Plov with Young Chicken: The Soviet Experiment, Part 1

Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.

It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)

Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.

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Jollof rice (well, not really, but kind of)

I am continuing my West African kick with jollof rice, the national dish of a variety of West African countries. I don’t feel qualified to say much else about it; I have no idea if my version was authentic (and if it was originally, it wasn’t after I messed with it); etc. etc. But it is yummy and only gets better as time goes on. I wasn’t thrilled with it on Sunday, but by Tuesday it was really good, all melded together, flavor synthesis, blah blah. I am also so impressed by how the chicken came out that I’m willing to overlook all the other deficiencies, such as excessive tomato flavor such that all the other flavors are sort of lost and… well that pretty much sums it up. I browned, braised, and microwaved the chicken at various points over the last few days, and it’s still moist and yummy and tender and non-dry. And it tastes good. I think this is a function of using thighs and not cutting all the fat off? Or it’s because I used relatively happy chickens? (Let’s just say their lives probably had their ups and downs, but things could have been worse.)

Anyway. I messed up most of this recipe and barely took pictures because I was Skyping the whole time, and it was very stressful going back and forth from the chickeny cutting board to the computer to the recipe etc., and I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe while my sisters wondered what I was doing because it just looked like I was staring at them close-up and creepily. But I wasn’t. (Oh, and there was this one moment where I was getting an incoming Skype call and I got extremely stressed and clicked “accept,” but then I realized I hadn’t washed my hands after cutting some chicken, so I proceeded to spray my computer, mouse, and basically everything nearby with all-purpose kitchen cleaner. Ew. Ugh.)

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Extreme r&b

Hi folks! I’m back. I don’t know where I went. Nashville, then I just didn’t post anything. Sorry.

Today is Sunday (well, it is now; it won’t be when this gets posted), so I’m cooking a lot of things. I just made a ridiculously awesome breakfast sandwich with:
-a multigrain roll (life tip: multigrain bread does not belong in breakfast sandwiches; dear self, please remember that)
-cheddar cheese
-2 fried eggs
-happy turkey bacon (there was no regular happy bacon. I wanted bacon)

Next up is lunch for the week—rice and beans, fancified. A few weeks ago I made really really good black beans with many spices and yellow rice (my secret: bouillon cubes and Goya seasoning… whatever, it’s really good and salty and makes brown rice taste good) but never wrote about them, and now I don’t really know what I did. Now I’m going to try to reproduce it, but with pinto beans, which I’ve never cooked from scratch before, and poblano peppers, which I don’t know much about, but they are big and green and pretty, and I always want to make chiles rellenos but then decide not to, so I’m deconstructing them. And jalapeños, because. I guess I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to make tacos, quesadillas, burritos, rice and beans, or stuffed peppers, so I just decided to take every ingredient ever and put them in a bowl. Or a tupperware. Or a generic off-brand plastic container.

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Cajun red beans and rice

[I want everyone in my family to know I wrote this last week and it just went up by itself this morning. I am not a horrible person.]

I alluded to this a few posts ago—Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana cookbook. I decided to make his red beans and rice with ham hocks and andouille sausage, though without the sausage, because I’m not big on meat. I was going to do it without the ham hocks as well, but I happened to find myself in a butcher shop the other day, so I bought them. I don’t think the dish would have tasted like much without them; it is intensely porky. And the hocks themselves, when you can get any meat off them, are REALLY good. Mostly they are just fat and skin, though, which I cannot eat. It’s a texture thing. Ewewewewew.

I made these after a very long day and weekend of cooking, so I was a bit burned out, but here we go. (I also didn’t do the rice properly because I’d had enough—extraordinarily simplified recipe below.)

First I had to chop 2 1/2 c celery, 2 c onions, and 2 c green bell peppers. I just stood there chopping for about seven years while complaining to Sarah (friend, not sister) at great length. It took about forty-five billion hours. (Oh, the red beans were soaking overnight.)

I CHOPPED FOREVER.

The father, the son, and the holy ghost

I put the ham hocks—I’d bought three instead of six, because that seemed like enough, and had the guy cut them in half (Wait, time for a dialogue.
Me: Do you have ham hocks?
Him: Yes. They’re small.
Me: OK. Can I have… um… three?
Him: [gets ham hocks] Should I quarter them?
Me: Ummmmm yes?
Him: Or halve them? Or leave them alone?
Me: Ummmmmmmm halve them?
Him: [halves them]
Me: [AAAAAH these look like pig legs/feet] [because they are] [I don’t really remember what they are, I Wikipediaed them once and don’t really want to do it again]

Ham hocks, pre-cooking. I stuck my head into the bag and smelled them and then said, “Sarah, I strongly recommend you stick your head into this bag and smell this.”

)

… anyway. Ham hocks went in my Dutch oven with ten cups of water, the Holy Trinity, and a bunch of seasonings. I boiled it, turned it to simmer, and left it for an hour. (OOh, look, my first “More” tag! Click it.)

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