Jan 192013
 

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

We did not have Super Bowl in Serbia and the phenomenon of preparing special foods for that day was a novel one. But eager to socialize with people who loved to cook and eat, I frequently joined my friends with excitement, even though I still did not understand the rules of American football and have not watched one single game in its entirety.

The major games in soccer, the ones that decide the winner of the national league or the world champion are watched sitting on the edge of the couch, falling down on your knees, jumping, pulling your hair, stomping your feet, howling, screaming, and eating your nails, oblivious to any victuals surrounding you. I delighted in preparing a menu for a day of sports, comforted in the thought that there will be others like me, there for friends, fun, and nibbles, rather than to feverishly follow the mystical dance by men in helmets.

Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

No one counted calories at Super Bowl parties and the tables were piled high with cheesy dips, spreads, and dressings, potato skins and stuffed jalapeños, chips and crackers, fried mozzarella sticks, crispy Nachos and tight spring rolls. And at every party the pièce de résistance was a platter of gloriously glistening chicken wings, an homage to the meat gods in the shape of finger food.

I have not eaten my share of chicken wings when I was a child, as my preferred piece was white meat. No one else staked a claim on chicken breast and it made me infinitely happy not to have to share with my siblings. Only in my adult years did I understand that everyone else in the family enjoyed much more flavorful morsels all those years, while I gloated over a big chunk of bland and dry food.

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

My parents fought over the chicken wings and I never understood the attraction. But when I arrived to the U.S. and tried Buffalo wings for the first time, I had to reconsider. I am not a gnawer and prefer a cut I could get to using utensils, but I discovered how good it feels to sink my teeth between the bones and suck the tiny fibers of muscle covered with spicy Red Hot Sauce and butter. Almost overnight I became a convert, not only in my love of chicken wings, but blue cheese as well.

Over the years I tried many incarnations of the ubiquitous bar food and I love them all. I have even introduced my Serbian relatives and friends to them and watched in glee as they savored the piquant Buffalo or smoky and sweet BBQ wings, their fingers sticky, their cheeks speckled with sauce.

But this year I am going back to my Serbian roots with my mother’s recipe which delighted my children and was a favorite when I was growing up. It is simple, prepared with only a few ingredients, and it can take me home faster than a Concorde. I cannot promise that we will even turn the TV on when the big game starts on Super Bowl Sunday, but you can bet there will be a few indulgent dips scattered around the living room, and a platter of sticky and crunchy Serbian chicken wings. Let the games begin!

Bacon-Flavored Chicken Wings from bibberche.com

BACON-FLAVORED CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients:

  • Chicken wings (my last package contained 8 whole wings, which makes sixteen servings)
  • 2 TBSP bacon fat or home-rendered lard
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

Cut the little protruding piece from each wing and then cut through the joint to half them. Lay them out on the cutting board skin side up, and sprinkle salt and pepper on top.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high temperature. Add bacon fat or lard and heat until it sizzles. Place the chicken wings seasoned side down and sprinkle the other side with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken wings for 4-5 minutes, turn and brown the other side, for another 2-3 minutes. When the delicious brown pieces appear at the bottom of the skillet, turn the heat down to low, pour the water in (carefully, as the steam will rise up) and cover with a tightly fitting lid.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, until done. Take the lid off, turn the heat back to medium-high and simmer until the liquid evaporates and the wings become sticky. Scrape them off into a bowl and serve immediately.

(The remnants in the skillet are precious and Mother would soak them up for us with a few slices of crusty bread. But they would be perfect the next morning, turned into chicken gravy to serve with biscuits.)

Dec 062012
 

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

No matter how many times I tell myself that I am a competent home cook, it takes only a well-intentioned, but misplaced comment from one of my girls to make me roll my eyes in disbelief and grind my teeth in an effort not to speak up and ruin the moment. One of those occasions involved an incarnation of a simple creamy chicken soup and my oldest daughter.

We were visiting my cousin who is married to a priest with a parish in one of the suburbs of Belgrade. For years, Mira and I have been pen-pals; we spent many summers together, playing badminton, sewing clothes for a couple of precious Barbies, and climbing hills above their house in Novi Pazar. We try to get together at least once a year if I am in Serbia, in hopes that our children will bond and friend each other on Facebook, and maybe get involved in a virtual game of badminton, if nothing else.

chicken soup vegetables from bibberche.com

vegetables for the stock (I save parsley stems)

The two of us managed to corral the six kids and deposit them around the dining-room table; I helped her carry the food from the kitchen, keeping a watchful eye on the group of unpredictable energetic girls and a token boy, the youngest of all. The first dish was a Serbian staple, a creamy chicken soup thickened with farina, eggs, milk, and a bit of flour, something we looked forward when we were growing up.

Sure, there was a picky eater in the bunch who pulled the tiny cubes of carrots to the rim of the bowl, but most of them stopped talking for a minute and surrendered to the comforting flavors of the dish and we were rewarded by a few moments of silence. I raised my girls to be respectful and kind, but I almost fell out of my chair when my oldest, Nina, who was ten at the time exuberantly chimed, “Aunt Mira, this is the best soup I have ever tasted! How did you make it?”

Pileca corbica from bibberche.com

Mira beamed, hiding her chuckle behind her hand, while I stared at my daughter with disbelief. She looked at us both utterly perplexed with childish innocence. I made that soup for her many times. So had Mother. But to her it tasted so different and so much better slurped in utmost disharmony with five other children who kept kicking one another under the table and competing in stupid jokes. The peasant fare became exotic not necessarily because Mira’s culinary achievements surpass mine (although she is a really good cook), but because she shared it with cousins she rarely sees in that welcoming kitchen with windows opening to the view of the green meadow and the parish church in those wonderfully lazy days of summer that bring promise with each sweltering moment.

