time ...

ENJOY!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Yangrou Chuan

For all that it may do, China cannot erase the influences of those who practice Islam (namely, the Uyghurs) on both the people ... and their food. This influence is most noticeable when it comes to chuan or chuan'r. It is a dish that begins with small pieces of a protein, usually lamb, which are heavily seasoned with ground cumin and chiles. The seasoned meat is threaded onto skewers and then roasted over hot coals. The end product resembles the kebabs that are seemingly omnipresent throughout the Muslim world. 

These particular kebabs originated within, and quintessentially associated with, the Uyghur communities who live in Xinjiang, which is located in the northwest corner of China. The Uyghurs are currently the victims of a concerted effort to erase their culture and history. I have previously posted about this effort, as well as its impact upon Uyghur cuisine. I am not going to repeat what I discussed in that post. But, the subject of chuan brings me back to this discussion, because it is a subject of how aspects of a culture can be accepted and even incorporated into a larger body even while that culture is ruthlessly repressed. 

The spread of chuan throughout northern and eastern China tells a familiar story. The preparation of these kebabs began to spread as the Chinese -- especially those who lived in Beijing -- learned that the skewers were not just delicious, but a good eat after a long night on the nightlife scene.  Small food carts started appearing in the nighttime at night-time stalls, known as da pai dang, serving those who had spent the night partying in the clubs. In other words, the food of the Uyghurs has been accepted into the "mainstream," while other aspects of their culture, such as their religion, their language and their traditions, have not. 

To be clear, this situation -- where certain aspects of a culture have been accepted into the "mainstream" while the culture itself has not -- is not unique to the Uyghurs in China. Indeed, if one looked hard enough (which really is not that hard at all), one can see aspects of Native American culture that have been accepted into mainstream American culture while the Native Americans themselves were forced over the course of our history onto reservations. 

In my humble opinion, it is important to ensure that everyone knows and understands the history behind the foods that they enjoy.  It is equally important that, where this history is troublesome and difficult, people acknowledge the issues and work to make positive changes. Put another way, education will hopefully help to prevent these historical issues from repeating themselves. 


YANGROU CHUAN

Recipe from Serious Eats

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon red chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 pounds of boneless lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or rice wine)

Directions:

1. Prepare the marinade. In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind chile flakes, cumin and fennel.  Add granulated garlic and kosher salt and briefly grind to break salt into smaller pieces and thoroughly combine ingredients. reserve 1 tablespoon of the spice mix in a small bowl.  Add lamb to a large bowl and toss thoroughly with the remaining spice mix, oil and Shaoxing wine (or rice wine0.

2. Prepare the grill. Light a chimney of charcoal or a gas grill to medium high hear.  When the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes.  Clean and oil the grate. 

3. Grill the skewers. Grill skewers, covered, over indirect heat until lamb is nearly cooked through, about four minutes per side.  Move skewers over direct heat, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix and cook until well seared on both sides, about 1 minute total. 

4. Finish the dish.  Remove the skewers from the gas grill and serve right away. 

ENJOY!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Wesley Jones' Barbecue and Antebellum Sauce

Federal Project Number 1. The moniker for a government program that employed upwards of 40,000 writers, musicians, artists and actors during the Great Depression.  The Federal government hired all of these individuals because, as the then-Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins bluntly put it, "Hell, they've got to eat too." However, there was two important principles underying Federal One, as the project became known: (1) in the time of need, the artist - no less than the manual worker - is entitled to employment as an artist, even at the public expense; and (2) the arts - no less than business, agriculture, and labor - are the immediate concern of the country. 

One of the initiatives of Federal One was the Federal Writers Project. This project within a project employed thousands of writers, historians, researchers, editors and others to do what they do best: preserve the American experience. They did what was asked of them; and, in the process, demonstrated the important contributions that they could make to our country. 

Most notably, the Federal Writers Project produced, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from interviews with Former Slaves.  This work is a literary opus, bringing together 2,300 individual interviews of former slaves and 500 original pictures that span nearly 10,000 pages. My introduction to this literary composition placed me squarely in its middle. It was Volume XIV (of thirty-three parts).  This volume is entitled, South Carolina Narratives, Part 3. It includes the interviews of approximately 75 former slaves.

