In my latest for Etsy, I hand-grind curry powder for the oldest curry recipe written in the English language. A brief history of curry, stretching back to the prehistoric ere, and more! Read it here.
Archive for the 'chicken' Category
My latest for Etsy is up, wherein I cook an entire chicken in the microwave. Above, another recipe from The Microwave Cookbook by Pat Jester, Pizza Egg Cups. Cheese, tomato sauce, salami, and a woefully under-cooked egg; it was kind of like Portuguese eggs, but with salami, and in the microwave.
Read about my adventures in microwave cooking here.
Vigorously stirring curried chicken at my hearth cooking class in Brooklyn. Photo by Edmarie Crespo.
Surprising, isn’t it? To see a curry dish from 1840? The history of curry in the United States is actually much older than one would expect.
The search for affordable spices pushed the English East India Trading company to establish routes into India as early as the first half of the 18th century. By 1820, it had used its army to subdue most of India and the government assumed official control of the country by 1858. It’s not a happy history, but because of India’s colonial government, the flavors many native dishes mixed with English dining habits.
At the same time the British Raj was establishing itself, Americans were busy falling in love with Queen Victoria. Although England and America had had their differences in the past, when Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, we went gaga for the young Queen. After marrying her fashionable German husband Albert in 1840, the power couple could do no wrong in our eyes.
Victoria led the trends in the Western World, from Christmas trees to crinolines to curry powder. The highly-spiced seasoning blend came from India with returning soldiers; and after gaining popularity in England, became a trend in the United States.
Curry powder, and the use of the word curry, are Western inventions and do not reflect any specific Indian food. A similar mixture of spices used in India is called garam masala, but the blend is proprietary and different all over the country.
I don’t know if this is the earliest curry recipe in an American cookbook, but it’s the earliest one I have found so far. The author, Eliza Leslie, directs you to make your own curry powder for this dish.
Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches by Eliza Leslie, 1840
2 chickens, broken down into breasts, thighs, and legs; marinated in a salt water brine at least a half hour.
To make the curry paste:
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 tablespoon powdered turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon cardamom
3 medium onions
Make the curry paste: combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it forms a paste. Place a quart of water over heat to boil. When it comes to a boil, add the curry paste and simmer until dissolved. Keep at a boil until you are ready to pour it over the chicken.
Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry. Heat a generous amount of butter in a pan, then add chicken pieces. Fry, skin side down, until brown. Add the curry water, adding more water if necessary to cover the chicken completely. Simmer until chicken is cooked and tender. Add two tablespoons of butter kneaded with an equal quantity of flour. Simmer until the sauce has thickened. Serve with boiled rice.
A student in my hearth cooking class adds curry paste to a pot of boiling water. Photo by Russell Karmel.
The curry paste made in this recipe had a floral smell and flavor; and although spicy, not at all hot. The turmeric gave it the typical coloring of a curry, but it tasted unlike any curry I had ever had before.
That being said, it seemed to be missing something. Although the chicken was pleasant, it lacked the heat of contemporary curry powders which I find makes all of the more subtle spices in the bland marry and sing.
But I’ve also come to suspect that Americans, throughout history, have craved progressively hotter and hotter foods. At the time of Ms. Leslie’s curry powder, the hottest spice mentioned in popular American cookbooks was black pepper. In contrast, in the past fifty years chili powder, garlic, and peppers, with greater and greater concentrations of capsaicin, have become more and more common in American food. I think we have developed a taste for, and a tolerance for, heat. If Eliza Leslie tasted a modern Indian-American curry, I think her head would explode.
In honor of the talk on candy I’m giving next week (for more info, go here) and the fact that Marshmallow Peeps will soon start appearing on store shelves, I’ve busted out this little piece of ephemera from 2006. I hosted a party at my home at which I made a dozen different types of marshmallows. Inspired by my love of Peeps, I decided to try out some “new” potential peep flavors.
I invited a panel of my friends over and had them vote on their favorites: they used a scale from one to five, with one being the worst and five being the best. This above participant was rather kind; on other ballots Saffron and Curry peeps didn’t fare so well, while Honey, Maple and Rosewater scored consistently high.
A few things to know after you watch the episode:
1. I don’t know what I was talking about, or what happened with the editing, but a gizzard does not help a chicken digest “meat.” It’s a digestion aid in general, where chickens store small stones to help them grind food.
2. Some people enjoy the texture of a chicken gizzard. It’s been described by people who love it as “crunchy,” which is exactly how I would describe it. It was like biting into a meat apple.
