Farsi Chicken and Balal Corn

plated-sunday-dinner-farsi-chicken-corn-rice

Once upon a time, many years ago, I met a crazy man who gave me a great chicken recipe.

Richard┬áhad a Master’s Degree in English Literature, but had gone to work as an insurance agent. He was assigned to my employer’s accounts, so he sold me a life policy. He seemed perfectly normal. When we met for lunch so I could sign some papers, I casually mentioned that I was camping on the coming weekend, and foolishly mentioned the name of the campground.

That Friday evening, we were just lighting the campfire when he pulled into camp on a little Kawasaki 400, which he referred to as “the road iron.” He proceeded to drink heavily, eventually passing out in a lawn chair near the fire, but not before reciting long passages out of The Canterbury Tales from memory. Friends who arrived during the recitation were initially terrified, thinking that glossolalia had taken hold of him.

In any case, at some point he described this chicken recipe that became one of my favorites for the grill. First, the chicken pieces marinate in lemon juice for an hour or so, then they go into plain yoghurt overnight. When it’s time to cook, you wipe of the yoghurt, season simply with salt and pepper, and then grill as usual. This method produces tender, juicy chicken like no other I’ve ever tasted. It was my foolproof, go-to recipe for a decade or so, and everyone always loved it.

When my wife and I were first dating, I was so confident in the recipe that I bragged almost incessantly about it. “Some time I’ll have to grill the Farsi Chicken for you. It’s incredible. You’ll love it.” Unfortunately, after building up her expectations for weeks or months, when I finally cooked it for her I burned the chicken so badly that we may as well have just eaten the charcoal. I didn’t grill chicken of any sort for a long time afterwards, thinking that I was under some sort of jinx. The jinx was mysteriously broken when I learned to use a timer.

So for Sunday Dinner this week I made the Farsi Chicken again. Initially I looked for other Persian recipes as sides, settling on Balal corn and Tahdig rice. As it turned out, I decided that the rice was too much too attempt without a test run, and opted for another (non-Persian) rice recipe with savory mushrooms.

We also had some fennel from the CSA, and Claudia made an incredible salad with it and some mandarin oranges.

I still want to try the Tahdig at some point, and also the Persian method of dipping the roasting ears in salt water after grilling. We’d love to learn more about Persian cuisine in general too.

Before the meal I tipped my glass to Richard. I lost track of him long ago, but still imagine him burning up the backroads on the road iron, regaling and terrifying friends and strangers with recitations in Middle English and recipes from far off lands.

My Father’s Barbecue

Barbecue Ideas

In the backyard of the house my father built there was a brick barbecue grill. As I remember it, it sat on a concrete slab just back of the breezeway, and to my toddler eyes it looked like a huge red throne. There were concrete caps on each side of the hearth, with grill grates fashioned of rebar stretching between them. The grates were at eye level to me, and the chimney on the back was about as tall as my dad.

I’m certain that he built it with his own hands, perhaps with some help from one of his union brothers or a neighbor, but I don’t remember him ever cooking on it. After his passing, it was just another interesting thing for us to climb on, like the orchard trees he had planted, the tall iron swing set and the big metal septic tank.

Like so many other things about my father that I don’t remember and therefore had to conjure, the image of him tending the fire and food is all the more vivid to me.

That’s probably the main reason I so love to cook outdoors. Whether or not my father actually made much use of his fine brick barbecue grill, my ideal American backyard or patio wouldn’t be complete without a spot for flames, and a guy cooking there.

While I was growing up (after my father passed away), my family didn’t grill out much. I do remember occasional weenie roasts or cookouts at the homes of uncles and aunts, and my mother used a hibachi for cooking hamburgers once in awhile. My first recollection of truly awesome grilled or smoked food would be from the county fair, or the local apple and pork festival in a neighboring town.

My own outdoor cooking pursuits began in my early twenties with one of those cheap metal tripod grills you could buy at the hardware store for $3.99. It was essentially a round metal tray with legs and a small grill grate that fit on top. We would climb out the window of a friend’s apartment on to a flat section of roof with the grill, a bag of match light and some burgers or hot dogs, and half an hour later we’d be living the dream.

I soon graduated to a Weber Smokey Joe when the cheapo model fell apart, and I began to learn how to cook things other than burgers and dogs. My first full-sized Weber Kettle came not long after.

Thirty years later and my patio is still home to a vintage Weber Kettle, along with a Genesis gas grill we added this Summer and a portable fireplace for roasting marshmallows and such. Either a Komado style smoker or a Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker is yet to come, but every now and then I still dream of building my own custom brick grill and oven one of these days. My ideal would be something similar to the one pictured at the top of this post. The image was created for the cover of a book from Sunset titled Ideas for Building Barbecues which was first published in 1962. Yes, I do have a copy.

Or maybe my barbecue would be like the Chinese oven Trader Vic used to create all of those amazing Polynesian-inspired dishes for his restaurants. Or perhaps just a simple red brick and concrete hearth like my father’s.

I may never build it, but it’s nice to imagine.

For now, I’ll be tending my fires, be they fueled by gas, charcoal or wood. Each time I take tongs or spatula in hand, I’m a man from Kentucky with a toddler on his shoulders – in a backyard in Oreana, Illinois on a fine Summer day – a long, long time ago.