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 small or ½ big yellow onion, diced
  • a few carrots, diced
  • 2-3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced (optional, but I really like the color and the sweetness it adds)
  • 1 cup of roasted chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp farina (cream of wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • ¾ cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pan on medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper (if used), and sautee until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add chicken and stock and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Stir in farina. In a small bowl combine flour and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the soup and stir vigorously to break up the small bumps of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes and turn the heat off.

Mix together egg and yogurt in a small bowl. Pour a ladle of soup to temper it and stir to combine. Pour the warm mixture slowly into the soup, whisking, to avoid curdling.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.

 

Nov 142012
 

Seared Duck Breast with Korean Pear from bibberche.com

My mother grew up in Vojvodina, the part of the country that was under the Austro-Hungarian rule until the end of WWI. When she married my father and joined him in central Serbia, she brought with her many culinary traditions which were not very familiar to the natives. Some of them were immediately accepted by her new friends and family; some needed a longer time and more cunning approaches to become a staple at dinner time; and some just never survived the challenges of the impenetrable barrier of the palates unaccustomed to weird, different, and foreign influences.

While we ate plenty of chickens along with  pheasants and quails Father brought from his intermittent hunting expeditions, only when we went to Vojvodina did we have a chance to taste a duck or a goose. We were entranced by these white birds that seem to frolic in every yard, splashing in the ponds and squawking, the shape of their bright-orange beaks the only notable difference between the species: sharp, pointy beaks belong to geese, the flatter and rounded ones to ducks.

And while the holidays in our home town always involved roasted piglets or spring lambs, in Vojvodina we were treated to roasted ducks and geese. As if the mere taste of the water fowl was not enough to separate the two geographical regions deeper than the river Danube that marked the border, the fruit sauce that accompanied them made us feel as if we were visiting another country, with the benefit of still speaking the same language. Depending on the season, we had cherry, apple, pear, or quince sauces, only slightly sweetened, chunky and surprisingly delightful along the stronger tasting meat of the water fowl.

Korean Pears from bibberche.com

Back at home, we never mixed sweet and savory, even though Father was an adventurous eater. And I have never seen a duck or a goose at the Farmers’ Market (forget the grocery stores, as we do not buy our meets there) in my home town.

But then I decided to make my new home all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and my first Thanksgiving meal was turkey served with cranberry sauce from the can and many other side dishes and desserts, most of which originated in a can or a box. I have never tasted cranberries before and I immediately fell in love with their tart and assertive taste so capable of pairing with the gaminess of turkey. It took years to fight my way over to the real food and side dishes made from scratch, but I am now happy to know that my daughters will remember my slowly simmered cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, and giblet gravy as the part of their holiday tradition.

And more than that, I carried over my mother’s culinary ways, including fruit sauces with roasts, always leaning on seasonal produce. That’s why I though of pairing beautiful duck breasts I bought at Lazy Acres Market with crunchy and juicy Korean pears simmered in apple cider (they worked so well in Kale Salad I made last week). My ancestors might be rolling their eyes, but the combination worked beautifully. The pears were firm and kept their texture without becoming mushy, while adding a fragrant note to the sauce slightly enriched by the spiciness of the cider. A pat of butter was enough to add a smidgen of richness without competing with the complex taste of the seared duck breasts.

My family has dwindled in size in a few last years, and a whole turkey at Thanksgiving looks very intimidating. But a pair of flavorful, seared duck breasts with a tart cranberry sauce, some cornbread dressing, and gravy might be just right for an elegant and intimate family affair.

My mother passed away last July. She might have raised an eyebrow if I served her this dish and she might have given me an advice on how to make it better, but I know that she would have approved of my creativity after a few hours of grumbling. She might have been silent at dinner table, but I am pretty sure that she would have smiled comforted in the thought that her culinary traditions are making their way across the meridians and across the generations.

Seared Duck Breast with Korean Pear Sauce From bibberche.com

SEARED DUCK BREAST WITH KOREAN PEAR SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 duck breasts
  • a pinch of salt
  • some freshly ground pepper

Korean pear sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp rendered duck fat
  • 1 Korean pear, cored and diced
  • 1 cup of apple cider

Directions:

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat (you can use a stainless steel skillet, too). Score the duck skin in a criss-cross manner, making sure not to cut into the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the duck skin down in the skillet for 6 minutes, allowing the fat to render and the skin to turn brown. Turn the breasts and cook or another 4 minutes for medium-rare, up to 8 minutes for well done.

Place on a plate and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into thin slices.

Sauce:

Pour all but 1 Tbsp of duck fat into a separate bowl and save for frying potatoes (or anything else). Add butter and heat a 10-inch skillet on medium heat. Add diced pears and saute for a minute, until they start to brown and sizzle. Add apple cider, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Take the cover off and simmer for another 15 minutes, reducing the sauce until it’s thick and chunky.

Serve atop of sliced duck breast.

Korean pears are in season from November through March. Check out what some of my friends did with them – you will be amazed!

Thank you Melissa’s Produce for the sample of glorious Korean pears! They are truly magnificent and versatile.

 I received a sample of Korean pears from Melissa’s Produce. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The opinions are mine and only mine:)