By the turn of the century, New York had a large Chinatown, although its expansion had been frozen by the strict Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This law was the first to enforce a restriction on immigration in our country and did so on the basis of race. Chinese workers, who were seen as a threat to the American economy because they would work longer hours for less pay, were banned entry to the United States. They were not allowed to become citizens and were not allowed to send for their wives and children.
The result was a dominantly male enclave surrounding Mott street; many of the men worked and owned laundries and cooks, “female” work was one of the few jobs in which they could find opportunities. Chinatown became an object of fascination for New Yorkers and tourists alike, and “slumming” parties (their words, not mine) were led through the neighborhood, complete with a guide and police escort. In addition to viewing an opium-smoking demo, groups were almost always taken to the Chop Suey houses. As a result, Chop Suey became a faddish dish in America. By the 1920s it was an avant-garde dish for dinner parties, accompanied by an exotic “show you” sauce. By the 1950s, housewives across American were stocking their cabinets with bottles of Kikkoman and the dish became a weeknight staple.
The recipe I used for chop suey comes from a 1902 newspaper article that William Grimes dug up in his research for the book Appetite City. You can read the full article, reprinted in the Pittsburgh Press, here. Although the dish seems to be invented here in America, it’s one of those iconic foods whose origin is shrouded in myth. Many stories exists, none of them seem to be factual. But perhaps there wasn’t a single origin point; it seems more likely that America’s Chop Suey is the logical descendant of dishes available in China that use up little scraps of everything. Perhaps no one before had named the adaptable stir fry that became so iconic to Americans. From the Evening Post:
“Chop suey, the national dish of China for at least twenty-five centuries, bids fair to become a standard food in this country. There are some 60 Chinese restaurants scattered over the different boroughs of Greater New York, whose cheif attraction is this popular composition, and several American restaurant have endeavored to take advantage of its popularity by adding it to their daily bill of fair. There is a rediculous amount of mystery concerning the dish. It is simple, economical, and easily made.”
Give it a try, and decide for yourself.
From the New York Evening Post, 1902.
1 lb pork
2 chicken livers
2 chicken gizzards
1/4 lb celery
1/4 lb canned mushrooms
1/4 lb bean sprouts
4 tb oil
1 tb chopped onions
1/2 clove garlic
white & red pepper
Worcestershire Sauce or Shoyu (Soy) Sauce
1. Make rice.
3. Put oil into a skillet over high heat. Add meat, celery, and fry until lightly colored. Add 1/2 cup boiling water, onions, garlic and seasonings. Cook approximately five more minutes, or until nearly tender, stirring constantly; then add mushrooms and bean sprouts and cook two minutes more.
Left: My teacher proudly displays a chicken stuffed into a bladder.
The weekend before Pancakes Aplenty, I took a trip down to Pennsbury Manor, the recreated historic homestead of William Penn. I attended a hearth cooking workshop by Past Masters in Early American Domestic Arts to brush up on my skillz.
The featured recipe we recreated was from an 18th century source, “Chickens in Bladders.” You essentially take two small chickens, stuff them with a bread crumb and oyster dressing, then tuck meatballs under the skin, then shove the whole thing in a cow’s bladder. Our teacher, Clarissa, stretched out the cow’s bladders by cutting off one end and forcing her hands inside, in procedure that looked either like a reverse birth or an old timey freak show. The chickens were then coerced inside and the whole thing was boiled for about two hours. When they came out, they looked like human balloons.
Forcing a chicken into a cow bladder. Photo by Carolina Capehart.
The finished chicken. The bladders were cut open, the chicken removed and carved.
The bladders acted like a sausage casing, keeping all the stuffing in place. The chicken meat was very tender, and flavorful, but the flavor was predominantly of oysters (not my favorite food). It was served atop a “Coolio,” and I was so distracted thinking about the rapper, that I think I may have missed what it actually was. The full recipe, for your enjoyment, is below. You can see more photos from the class here.
