06 February 2012

Creamy Chicken Hotdish: Food Challenge Twelve: A&S50 Challenge

White Tharîdah of al-Rashid from the 9-10th c. Islamic collection of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq: Food Challenge Twelve: A&S50 Challenge
Crockpot Creamy Chicken Hotdish*
Redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
Original translation by Charles Perry

*In Minnesota, a one-pot meal cooked in a casserole or crockpot is called “hotdish.” Others might call this dish “creamy chicken casserole.”

The impetus for this redaction was to have a hot meal for lunch at an indoor site where meals were not being offered, and we would not have access to the kitchen.

I have made a few choices that are not readily spelled out in the original recipe. First, I have chosen boneless, skinless meat. Our modern palate does not like to pick bones or gristle out of stew. The second is to brown the meat. In the thirteenth century cookbook by al-Baghdadi, cooks are reminded that meat should always be fried in oil before boiling (as translated in Medieval Arab Cookery). Third is the addition of rice. In his article “The Pleasures of Consumption,” H.D. Miller points out that frequently in al-Baghdadi rice is added “carelessly” to dishes that contain meat and vegetables. He considers rice common in the Medieval Islamic diet, but does not find evidence for it being served as a dish on its own. The addition of rice makes this a better one-pot meal, and rice is also a common ingredient in hotdish.

Many Middle Eastern recipes of this period include eggs cooked on top of a dish, almost as “lid” or crust. This recipe is interesting in that is says add eggs “and mix with wine vinegar”. With that in mind, as well as the fact that crockpots only cook with bottom heat, I chose to stir in the eggs, as done in egg-drop soup, rather than allowing them to set up on top.

I chose ingredients that I had in the house for my first attempt. In the future I would try this recipe with sheep's milk instead of cow's milk (knowing that wool production was second to flax production in the Middle East, I expect sheep milk more readily available). I also used medium grain white rice. During this period, rice was "typically husked white rice (aruzz abyad maqshur)," according to Mark Nesbitt, et. al. in "History of Rice in Western and Central Asia" (Opens a .pdf.) Finally, I used turnips at the root vegetable. The two groceries I stopped at only had orange carrots and I thought color would be more important with the "white tharîdah".

Crockpot cooking is different than stewpot cooking, and there are tomes of knowledge published on the topic. Of course, being a good Minnesotan Protestant, I had learned many of the tricks at my mother’s knee. First, the meat was added without the skin or extra fat. The spices are reserved for the last hour of cooking, along with the milk. The rice is cooked before adding to the dish, and it’s also added in the last hour. Finally, every time you take the lid off of a crockpot to stir you need to add 20 minutes of cooking time. Knowing how helpful people are at activities where a good smelling pot is left alone, I decided to cook the meat through before adding to the crockpot.

Original recipe, translated to English:
Take a chicken and joint it, or meat of a kid or lamb, and clean it and throw it in a pot, and throw on it soaked chickpeas, clean oil, galingale, cinnamon sticks, and a little salt. And when it boils, skim it. Take fresh milk and strain it over the pot and throw in onion slices and boiled carrots. And when it boils well, take peeled almonds and pound them fine. Break over them five eggs and mix with wine vinegar. Then throw in the pot and add coriander, a little pepper and a bit of cumin and arrange it and leave on the fire, and serve, God willing.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Sesame oil, pale and untoasted
2 cups chicken broth
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 onion, sliced
1 lb white or yellow carrots, peeled and sliced into coins (or other root vegetable)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon powdered galangal
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ c almond butter
1 c whole milk
2 c cooked rice
5 eggs
Ground white pepper

Toss the onions and carrots in olive oil, and roast them on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Cube chicken breast and cook it in sesame oil. Put all of this in a crock pot with two cans of chickpeas (rinsed and drained), and two cups of chicken broth. Cook on high for three hours.

In a small bowl mix almond butter, vinegar, and ground spices. Add milk to this mixture, ¼ c at a time, mixing well with each addition. Add the almond mixture, rice, and cinnamon stick to the crockpot and stir. Scramble the eggs and add to the crockpot while stirring (much like egg-drop soup). Cook an additional 30-60 minutes.  Garnish the pot with sprigs of cilantro, pepper and a ring of sprinkled cumin before serving. Fills a 5 quart crock pot.

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