OK, it's about time I fess up to something grim from my otherwise spotless culinary past. A very good Turkish friend of mine likes to chide me about this unfortunate event whenever he gets the chance. Kemal, this one's for you. He writes:
I am curious to know if dessert can be made from an ordinary chicken? Please advise.
When Kemal and I worked together, everyone regularly brought in snacks of all kinds to share among the staff. Kemal, one day, brought in Tavuk Gogsu. Before translating for anyone what the label said in Turkish, Kemal strongly suggested we try it. Being brave, and by brave I mean stupid, we did. Perhaps it was the mystery, the influence of not knowing what was in it. We all thought it was quite odd. This was not supposed to be a game of truth or dare, Kemal! Tavuk Gogsu is a very Turkish dessert that features chicken. That's right. Chicken...plus sugar, plus cinnamon, plus cracked rice, plus milk. It's basically a chicken-infused-cinnamon-bun-flavored-rice-porridge.
I did not like Tavuk Gogsu, and to this day, this dish concerns me deeply. I have tried for years to convince myself that maybe it was who made it or which commercial kitchen produced it that mattered. Turns out, no wonder, no quality differences changed my feeling. I just cannot get over the fact that there is chicken in my dessert. To be fair: The Turks are not to blame for this dish. It originated in ancient Rome, brought to Turkey through expansionism...Yet we don't see the dish in Italy today. Hmm. Flash forward to my screw up...
Kemal once hosted a huge and wonderful Turkish banquet, complete with kefte (meat balls), kebab (kebab), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), pide (flat bread) and a varied and voluminous set of dips and salads. Since Kemal and I were already at war over chicken dessert, dear Kemal requested that I craft and bring the disputed poultry confection. Tavuk Gogsu. It was on!
Long story, short (it never actually is), I delivered one mighty and inedibly poor dish to Kemal that fateful mid-summer night. Whether or not it was intentional malfeasance, I'll never tell (it's my blog, dag'nabbit). It was a colossal kitchen disaster no matter the antecedent. Darn. I can't make a great chicken dessert. Alas, and Woe is me...
I am a worldly culinarian with an open yet colorfully opinionated mind. Meat proteins do not belong in dessert. That is not to say that meat proteins do not belong in any sweet dishes. Just not in dessert, I say! There are a two world dishes that spring to mind, one of which actually includes the above derrided chicken.
The Moroccans make a dish called Bastilla. Hell to make, but one of my favorites to eat. It's an almond, cinnamon and shredded chicken filled filo pastry that is dusted with powdered sugar. You might think immediately of dessert given the stuff on the outside. Yet, it's typically served within the first few courses. There is a unique bridge that is built between the savory poached chicken and the sugary aspects. That bridge is primarily built of the almonds and cinnamon. Both ingredients play will with sweet and savory. Bastilla's slightly salty chicken shreds offer an ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the outside shell. It's like a dance for the taste buds. The Chinese do this with sweet and sour dishes.
The Chinese (go figure, Howie's writing about Chinese food)...Ahem, as I was saying, the Chinese make a rice porridge that is served with any number of condiments. Some of them are sweet and some of them are savory. The savory type largely use meat proteins. This is a breakfast food in China, not dessert. Makes sense, even here in the US we have our sweet-tooth breakfast of champions and our salty breakfast of champions. Though, the Chinese flavor their porridge with the likes of dried shrimp, pork belly fat, and red bean paste. Not so much here.
...OK, back to my war with Kemal.
Kemal - I respect you and I respect Turkey. I respect Turkey so much that I would like to make an honorable suggestion about Tavuk Gogsu - Either take the chicken out of the recipe and keep your precious dessert, or follow my instructions below to turn Tavuk Gogsu into a savory, kick-A$$ appetizer! Otherwise known as Go Go Tavuk Gogsu...
1 - chicken breast on bone with skin
3/4 cup - cracked rice or bulgur wheat
2.50 cup - chicken stock (room temp)
2 cup - milk (room temp)
2 tsp - salt
1 tsp - white pepper
0.75 tsp - tumeric
0.50 tsp - fresh thyme
0.50 tsp - fresh oregano
1 tsp - lemon juice
Start this recipe 2.50 hours ahead of meal time. Cover the rice or wheat with hot but not boiling water, let it stand for two hours. Go watch TV and have a Turkish Beer.
Poach the chicken breast in water to cover, over low heat. Probably 10-12 minutes. In this recipe, it's OK if the chicken gets just a tad overcooked, you'll be rehydrating it in the porridge later. Drain, cool and remove the bone from the chicken breast. Shred the breast meat into the thinnest fibers you can. Set aside.
Drain the soaked rice. In a food processor, grind the living daylights out of the rice or wheat. You could use a mortar and pestle, but that would suck. If you don't have a food processor, buy one or make friends with someone who does.
Combine the rice or wheat with the milk, stock and salt in a sauce pan, place on medium heat. Bring to just a simmer. Stir for 5-7 minutes on medium heat until the mix starts to thicken.
Add the shredded chicken to the pot and lower the heat to (not extremely) low. Stir on the heat for about 3 minutes and then add your tumeric, thyme, and oregano. Let the mix sit on low heat for 2-3 minutes without moving. Come back to the pan, drop in the lemon juice, stir to fully incorporate. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve hot.
I consider Kemal like a brother. I'm sure he'll accept my new recipe with open arms and no arguments. Whatsoever.
Thanks for the question, Kemal! Who's next?
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