I have some very strong interests besides food and wine. One of them is a fascination with ancient history and cultures. The reason I mention this is that I have a very old pal from grade school that was lucky enough to marry a terrific lady, let me introduce you to Mariam. She is the first Assyrian I have ever met. Very thrilling. These people have been around FOREVER. Seriously, they invented the city, math, irrigation and astronomy. They no longer have a country but they have occupied their homelands in Iraq since the time of Babylon and Uruk. Unfortunately and at a great loss to world culture there aren't many of them left.
So of course the first thing I asked Mariam was "please please tell me about your people's FOOD." No better way to understand another culture then to look at the cuisine. Like most peoples of the middle-east they use exotic spices and herbs very differently than Europeans. After some research I came up with this dish based on what I read. This one's for you Mari. Shlomo, Shlama.
I did have to bow to what was available here in Phoenix, I wanted to use pigeon or squab but I couldn't find anything under $15.00 a pound so I went with Game Hen. This man's blog is called "COOKING POOR, EATING RICH." Game Hens are cheap as heck, about 3ish per.
MISE EN PLACE:
1/2 cup rice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins
scant pinch ground clove. A little goes a long way
1 cup some kind of cooking liquid like chicken stock, vegetable stock or if it's all you have, water
salt and pepper
1 TB fresh orange peel, grated (half for stuffing, half for sauce)
large clove garlic, minced (ditto)
1 large yellow onion, minced (ditto ditto)
bunch fresh mint, finely chopped (ditto ditto ditto)
splash olive oil
For the poaching liquid
1 stick cinnamon
4-6 whole cloves
2-3 bay leaves
1 TB black pepper corns, barely crushed
handful kosher salt
enough water to cover
6 ripe apricots, concasse, I'll explain later.
splash cider vinegar
about 2 cups of the poaching liquid.
half the onion from above
half the garlic from above
fresh mint, finely chopped...geesh really do I have to say this again?
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
splash olive oil
I like a challenge. I do.
For the stuffing, heat up your saute pan, add a splash of olive oil. Throw in some of your onion, garlic. Season. Sweat this through and add your orange peel and spices.
WOW does this smell like heaven. Add your half cup of rice and gently toss around to coat until it turns slightly opaque. Add the raisins. Slowly add small amounts of whatever cooking liquid you chose. We don't want to cook this through but we need to give it a head start. Remove from heat and put aside for now.
Clean out your birds carefully. Dry with paper towels. Stuff your birds. Don't pack it tight, the par-cooked rice will expand and we need to leave some room. I used some small skewers to close up the end. Ok leave all this in the fridge while we get the poaching stuff together.
In a large pot put all your poaching ingredients with about 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil.
Now for the sauce. Let's talk about concasse. We need to remove those peels without destroying the integrity of the fruit. Grab a good sized pot and bring some water to a boil. Along side that we need a small bowl of ice-water. Wash your fruit and cut a small X on the bottom. Carefully drop your fruit maybe 2 at time into the hot water. Count to 45. Remove and throw into the ice water. Those skins should just peel right off. If they seem tight then just put them back in the hot water for a few more seconds.
See? Cool right? Works for tomatoes too.
OK chop the fruit large dice and gather together the rest of your ingredients. Heat up a large saute pan, add a splash of olive oil. Toss in the rest of your onions and garlic, lightly brown off and add your orange peel. Season with S+P. Once smelling really great add your apricots.
Toss those around until sticky, add your splash of cider vinegar. Once the sharp smell whiffs off, add your remaining poaching liquid until you feel the sauce is loose enough, you won't use all 2 cups. To finish turn off heat and add your mint, check your seasoning and remove to sauce boat.
Your hens should be done by now. Remove carefully from the poaching liquid. Please don't throw away that precious fluid. Save by freezing. You just never know when you might need it. Dry your hens thoroughly.
To finish you will need about a cup of vegetable oil. Heat it up in a large pot. Once hot, brown off your birds one at a time on all sides. For some reason Assyrians seem to cook everything twice. Ask them, I don't know why.
So that's it. Plate up, serve with a little of the sauce. Get your grub on. Ciao.