One of those slaves was Wesley Jones, who was interviewed on June 21, 1937. 

Wesley was born in 1840 on a plantation somewhere in Union County, South Carolina. During his interview, Wesley talked about what he would do for the plantation owner, such as driving him to church or goiong to a store in Sardis, South Carolina to pick up papers (or letters).  Today, the town of Sardis appears to be little more than a crossroads just south of an exit on Interstate 95. However, back in the 1850s, a lot more was apparently going on in that little town, especially at that store. According to Wesley, there were "big barbecues" at the Sardis store. 

As it turns out, Wesley had a role at those barbecues. He worked as the pitmaster.  Wesley recounted that, "on his 'karpets' (pit stakes), ... I had whole goats, whole hogs, sheep and de side of a cow." He also discussed how he prepared these meats:

Night befo' dem barbecues, I used to stay up all night a-cooking and basting de meats wid barbecue sass (sauce). It made of vinegar, black and red pepper, salt, butter, a little sage, coriander, basil, onion and garlic. Some folks drop a little sugar in it.  On a long pronged stick, I wraps a soft rag or cotton fer a swab, and I swabs dat meat 'till it drip into de fire. Dem drippings change de smoke into seasoned fumes dat smoke de meat.  We turn de meat over and swab it da way all night long 'till it ooze seasoning and bake all through.

This excerpt from the Slave Narrativees provides a first hand account of how African-American slaves prepared barbecue.  However, let's be honest, it is an account of how those slaves prepared barbecue for the white plantation class. Slaves would not have had access to whole goats, whole hogs, sheep and a side of a cow to prepare their own meals or meals for their families. They often only had the discarded cuts, the tough portions of an animal that required a slow cook over low temperatures in order to make them tender enough to eat.  

Yet, the story of Wesley Jones remains important.  It provides a starting point on an educational journey to explore the true roots of barbecue. Those roots originated with the enslaved and persecuted.  The problem is that much of the history of barbecue is not written by those who did the work. 

The picture shown above is a good metaphor for this point. It shows a person working the pit, mopping the meat as it smokes. You can see who is doing the work, except for his face. Countless African Americans and Native Americans, whose identities have been ignored or forgotten by history, contributed to what we all enjoy today when we eat some pulled pork or sliced brisket. It was their cooking traditions, along with those of the Native Americans, that constitute the origin story of American barbecue.

I want to learn more about their work. That is my goal with this post. I decided to recreate what Wesley Jones would prepare for the barbecues in Sardis. Thanks to the Federal Writers Project, and one of the Project's editors named Elmer Turnage, I have the words of Wesley Jones for a starting point.  

Wesley said that he spent the night "basting de meats wid barbecue sass" and "all night long I swabs dat meat...." These passages suggest that he used something that modern pitmasters could refer to as mop sauce.  It is basically a thin liquid - usually vinegar (if you are trying to tenderize the meat) or beer (if you want to add flavor) - with spices.  Wesley basically provided the ingredients for this sauce: vinegar, black pepper, red pepper, salt, butter, a little sage, coriander, basil, onion and garlic.  He also provided one additional tidbit of information.  Wesley noted that some people added sugar, which suggests that what he was describing was a fairly typical barbecue sauce for the time period. 

A mop sauce is applied during the cook.  The question remained what happens before the cook.  Wesley did not say how the meat was initially prepared. He made no mention of applying salt or spices to the meat in advance of cooking it. I gave it a lot of thought and I came up with two options. First, I could do a simple salt and pepper seasoning. Second, I could prepare a rub, using the ingredients for the barbecue sauce as a guide. I chose the second option. I used the dry ingredients and substituted onion powder and garlic powder for onions and garlic.  

