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Friday, January 04, 2008

Tender Spots

We all have our tender spots, our Achilles heel so to speak. Food, wine and sex top the list for many mortals. Intemperance in any of these human flaws leaves visible scars on the body and mind. We have to admit, however, that these inflictions are so charming and gratifying if kept under control. To this end, when we occasionally gorge we should be finicky and eat the best victuals imaginable. Wine and spirits are to be consumed with respect and consequently when we choose to get inebriated we must be pernickety over our Merlots and Malts. As for sex, need I say more! With the associated gilt, ignominy and possible infectivity we ought not to settle for anyone less than the Clooneys or the Therons.
This post, among a few others, is preordained to partially fulfill my obligations toward the reader in bringing interestingly revealing information about this land and exotically scrumptious recipes.
Syria is a mandatory corridor for migratory birds on their annual commuting between Europe and Africa. Twice a year, in early spring and fall these airborne creatures take a respite on our shores and prairies. For thousands of years the people of the crescent passionately hunted them for food without ever being excessive. I grew up in a Tartous where men either fished or hunted every Friday in total harmony with nature. Today, the Syrian government, among others all over the world, bans hunting in its effort to protect wildlife instead of curbing population growth and canceric urbanization. From my own experience, real hunters, not trigger-happy idiots exuded by this day and age, are very environmentally conscious individuals. Migratory game birds such as Bobwhite quails, thrushes, woodcocks and mourning doves have an average lifespan of a little over a year yet prosper in massive numbers. Legally controlled hunting cannot even put a dent on their huge flocks, unlike the massacring of these birds on the hand of a new wave of prowlers who pay the authorities to turn their eyes the other way, the indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides, the disappearance of open land and the pervasiveness of concrete jungles.

Chukar Partridge


Syria is also home to many species of non-migratory birds. If there should ever be a bag limit or an off-season where hunting is banned altogether then it is to protect the native birds whose sustained existence is much more precarious. In general, non-migratory birds have a longer lifespan and smaller populations than their migratory counterparts. Their survival depends on the availability of their natural habitat and since they did not evolve to travel for long distances they instinctively compensated by acquiring a high geographical fidelity. As a result, they exhibit a higher form of territorial behavior and a superior animal instinct which at times is erroneously confused with wit by veteran hunters. They would not flush easy and take flight. The combined efforts of superior human intelligence and acute canine olfactory capability are often needed to make them panic and break cover. Hunting these beautiful game birds is not about pulling the trigger, since as I have mentioned earlier any idiot can do with reasonable success. It is the chase, the stamina, the anticipation and even the possibility of returning home empty handed. All of these variables make hunting so exciting, so compelling.


Black Francolin


The Phasianidae family contains the largest selection of deliciously edible birds from the elusive Chukar Partridge to the ubiquitous Chicken. The Chukar partridge (Hajal) is a legendry bird in Syrian folklore and has adapted well to the exhaustive aridness of the desert and the insurmountable bushy mountains of the coast. It is an extremely difficult bird to find, hunt and ultimately cook. But when we perform each step properly the rewards are immense. The Black Francolin is native to the banks of the Euphrates and the Jazira area in Syria and is known by different local names such as Deek or Derraj. Compared to the Hajal, it is an easier pray to discover, shoot down and eventually prepare in the kitchen. The following recipe works well for the Francolin and the domestic chicken. The only thing I would do differently if I were preparing Chukar partridges is that I would marinate them in red wine for at least 6 hours prior to cooking. If you can’t lay your hand on four Francolins, substitute them with a chicken or two. There is no way on earth to make a domesticated bird taste like a wild one, for the Francolin’s meat is one of the best tasting of any kind. Yet, by preparing chicken using this recipe you will be doing your guests and yourself a great favor.
So, let’s roll our sleeves and get down to business.


