Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
The fire keeps burning. Last year was the turn of the Red Fire Monkey, now it is the turn of the Red Fire Rooster. According to Chinese astrology, the zodiac cycle consists of 12 animals taking their turn each year. But it is also the five elements - wood, fire, earth, metal and water - that give their own particular character to the animal. The nature of the element directly affects the nature of the animal, so the year of a certain animal can show quite a different profile under the influence of the element attached to that year. It is probably more appropriate to say it is the Year of the Chicken, as this year also has the influence of female red metal. Red metal points out gold, so this year has a golden touch, but the poor chicken is also about hard working and tough times.
The ancient Turkic calendar is similar, and this year will be the Year of the Chicken. According to ancient Turkic beliefs, in the chicken years the crop will be plenty but there will be disputes among the people. The chicken stands for wealth, but money matters always bring conflicts. Turkic astrology also tells us that in history Years of the Chicken are the years of riots and uprisings. There is even mention of earthquakes in history or social earthquakes, civic turmoil and chaos. This makes one think that we are constantly in a Year of the Chicken year, but this year it might be even worse - as the country is prone to unrest - so it is likely that the Year of Red Fire gets Turkey roasted!
Associating chicken and wealth is hard to understand in today’s world. In Ottoman times, chicken was more costly than lamb or mutton. Seljuk period feast tables were adorned with birds like quail, partridge, pigeon and especially chicken. In remote rural parts of Anatolia, it is chicken that is served in honor of the guests, grabbed from the coop and killed for the occasion, freshly boiled and served pulled with pilaf or layered with dried flat bread drenched in broth. Chicken became cheap and available to home kitchens only about half a century ago. The first chicken research institute was established in Ankara
in 1930, but it was only in the late 1960s that chicken farming became a favorable sector. It would take another decade or two until packaged and portioned chicken pieces would appear on market shelves. Buying only the breast, legs or wings was unheard of - one could either buy a whole chicken, try to perform some butchery skills at the kitchen counter, or have the chicken quartered by the butcher.
Needless to say, the insides would also be left in the chicken, not to mention the occasional feather still clinging to the skin. The cavity was to be hollowed out by hand, the edible parts reserved and the inside washed clean by water. Sometimes a treasure was found. An unborn egg! This was always a gift for children. The liver would end up in the rice pilaf, of course cooked with the chicken broth.
The first step in cooking was always to boil the chicken and then proceed with next steps. One step before the boiling process was crucial: Passing the chicken briefly from fire. There is no exact English translation that comes to mind for this particular process, as if roasting on fire the raw chicken would be held quickly on open flame to char the roots of the feathers. By the availability of cleaned, quartered and packaged chicken today, this series of processes are now long forgotten. There are even some chefs who not know how to pluck a chicken!
Roosters are about time management – after all, they are the ones that wake us up. Chickens are about picking and pecking food all the time and they must be the foremost animal that works endlessly for its livelihood. With all these qualities in mind, my wish from this year is clear: All I wish for myself is a hard working year with good time management, and finish all my assignments with diligence. I hope it works!
Bite of the Week
Recipe of the Month: My recipe suggestion is a very simple chicken dish, (not a roast one): Poached chicken with ginger, spring onion and chili pepper. This recipe does not require any hard work so it might be your last chance to make a lazy easy dinner before welcoming a tough year. Place a whole chicken in a large pot; pour enough boiling water to cover it; bring to boil again and pour off the water. Put fresh water back in the pot, again enough to cover; add a handful of torn spring onions, a 3-4 cm piece of bruised ginger, a few crushed cloves of ginger, 2-3 pieces of star-anise, peel of a tangerine, salt and pepper. Bring back to boil and cook until the flesh falls off the bone. Take the chicken out, reserving the stock for soup. When cool enough to handle, tear the chicken into pieces off the bone, and neatly stack them in a serving platter. Sprinkle abundantly with diced spring onions (green parts) and finely chopped ginger. Heat a few tablespoons oil until smoking hot and pour over the onions and ginger. Dress with a little diluted soy sauce (3 parts soy sauce to 1 part water). Serve lukewarm; it is also good cold in sandwiches.
Fork of the Week: Undoubtedly, the most famous and intriguing chicken dish in Turkish cuisine is a sweet one: “tavuk göğsü,” the unique chicken breast pudding. Even the name is bold and brave, though the chicken is totally disguised, not seen and not even tasted. But the name openly reveals its secret, literally translated as “chicken breast.” It sounds quite unusual but it is omnipresent in Istanbul pudding shops. There are a number of favorite places, but two good ones are very central and close to each other. They are located on either side of the Galata Bridge, so it is even possible to make a cross tasting: The Eminönü branch of Saray, which is independently owned unlike others on the chain, and Özsüt, which again is not related to the chain, but an independently owned pudding shop. Both are delicious and rightly done.
Cork of the Week: This cool poached chicken pairs nicely with an aromatic and dry white. These days I’m strangely into white wines, even though the snow and chill outside really calls for the red. Maybe it is because I enjoy chilling my wine buried in the snow out in the garden, and take an occasional peek outside to take a breath and refill the glass. I’m particularly into Chamlija wines from Thrace - vivacious whites that really perk me up. Also nice are the cheerful bottle labels featuring illustrations of İrem Çamlıca, the daughter of Bülent Çamlıca, the owner of the winery. Try the Chamlija Albarino 2014, which goes fantastically well with Asian flavors, and which will revive you from winter lethargy.