As for the meat itself, I don't have access to whole goats, hogs, sheep or even a side of beef.  I did have a pork butt.  I applied the rub to the meat and let it rest for a while, as I got the smoker going.  Once the cook began, I used the mop sauce basically every hour. I decided to wrap the pork about half way through the cook to help maintain the moisture. I applied a lot of the mop sauce before I wrapped it to help keep the meat moist during the final hours of the cook.  

WESLEY JONES' BARBECUE

Adapted from the Slave Narratives, Vol. XIV, pg. 73 (1937)

Serves many

Ingredients (for the meat):

  • 1 pork butt (between 6 to 9 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon of dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander seed
Ingredients (for the mop sauce):
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon of dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Directions:

1. Prepare the pork.  Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Season the pork butt with the rub on all sides until well covered. Cover the pork and allow it to rest for at least a few hours, if not overnight. 

2. Prepare the smoker.  Prepare a fire in the smoker, and, allow it to burn until the temperature reaches approximately 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Soak wood chunks (preferably hickory or oak) in water for at least an hour before smoking the pork. 

3. Smoke the pork.  Once the smoker is ready, oil the grates and place the pork in the smoker. Add a few chunks of wood, such as hickory or apple wood to the fire to create the smoke.  You may want to wrap the pork about halfway through the cook to help retain the moisture. 

4. Prepare the mop sauce. Combine all of the ingredients for the mop sauce and stir well.  With a barbecue mop, apply the mop sauce at least every hour to the pork. Smoke until the pork reaches an internal temperature of at least 185 degrees Fahrenheit. 

One caveat: the foregoing recipe is experimental.  After all, this was the first time that I tried to make this recipe.  It needs some refinement, especially with respect to the rub. I hope to be able to cook it again and make some improvements.  When I do, I will update this post. 

Finally, a reknown writer, culinary historian and educator -- Michael Twitty -- recreates a barbecue sauce that is based upon Wesley Jones' mop sauce. Twitty recommends applying this sauce toward the end of the cook as a light mop sauce or glaze.  I used it as a barbecue sauce that could be mixed in with the pork once it was chopped or pulled.   

ANTEBELLUM BARBECUE SAUCE

Recipe from Afroculinaria

 Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, well chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon of dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriander seed
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 4 tablespoons of molasses
Directions:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic until translucent.  Turn the heat down slightly and add vinegar, water, optional ingredients (sugar or molasses), salt and spices.  Stir and allow the mixture to cook gently for about 30 minutes to an hour.  Use this sauce as a light mop sauce or glaze during the last 15 to 30 minutes over the pit of coals and as a dip for the cooked meat. 

Michael also offers to options for this sauce.  The first option is to add 1/2 up of brown mustard and a bit more sugar to create a Carolina Mustard Sauce. The second option is to create a "red sauce" by adding two cans of tomato paste or 4 very ripe red or purple heirloom tomatoes (Large Red, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine or Amish Paste), and then cook it down for several hours on low heat to a comparable consistency, adding two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. 

*        *        *

As I noted above, this post is a starting point on a journey to explore the original roots of barbecue in America. I plan on doing more research on this subject and, over time, to continue posting what I have learned.  Thank you for taking the time to research this post; and, as always,

ENJOY!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Steamed Cockles in White Wine

This post is part of my Beyond Borders project.  This project focuses on the history, culture and cuisine of peoples who lack their own country or who are minorities in countries. Each post discusses an aspect of those peoples, as well as a recipe from their cuisine. This is the first post is about the Maori. 

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi. The words -- translated from Maori, "with your basket and my basket the people will live" -- float through your mind as you stand with a basket in your hand. You are with your family, looking out at a wide body of water during low tide. Perhaps you at the water's edge of Okoromai Bay on Te Ika a Maui. Maybe you are standing on the shoreline on the Otago Peninsula on Te Wai Pounamu. Either way, you are looking for tuangi or tuaki, the small bivalve that hides just beneath the muddy, sandy surface that stretches out before you. 

The words continue to echo through your mind. Naku te rourou nau te rourrou ka ora ai te iwi.  Your basket.  My basket.  The people will live. Working together, you and your family will gather the tuangi or tuaki. Those cockles or clams, as well as other shellfish, have been an important food source for the Maori diet. That importance means that you have to exercise care in terms of how many you collect. You have to ensure that enough tuangi or tuaki remain so that this food source continues to thrive. 