Francolin Rosto


-4 cleaned birds cut in halves or 1 large chicken or 2 small chicken cut in pieces
-2 Kg of small to medium sized potatoes
-1 pack of butter 200g (I like Lurpak)
-2 squeezed lemons
-Salt, pepper and spices as per your preference (use your imagination)
-Some Fresh thyme or whatever herbs you can find (again use your imagination and remember that such ingredients are optional and are meant as a chef’s signature).

Heat 100 g butter in a large enough skillet. With your hands, rub the pieces with half the quantity of salt, pepper and spices then sauté for a few minutes until light gold. Remove from heat and place with the melted butter in a casserole.
Heat the other 100 g butter in same skillet and fry the potatoes for a few minutes till light gold. Place in same casserole with the melted butter and the cut pieces of Francolin (or chicken). Add 2 cups of water and the rest of the salt, pepper and spices. Throw in the fresh thyme and/or herbs. Heat over medium-high to simmer, then reduce to low, cover and cook for one hour.

To be served with rice (prepared separately as per your usual recipe).
Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine and a sexy partner.
Compliments of a proud hunter and a humble chef :-)

29 comments:

lê said...

Abufares.........are you provoking me? perhaps I´ll go fishing on saturday (fly fishing for small fish) neer são paulo, very nice place, state park of são paulo, i´ll dedicate this fishing for Abufars, and on sunday I´ll buy 2 natural raised (SHALFOON/YOUNG COCK), you gave me the recipe. we have hatchery chukar here, I dont accept to eat it,
last time i was in Halab my sister bought some SAMAK ASWAD(SALOR) and prepered it to the halabi tradition ,with kezbara toom,flefle hade, the first piece dad put in his mouth he spit it out and said (YEHRE DINO MALO TAAME),,,for a man who hunted and fished all life ,hatchery fish would be punishment,

Abufares , have a nice week end,

lê said...

PS. Abufares, we had very endemic hajal on the banks of Alfatat ,fom Jarablos to Maskane, this part of the Farat was fiferent from the southern Farat ,there were no HAWAEJ , and there was the land of this kind of HAJAL, we called the HAJAL SINI (CHINEESE) very few times I went to this hunt, this HAJAL is smaller , the color is close to (feri-for the halabi-seman) the beek and the feet are yellow, i have very vague memory of this bird, I was too young

DUBAI JAZZ said...

As usual Abu Fares, a very interesting read.
I have one question though, the mourning dove (al derghal?), is it a migratory bird?
I thought it's a permanent resident of Syria?

The Syrian Brit said...

My sincere compliments to the proud hunter and the humble chef (one and the same, I suspect?..)..
Mouth-watering as the recipe is, the post raises the issue of how lawws are twisted and ignored for the benefit of a few well-connected, mindless idiots.. I remember an acquaintance bragging how he and his friend, the son of an army officer, massacred a few hundred birds with machine guns in one hunting trip.. I could have strangled the idiot with my bare hands!...

abufares said...

I kind of wrote this post with you in mind.
I had a brief encounter with a Chinese Hajal one early morning near Manbej as I was waiting for Derghal. It took me by surprise and I didn't have time to even take aim.
I would love to hear about your fishing once you come back.
Good Luck!

abufares said...

@DJ
The mourning dove is indeed a migratory bird. A good number stays behind of course, may be hatch here and live the rest of their short lives. Another kind of dove the "Stetieh" became native to most Syrian cities.

abufares said...

@SB
A good hunter never kills in excess of his real needs. What you are talking about is of course very true and does happen all the time.
There are others who are not connected at all who still go hunting, pay the local police station (in the middle of nowhere) some money for the right to hunt and in return get a carte blanche for the day. But in all fairness, I have hunted in the US and in Syria and unfortunately there are people with the poacher mentality in both places. They take the sport out of hunting and turn into something ugly.
That aside, game birds taste so good. When I first got married I used to go hunting at least twice a week. We would very rarely eat regular meat or chicken as the fridge was always filled with wild game. My older daughter ate more wild meat than beef, lamb or chicken until she was 6 or 7. Now, I seldom go and instead shoot trap with friends every once in a while.

saint said...

