Last night I fell asleep on the living room sofa, before ever getting into bed or showering the perfume of smoke and meat off my body. While April nears its end, traces of Spring are only sparsely being seen in Hanover still. Warmer temperatures will stop by, but seem too shy to stay. So yesterday, we were content with sixty-so-degrees of Fahrenheit, and made our way across the river to Norwich for a barbecue, with the guinea pig’s office mates and their families or +1s. The wind was trapped inside the shade of the gazebo that shelters the picnic tables from the sun, where we sat to exchange conversation. It was a diverse bunch of picnickers, from Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and Iran and Italy, making for a diverse outdoor meal: Vietnamese sweet barbecued drumsticks and wings, charred on the grill until their skin was crispy and their insides sensational and moist, leaving your fingers deliciously sticky enough to lick them clean, and an Indian wheat pudding with raisins for dessert, that was creamy and gritty simultaneously in each spoon.
My contribution is not one hard to guess. Yes, kabob of course, jujeh kabob, pieces of marinated chicken skewered and cooked over fire. Originally and in Iran, younger chicken are chosen, sacrificing their futures for a more delicate bite, hence the title “jujeh”, meaning chick. The night before, the guinea pig was given the more unpleasant task of skinning and de-boning chicken breasts before knifing them down into pieces while I prepared the marinade in the bottom of a bowl. He continued with the dirty work, moving on to slicing onions, and I undertook the more elegant step of the process, spooning out thick strained yogurt into my red glazed ceramic bowl. I boiled water, and when the kettle started to whistle, I switched it off and poured it over a generous pinch of pestled saffron. Everybody knows that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, making it the most luxurious of seasonings, but not everybody utilizes it correctly, thus not getting its full potential. Throwing a saffron sprig straight into your pot of what is to become risotto Milanese is an example of incorrect utilization, at least in the eyes of the Persian. A Persian will take the time to pestle his/her saffron with a small chunk of broken off sugar cone, gently and patiently, then storing the powder in an airtight container, and every time, seeping a pinch or so in some hot water, letting it brew before adding it to rice or stew. The saffron flower blooms to expose its stigma, three orange strands of saffron that will add aroma and color to cuisine and beyond, but, use it sparingly; when I said generous, I meant a generously sparing helping– pinches, never a half-cup of the powder, as saffron can be poisonous if consumed in a large quantity. In fact, on the fields outside of Mashhad in Iran, where saffron is cultivated and cropped, the workers wear masks, and are the highest paid amongst the working-class. But back to my kitchen, I added the orange liquid of brewed saffron resting at the bottom of a glass to the yogurt, turmeric, salt and pepper, and stirred to see it turn an intense shade of yellow. The guinea pig’s labor was mixed in, and never did raw chicken look and smell so good to me. We plastic wrapped the top and put it in the fridge, and called it a night.
The fire needed work, and after yesterday, I will say that computer scientists don’t have the skill or muscles one can rely on for an outdoor barbecue. They do much better inside, with numbers on a screen, exercising their forefingers at a slow but steady pace against the left button of their mouse. It’s a shame that the girls had to take matters into their own hands, briskly fanning paper plates above the lit charcoal, spreading the heat and working their arms. Hence my stench of smoke and now defined shoulders. I come from a place where making kabob is a man’s job, but alas, times have changed.
All’s well that ends well. The kabob was a beautiful yellow outside crusted with black char, and tender and juicy and despite it being breast, not the least bit dry. And, if I may say so, I have gained some defined, and quite sexy shoulders.