Maori children collecting tuangi near Paibia
(source: Teara)
This image is one that has been repeated for decades or centuries by the Maori across Aotearoa. As the tide goes out, families venture into the shallows in search of cockles. The bivalves prefer shallow waters, meaning they can be easy to dind. They also bury themselves just below the surface, which makes it relatively easy to dig them out. 

There are certain rules that need to be followed. For example, no shellfish are opened while there are still people in the water. In addition, only one kind of shellfish will be taken during an outing. There may be paua (edible sea snails). There may be kina (sea urchins). There may even be pipi (another bivalve).  It does not matter. If you are out there looking for tuangi or tuaki, that is all you will collect during that outing. The paua, kina and pipi are out of bounds. 

(source: Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife)
As you walk into the shallows, your eyes are focused on the mottled brown surface. You are looking for their "shows," a tell-tale sign that a cockle or clam is hiding beneath the surface. The "show" consists of two pencil sized holes near each other. Those holes tell you that a cockle lies just beneath the surface.  You dig with your hands, moving the sand and earth until you reach the bivalve. You wipe off some of the dirt and take a closer look at what you just found. 

In the waters around New Zealand, you are more than likely going to find Austrovenus Stutchburyl, or the New Zealand Cockle. This little saltwater clam is usually found in estuaries or harbors, where the sand is not very fine.  (As it turns out, fine sand could suffocate these clams.) They bury themselves about an inch under the surface. 

Unfortunately, I have not been able to have the experience of collecting bivalves in the estuaries or bays around New Zealand.  However, I was able to find some very good clams, which were perfect for this recipe.  Most steamed clam recipes are very simple, consisting of only a few ingredients.  The reason is simple: one wants the flavor of the clams to shine through, with the broth playing a supporting or complementary role. This recipe is particularly good, as the wine combines with the liquid released from the clams to produce very good broth. 

STEAMED COCKLES IN WHITE WINE

Recipe from Scrumpdillyicious

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white wine or fish stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 30 cockles (or clams)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
Directions:

1. Prepare the cockles.  Let the cockles soak in cold water for about 30-60 minutes so that they release any sand trapped inside. 

2.  Steam the cockles.  In a large pot, hear the butter or olive oil and sliced garlic over high heat while stirring constantly, cooking for one minute.  Add the cockles, wine and half the parsley, then cover, shaking the pan occasionally until all of the shells have opened. 

3.  Finish the dish.  To serve, pour the cockles and sauce in to a high rimmed serving platter and drizzle with lemon juice and the remaining parsley for garnish. 

ENJOY!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Torshe Kebab

Food provides a way to travel at any place around the world, without having to go anywhere. If you have a recipe, you have a passport. That piece of paper can take you just about anywhere if you have an open mind and a desire to learn, can take you just about anywhere. This has been especially important for me during this time of COVID, because of the inability to travel and the lack of desire to waste time watching television or tablets. 

Recipes can come from anywhere.  A couple of years ago, my parents bought me a copy of Naomi Duguid's Taste of Persia.  They knew of my love for Persian food, especially kabobs.  (For those who read this blog, you may have seen my posts about Kubideh, Chenjeh and, for my Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge, Jojeh Kebabs.)  I thought that the Taste of Persia cookbook would not only enable me to learn more about those kebabs, but to explore more about Persian cooking.  As an added bonus, the cookbook also explores the cuisines of neighboring countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as particular ethnic groups, such as the Kurds.  

There was one recipe in that book that I have wanted to try for a while.  It was a recipe for Torshe Kebab. (The word "torsh" means sour, so the recipe is actually for Persian sour kebabs.) This recipe would take me to the northern Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran, which lie along the Caspian Sea. From what I could ascertain, the recipe originated in Gilan.  The marinade used in the recipe -- with its walnut paste and pomegranate sauce -- is used not just for these kebabs, but also as the basis for Fesejan or Fesejoon, which is a stew of chicken, duck or lamb. 