Abufares, I’m leaning to agree with you on the issue of the environmental concerns you raised, although I’m not birds and animals specialist. I’ve worked here in the State on environmental clean up and on water resources and I know the bad effect of humans on the environment and the necessity of enforced laws to protect the environment.

However,: )) first paragraph was cool, and Achilles heel reminded me with a best sellers two years ago: A Round-heeled Woman:
http://www.amazon.com/Round-Heeled-Woman-Late-Life-Adventures-Romance/dp/0812967879/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1199565767&sr=1-1

The author of the book concentrated on third item on your list, which it shows you that you should pursue your passion not only finicky but with vengeance while it last. You’ll find it interesting and I would love to hear your comment.

lê said...

TO THE SYRIAN BRIT
While I was serving the Syrian forces in SAD AL RASTAN,usually on afternoons I was outdoor, sometimes hunting for (EMBAR) sometimes colecting frogs and crabs, sometimes colecting wild herbs, and sometimes fishing, although the lake of RASTAN was a dead lake there were no endemic fish any more like the famous BENI, some CARP(NASRI) were avalable, one day a low officer(VAGABUNDO) wanted to have fish for diner, he blowed up the bay where I was fishing with dinamite , I complained about it to the big boss, and I was punished, waking out of of his office looking at the foor I heared someone murmuring, ( do you think that the river is yours ) ,,,.
there was only one thing left for me to do, go down to the ALASI RIVER and apologize,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.

Wassim said...

I would LOVE to go hunting one day. When I grow up I want to be you Abu Fares :)

lê said...

Abufares, I canceled the fishing ,we are under heavy tropical rain, I dicided to stay at home and make, MRABA BANJAN,small egg plant jam (very Halabi),if any one wants i´ll post the recipe, if you want to know what is fly fishing for small fish in the atlantic forest streams, go to you-tube, and here is the adress,,
FLY FISHING LAMBARI (TERRA DA GENTE).
Abufares here is something for you to enjoy,
When I was 18 Dr. Ehsan invited me for hunting, Dr. Ehsan Shit pediatrist, was my fathers friend, e real Halabi, at least 1 day per week he worked free for the poor people, it was exciting to be with him listening to his heavy Halaby accent, he was a good man loved Halab and above all loved Syria, ALA YERHAM TRABO.
So we went DERRAJ hunting he took his female pointer with him very well educated and obident . That was the first time that I could take my caliber 12 with me without the presence of my father, I WAS 18.

After about 40 minutes wolking behinde the pointer she stopped , we both were very concentrated, suddenly the DERRAJ blow up in the air, and for a while she remained unmove in the air, she was a very easy target, non of us shot her ,and she planed away, every thing was paralyzed, eaven the Alfarat riffels, there was adsolute silence, the pointer looked backward to both of us as she was saying ARE YOU KIDDING ME,
after some seconds Dr. Ehsan said somthing that i will never forget
EL KALBE RABTET EL DERRAJE TELLET METEL AL ANDIL. he didn´t shoot the bird expecting me to shoot, I was his guest, I didn´t shoot expecting him to shoot respecting his age, that was the only bird that day,we returned home happy with a nice story in oure bag.

Ascribo said...

Oh, man! Although I haven't tried HAJAL in my life as I guess, but I would die to eat those BBQed FERRI you used to bring. I still remember the times where the fridge was full of these birds.

And yes, the wild game birds taste like nothing else...

KJ said...

I remember when I used to go down and hunt birds - but they were non migratory birds and I always felt sad especially when one didn't die from the shot and the "man" in the group has to snap its neck.

Bridget Jones said...

Abu Fares, thanks for sharing, I didn't know Syria had such a rich fauna!

As for the good things in life... spot on! Bridget is selective as hell - that's probably why she is still sitting on the shelf ha!

