Thursday, October 28, 2010

Syrian Dancing Chicken

The night that Sarge and Nanny made this for us was a very hectic one. During the day, Serrano and I had taken an eventful train and bus ride up to Kent to visit my mother's cousin and her husband. She has a house in Kent that they stay at on the weekends, and we walked her dogs and looked at the fall foliage. We also noticed that Kent has a large artistic community, and there are a lot of galleries and outdoor sculptures that are interesting. We had lunch at a cafe, and I enjoyed a simple duck salad. Then we went up to Kent Falls, where there's a beautiful waterfall and open space to have picnics.

In the afternoon, Serrano and I took the train back to his grandparent's house, where dinner was almost done.  It was Syrian chicken with beets and butternut squash, which is also one of Nanny and Sarge's signature dinners.

The only problem with the Syrian chicken is that no one knows how to spell its Syrian name. I maintained a D average during two semesters of standard Arabic when I was at Fordham, but my rough estimation is that it's spelled Djadjee (The letter for J in standard Arabic makes a dj sound). When I asked different family members how to spell it, they would laugh and throw out random letters and then open a family discussion into how you spell any of the Lebanese words Nanny likes to pepper her vocabulary with. This would then lead to Serrano accusing his aunt of using these words without having any idea what they actually meant, since she likes to string them all together at once.

But before Nanny and Sarge's house filled up with family, they explained how they made dinner. Unfortunately, I didn't get many pictures, and I was starving when we started eating, and shortly after the family started to trickle in and ended up eating dinner with us.

For the beets, Sarge told me that he peeled, sliced, and boiled them in salted water. He told me that he sliced them paper thin so that they would cook faster and then added, "If you slice them thicker, you may not live long enough to see them get cooked." Once they were cooked, he drained them well and served them.

The butternut squash he also peeled, sliced, and boiled in salted water. When they were tender, he drained them well, mashed them, and added margarine and honey. He advised me to be careful when draining the squash, since it acts like a sponge.

Then Nanny explained how she made the Djadjee, or Syrian chicken. She cut up one white onion, chopped one tablespoon of garlic, and mixed the two together. She sauteed them until soft and added the ground meat of 4 hamburgers and sauteed it with the onion and garlic. Then she added some chopped parsley. Separately, she cooked 2 cups of rice until soft, then added it to the meat-onion mixture and mixed everything together. She seasoned it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.

Then, she opened a chicken, cleaned it, and let it dance. Since we were in Kent when she did this I didn't get to see it, but she explained that she stands the chicken up and raises its arms and legs so that it dances on the cutting board. After the chicken's tired from dancing, she stuffs the meat mixture inside the cavity. Then, she separates the skin from the meat with her fingers and stuffs the remaining stuffing inside so that it covers most of the chicken. She said to then season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then she sewed up the cavity, pulled the strings until they were tight, and put a knot in the end.

She told me that she then put flour (at this point I decided not to mention yet again that I can't eat flour and that a box of my "gluten flour" was on the counter) inside a turkey bag and stuck the chicken inside. She cut a strip of plastic from the bag and used it to tie the end of the bag into a knot. She then slit the bag in 6 places so that it wouldn't pop in the oven, and baked it at 350 degrees.

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