Torshe kebabs are typically prepared with beef, usually from the sirloin or tenderloin cut.  As beef can be expensive, cooks may make the kebab with chicken, goat or lamb. While the particular protein can change, the walnut paste and pomegranate sauce remains the same. It serves two important purposes as a marinade.  The combination of walnuts and pomegranate not only tenderizes the meat, but it also adds a lot of flavor to the meat of the kebab. For that reason, while the recipe contemplates a short marinade time of 1 to 2 hours, I would marinate the meat overnight.  

The recipe also provides a way to broil the kebabs, but the best way to prepare them is to grill them.  Once the kebabs are finished, they should be served with rice and/or a salad. If you are looking for a drink, consider making some doogh.


TORSHE KEBABS
Recipe from Naomi Daguid, Taste of Persia at 165
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 cup walnuts or walnut pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 garlic cloves, mashed or minced
2 tablespoons sunflower or extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley (optional)
2 pounds boneless lamb or goat shoulder, or 
     boneless beef top round or hanger steak, cut into 1 inch cubes
Sugar (optional)
Fresh tarragon leaves (optional)

Directions:
1.  Prepare the marinade.  To make the marinade, place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse to drop them to smaller than raisin size.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to blend.  Transfer to a large bowl.  (Alternatively, very finely chop the walnuts and pound to a coarse powder in a large mortar.  Transfer to a large bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to blend thoroughly.

2.  Continue the marinade.  Add the meat to the bowl and stir, turning to make sure all surface are coated with the marinade.  Cover and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight; refrigerate if the marinating time is more than 2 hours.  

3.  Preheat the grill.  Bring the meat to room temperature. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill. 

4.  Prepare the kebabs.  Brush off the most of the marinade that is clinging to the meat and reserve the marinade.  Thread the meat onto metal skewers so that the piece are barely touching each other, not crowded together, this helps the meat to cook evenly.  

5.  Cook the kebabs. Place the skewers 4 to 5 inches from the coals or fame and grill, turning occasionally for 7 to 12 minutes, depending upon the heat of your fire and the desired degree of doneness.  Alternatively, you can broil the meat.  Preheat the broiler with a rack about 5 inches below it.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or lightly oil it.  Place the pieces of meat on the sheet and cook for 8 to 10 minutes turning the meat at the halfway point and checking it for doneness after 7 minutes.

6.  Prepare the sauce.  When the meat is grilling, or once it comes off the grill, pour the marinade into a small saucepan, add about 1/2 cup of water, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste it and season it with salt if you wish; if it is too tart for your taste, add a teaspoon of sugar or more to taste.  You might want to stir in some tarragon leaves once it comes off the heat.  Pour into  a small serving bowl. 

7.  Finish the dish.  Remove the meat from the skewers, put out a platter of herbs, rice and the sauce. 

ENJOY!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Arrosticini

You are standing next to your horse on the hillside in the province of Abruzzo, halfway between the mountains and the plains. You are following the "silent grassy river," trekking "on the footsteps of ancient fathers." This particular route was  restored in the 13th century by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II.  It was his zeal to return to the glory of ages past that led to the restorations of trails like this one, which were first trodden by the Romans centuries earlier.  You are not an emperor. You are just a guide. Those who you guide are grazing peacefully on the verdant grass that leads down to the valley.  They are your flock of sheep.  It is your job to lead them to greener pastures,

It's getting late, the sun will soon set. You survey the green landscape in the distance: the mountains, the valleys, the small towns in the distance. Yet, your eyes always return to those sheep. They are the reason why you are standing in this spot at this particular moment. These sheep are the means by which you, and your family, are able to make a living, as meager as it may be. 