My new diary officially welcomes visitors today and you'd be a welcome one! :) Please let me have your e-mail and I will send you an invite.

abufares said...

@Saint
I just got home after a couple of days away. I'll check your link soonest and probably order the book. Thank you for the reference.

abufares said...

@Wassim
Inshalah you'd get around and your wish comes true. Hunting is privelege and an experience never to be forgotten. Thank you for the compliment my friend, a little too much perhaps, but thank you nevertheless.

abufares said...

@lê
Ah, hunting stories... I should post about a couple, at least., one coming day.
Meanwhile, and when you get a chance to go fishing, let us know about it.

abufares said...

@Ascribo
I broke my promise last year and didn't prepare that wild rabbit when you were here. Hopefully, next time around. A fridge filled with Ferri,that's how it used to be... always.

abufares said...

@KJ
You needn't remember the sad graphic details. However, I don't like the snapping the neck routine at all. A sharp knife puts the creature out of its misery quickly and efficiently.

abufares said...

@Bridget
If it's bothering you being too selective, you should consider a little wine before an outing. It might help lowering your standards a bit. Not too much, just to get on the practical side of life ;-)
Thank you for the invitation. I look forward reading you. My email:

abufares at bigfoot dot com

Rime said...

How come I like your writing even when I disapprove of something you say? (Yes, I'm a hypocrite who eats meat but who doesn't like hunting.) Please don't tell me that you're a card-holding NRA member, let me live with my illusions.

I also find it amazing that you are actually an expert in more than one type of bird! :)

abufares said...

@Rime
I'm lucky you like my writing.
I hate Charlton Heston but love Ernest Hemingway and Ali Al Badri http://abufares.blogspot.com/2006/05/tribute-to-ali-al-badri.html
I like to think that I fall somewhere between these two idols of mine.
As for being an expert in more than one type of bird I have already stated my aversion to both furred and feathered homosapiens :-)

Lê said...

Abufares,
RAHET AL SAKRA AJET AL FAKRA, the vacation is over and I´m back to bussines,
by the way this week I´LL start to reed KALILA WA DEMNA,

BOM DIA

lê said...

Abufares, here are 2 birds that are from the atlantic rain forest, it is fifferent the way to be hunt, no dogs ,you have to use whistles to call the male, ther is no other way in the thick jungles.
some times these are my WALIME

GO TO WIKIPEDIA
the first is MACUCO
the secont INHAMBU GUAÇU,
now it is provoking,,,,,,,

Bridget Jones said...

Indeed, Bridget Jones is heavy stuff Abufares ;) Thanks for your blog comments.

Nice suggestion about the selection process but nah, this Bridget will hold out for love and for the best ha! ;)

abufares said...

@lê
I checked those links and the birds look like an exciting challenge (given their habitat in the thick forest).

Paige said...

Yummy! If I take a long enough study break, I'll indulge in some of your wonderful recipes! This semester, I have courses that are very time consuming, yet totally enjoyable for me: Middle East Literature and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Gee...wonder whose side I'm on in that one? LOL I'm just a bit opinionated. Ask DJ...

Anyway, I'm busy reading Jahili poetry, Ghassan Kanafani, Tayeb Salih, and Naguib Mafouz. I am proud to say that I own a lovely Arabian horse who is the direct descendant of the stallion pictured on the cover of one of the required texts for the semester (Zobeyni, raised by Ali Pasha: I recognized him instantly.)

Hugs from Oklahoma!

abufares said...

Hi paige
Glad to hear from you.
You seem to be keeping yourself very busy with the best vocation there is, reading!
The American South cuisine is so great with open possibilities. You brought back some nice and delicious memories.
Thank you for passing by.

lê said...

Abufares, check this rodent( PACA).for me this is absolutly the most delicious mamele , onece I was invited to cook one , I used my imagination and prepared it like
(kharoof mehshi)with rise and piniolli (pine),,,,,,,Im feeling hungry,,,,,,,,