Take Ox-Bladders that are ready dry’d, and put them into warm Water to supple them: Cut off the Necks of the Bladders, to make Room for your Fowl to go in, but be sure to leave Room enough to tie them up close; then let your Fowl be drawn, singed, and truss’d to boil, the Legs* cut off, and truss’d close: Take Oysters, if three Fowls, to each a Quart, to a Chicken a Pint, set them, and beard them; take Lumps of Marrow, Chestnuts blanch’d, or Pistachoe-Nut Kernels; season with Pepper, Salt, and Nutmeg, Thyme and Parsly minc’d, and a little Onion; work this up together with grated Bread, a little Cream, and the Yolks of Eggs, and fill the Bellies full of it, and force under the Skin of the Breast with a little light forc’d meat: Put them in your Bladders, and tie them up fast, leaving Room that the Bladders may not break; boil them well, for they will require as much more boiling as without Bladders; then make a Coolio with a Sweetbread or two, a few Cocks-combs, a few Morelles and Trouffles; do not make it too thick; pout it in the Bottom of your Dish; lay your Fowl on it: You may cut off the Bladders, when they are cut up, the inside Forceing will mix with the Coolio: Garnish with Forc’d- meat and sliced Orange or Lemon, and serve it away hot. (The Complete Practical Cook by Charles Carter; London, 1730)
Bazmaawurd ready to be rolled.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the article Cooking with the Caliphs, which analyzed a medieval cookbook from the court of 10th century Baghdad:
“A little over a thousand years ago, an Arab scribe wrote a book he titled Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes)… The book has come down to our time in three manuscripts and fragments of a fourth—and what a treasure it is. These are the dishes actually eaten by the connoisseurs of Baghdad when it was the richest city in the world.”
Yesterday, I had a few friends over, and we tried some of these 1,000 year old dishes.
Translated by Linda Dalai Sawaya for Cooking with the Caliphs.
1 whole chicken
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rosewater
1 pound dried apricots
2 fresh lavashes, pitas or other flatbreads, 12″ in diameter (or more, if smaller)
½ cup brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place apricots in small saucepan, add water to cover apricots by ½ inch. Bring to a boil and stew until apricots are soft and the water has reduced to a thin syrup, about 15-20 minutes.
Check out all of these recipes and more in the original article here.
Left: Wine Jelly.
Recently, I’ve been reading The First Ladies Cookbook: Favorite Dishes of all the Presidents of the United States. It was printed sometime around 1976, in the history-loving fervor surrounding our bicentennial. I’m always a little suspicious of historic books printed in this era, as the research often seems a tad sketchy. But TFLC (as it shall hereby be known) seems fairly trustworthy, and has footnoted its references. I always appreciate a good footnote.
I learned a few interesting facts after glancing over the introduction, “Notes on Early American Cookery.” It speaks of the early housewife, who regulated “…the temperature (of) the Dutch oven so that she would not have a ‘sad cake…’” Meaning: a cake that was baked unevenly, so that it was tragically lopsided and irrevocable burnt. A sad cake! Aw.
I also discovered a thing or two about Gelatin: “Gelatin was made from calves’ feet, or from a product called isinglass, taken from the swim bladders of fishes…In the elaborate molded desserts they gave a meaty or fishy flavor to the pudding.” Jee-sus.
Additionally, I found out Thomas Jefferson was not only quite the gourmand, but also a consummate host. I’ve added this new knowledge to my list of reasons to love Jefferson–in fact, thinking of him makes my heart flutter.
Being a widower, Jefferson would occasionally call upon the aid Mrs. Dolley Madison, the wife of his secretary of state. She seems like she was a real firecracker–she saved all those paintings and popularized ice cream!
A guest at one of Jefferson’s dinner parties recounts his first experience with Macaroni:
“…A pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed in them.”
In 19th-century Manhattan, hogs roamed the streets and cattle grazed in public parks. Today, chickens are the urban livestock of choice, and not just in New York. City dwellers across the U.S. are adding hens to their yards and gardens, garnering fresh eggs, fertilizer, and community ties, with localities debating and updating their ordinances accordingly.
Urban chickens fell out of favor in the last century because of industrialization and other factors. In the 1990s, though, they enjoyed a renaissance in the local-food-loving Pacific Northwest. The current recession and farm-to-table movement have taken the trend further still. “Just get a few chickens and you can feed yourself,” says AbuTalib of the Bronx’s Taqwa Community Farm. “He who controls your breadbasket controls your destiny.”
I recently read about Urban Chicken raising on Not Eating Out in New York; the author took a class on chicken raising at the New York Botanical Gardens, in the Bronx.
“As far as I know, it’s New York State’s only native Barbecue; and it originates from Cornell University, hence the name. In the 1950′s, there was a surplus of chicken. So the USDA tasked Cornell University to find a way to use the surplus of chicken. So professor Bob Baker actually came up with the recipe, and just released it in the newspapers and everything and people used up all the chicken.And then Bob Baker ended up taking that recipe, and making millions of dollars at the New York State Fair every year, and you can still get Bob Baker’s Chicken up at the state fair every year.…It’s just a marinade of eggs, vegetable oil, cider vinegar, poultry seasoning, a little salt and pepper. It’s pretty simple but it really brings out a lot in the chicken. Tastes pretty good once it’s been grilled up.”