The Transumanza
As you watch the sheep, you begin to realize how tired you are. Shepherds do not get very many breaks. You are in the midst of the Transumanza, or "crossing the land."  It is the three-week trek from the mountains to the plains in search of better grazing lands. The sheep are eating, but you are hungry too. However, there is still work to do. You need to set up your stazzi, the temporary fencing that will keep the sheep corralled during the night.  As you set the remaining posts of that fence, you call upon your Maremmano-Abruzzese sheepdog to corral the straggling sheep into the enclosure. With the fencing in place and the sheep inside, you can finally take a rest ... and eat. 

You start a fire over which you will cook your meal. You don't have a furnacella, which is the brazier that you would traditionally use to make your meal. Instead, you just have to work with what you have. With the words of O Surdato Nnammurato singing through your head, you pulled out some mutton from an old sheep you recently butchered, stringing roughly similar sized pieces on wooden skewers known as ceppos. Once the coals take on their ashy appearance, with the heat radiating from the center, you place the skewers over the fire. Turning the skewers every once in a while, you watch the meat cook as the embers burn a deep red. That red begins to illuminate the space around you as the sun begins to set. Soon enough, the skewers are cooked and you are ready to begin eating your meal. 

This dish is known Arrosticini -- kebabs of mutton, rubbed with rosemary or other available herbs -- is  one of the iconic foods from the Abruzzo region. Yet, it is the simple food of the shepherds. It is what they would prepare when they were out with their flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. It is a dish that reflects the particular circumstances of a shepherd.  Very tired, with little at his or her disposal, he or she would prepare this simple meal to provide needed sustenance. They took what little they had -- and, perhaps, the most important thing they had, namely, their animals -- to produce a meal that, in my humble opinion, is far greater than the sum of its ingredients.  

Today, most arrosticini are prepared in kitchens and restaurants throughout Abruzzo and, as evident from this post, around the world. Home cooks can buy their own furnacella to grill the skewers in their backyards. They can even buy their own special knives by which they can cut the mutton for the kebabs. If one is too tired (or lazy), he or she can simply forgo the butchering of a piece of mutton or lamb and order pre-made arrosticini. 

Pre-made kebabs is not for me, especially when dealing with a dish with such humble and simple origins. That is one of the important purposes of this blog: namely, my effort to learn about the origins of a dish, as well as what that the dish means for those who originally made it. For the shepherds, arrosticini was sustenance. It fulfilled a basic need for someone who worked long hours, perhaps on an equally long journey. And, those skewers were damn good to eat. 


ARROSTICINI

Recipe adapted from Great Italian Chefs

Serves 8

 Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of lamb shoulder or leg, diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 spring of rosemary, chopped finely
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:

1. Marinate the lamb.  Place the lamb in a bowl with the rosemary and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside while you preheat a barbecue for direct cooking.

2. Skewer the lamb.  if using wooden skewers, leave to soak in cold water for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning during cooking.  Thread the lamb onto the skewers neatly, ensuring an even distribution of fat and meat. 

3. Cook the skewers.  Once the coals in the barbecue have turned an ashy white, or the gas grill is heated to medium high.  Cook the skewers for 2-3 minutes, turning them halfway through. 

4. Finish the dish. Serve hot with pepperoncini and crusty bread with good quality olive oil. 

For an excellent article about the Transumanza through the neighboring province of Molise, check out this New York Times article by Maria Russo.

ENJOY!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Ojibwe Fish Cakes

This is part of my Beyond Borders project.  This project focuses on the history, culture and cuisine of peoples who lack their own country or who are minorities in countries. This is the first post about the Ojibwe people.

If there was anyone who should be considered in a project about peoples who lack their own countries, it is Native Americans. It is estimated that, as of 1492, there were sixty million Native Americans living across the Americas. They lived in organized societies -- which comprised of nearly six hundred different tribes -- in every region of the hemisphere. These societies were as developed and as complex as anything that existed in Europe. 

For example, the Ojibwe nation stretched along southern Canada, from Quebec to Saskatchewan, and further south into the United States, including parts of what is known today as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  They had the fifth largest population of Native American peoples in the United States, with only the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw and Sioux being more populous. In Canada, they were the second largest population, with only the Cree being more numerous.   

