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.
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.
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.
-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 :-)