Years ago, I lived in Fresno.
Spent many a day, in a special cafe.
Ate only one dish, to vary no wish.
Home in each bite, the flavors so right.
To my dismay, the chef went away.
The doors were locked, I was truly shocked.
No bye declared, no recipe shared.
My palate bereft, just a memory left.
I made this dish today mostly from memory. I know the chef used shredded turkey, but I had chicken on hand. The tahini is also something I added because I have been trying this dish for years and have never been able to recreate the “sauce” if you will. It was not laban or labne, although both would be delicious as well. I also got a few ideas, like the eggplant, from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s, “Saha – a chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria.”
This can be prepared in individual bowls but for a dinner party, turning it out onto a large platter makes for a spectacular presentation.
CHICKEN & RICE
FOR THE POACHED CHICKEN
3 Bone-In Half Chicken Breasts
1 large Onion, quartered
2 stalk Celery, cut in thirds
1 Lemon, cut in half
1 tsp. Cinnamon (optional)
2 tsp. Allspice (optional
2 sprigs Thyme
FOR THE RICE
1 Eggplant, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sliced Almonds
1/ 2 cup Olive Oil
2 cups Long Grain Rice
5 cups of stock
Salt (see directions below)
1/2 tsp. Pepper
1/3 cup Sumac
1 small Sweet Onion, sliced very thin
FOR THE TAHINI
1 cup Water
3/4 cup Tahini (well-stirred)
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
1 clove Garlic
1/2 tsp. Coarse Salt
For the poached chicken, place the breasts in a pot and fill with about 6-8 cups of water or until the chicken is just covered. Add the onion, celery, lemon, cinnamon, allspice and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the chicken sit in the hot water for 20 minutes. Take the chicken out to cool and reserve the stock for the rice.
For the tahini dressing, place all of the ingredient in a food processor. Mix until well blended. Taste for salt. Set aside at room temperature.
For the rice, begin by placing the eggplant in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the eggplant on both sides, until they are golden brown. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
In the same oil, saute the almonds until they are lightly golden. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Lightly salt.
Pour the stock into a bowl and wipe out the pot. Measure out 5 cups of stalk and add it to the pot along with 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice and then turn the heat to low. Cook the rice for at least 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, finely shred the chicken.
Finally, when the rice is done, take a deep bowl and lightly oil the inside. Begin by placing the shredded chicken at the bottom, about 3/ 4 of the way up the sides. Layer the eggplant on top of the rice. Spoon the rice on top of the eggplant and pack it firmly. Place the serving plate on top of the bowl and quickly turn it upside down. The chicken and rice should come out perfectly formed. Place the almonds around the plate. Drizzle heavily with the tahini dressing. Place the onions on top of the chicken and sprinkle on about 1/2 tsp. sumac per individual bowl. Serves 6.