The Ojibwe don't have a nation today. They have been relegated to reservations, such as the Red Lake  Reservation and the Mille Lacs Reservation --  that dot the large expanse  that the Ojibwe once controlled on their own.

As with most native tribes, the Ojibwe developed their own cuisine based upon not only what they hunted or fished, but also the produce and grains they cultivated. The Ojibwe are well known for producing maple syrup or cultivating rice.  Yet, what led me to researching their cuisine and writing about it comes not from the land, or slightly submerged land, but from the water.  It is the fish, which play an important role in the cuisine and diet of the Ojibwe. 

Ojibwe Seine Fishing
(photo from dibaajimowin.com)
Traditionally, Ojibwe women did much of the fishing, except for the ice fishing in the winter and spear fishing in the spring. The fishermen and women used many different techniques to catch fish, depending upon the location, the season and, of course the fish.  For example, the Ojibwe lowered large nets -- seines --  into lakes to capture fish.  These nets with floats at the top and weights at the bottom were used to trap the fish by taking the ends of the nets and moving then to encircle the fish. This method enabled the Ojibwe to catch larger amounts of fish.  

Other common fishing methods included spear fishing and the traditional hook and line.  When it came to spear fishing, Ojibwe fishermen take their canoes out to the water at night. They used a torch as bait.  The fish would be attracted to the light and come to the surface, only to meet the sharp end of an Ojibwe spear. This method was best for catching the largest fish, such as sturgeon, although the Ojibwe did modify spears into three-pronged tridents to help catch smaller fish. As for the hook and line method, the Ojibwe would fashion hooks out of deer bone and coppper, as well as make bobbers with bark and weights with small stones.  They would then set out on canoes, tying the line around their hand and then the canoe.  They would then fish by trolling across the lakes or rivers. 

These fishing techniques resulted in catches of a wide variety of fish.  The species included the walleye, the iconic fish of the upper Midwest, as well as whitefish, perch, trout and, as noted above, even sturgeon. 

Ojibwe rack for drying and smoking fish
(from the Ojibwe People's Dictionary). 

Once caught, the Ojibwe prepared the fish in different ways.  They would boil, bake or pickle the fish if they were going to consume it in the near future.  If they intended to save the fish for when food might be more scarce, such as during the winter months, the Ojibwe would smoke the fish. They would erect racks that would enable them to smoke the whole fish. These method was the primary way to preserve fish since salt would not make its way into Ojibwe cooking until 1845. If the fish was caught during the winter, such as when the men would go out to ice fish, the cold environs provided their own way to preserve the fish.  Just layer the fish in now, where it would freeze until needed. 

While the Ojibwe would boil and bake the fish, there was one method of cooking that caught my attention.  It was the fish cake.  Ojibwe men and women would use fish they caught from Lake Superior or one of the rivers in Minnesota, which was typically trout or perch.  They would prepare the cakes for roasting over hot coals. 

However, the recipe that I found called for frying them on the stove. I decided to borrow from my experience of making crab cakes.  I have made crab cakes in nearly every way: frying, broiling, baking, etc.  I decided that, for these fish cakes, I would first bake them at about 375 degrees Fahreinheit for about 10 minutes.  Given the fish is already cooked, the only concern is the beaten egg, which must be cooked in order to firm up the cakes.  However, I find that baking cakes, whether crab or fish, is often not enough.  So, I finished the fish cakes under the broiler for about 5 minutes.  This allows for the cakes' outer surface to brown and crisp up a little. This is a healthy way to create the crispiness that comes from frying the cakes in butter or oil. 

OJIBWA FISH CAKES

Recipe from Hoohla Cooking

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of trout or lake perch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup cracker meal
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion, finely minced
Directions:

1. Prepare the fish cakes. Flake fish, making sure all bones are removed.  In a large bowl, combine fish, eggs, cracker meal, onion, salt, and pepper. Mix lightly.  shape into 6 to 8 flat cakes. 

2. Fry the fish cakes.  Heat the oil in a heavy fryingg pan over moderate heat.  Fry the cakes until lightly browned on both sides.  Drain on both sides. Serve immediately.

ENJOY!
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