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Tawook - it's just chicken

"The whole is not merely the sum of the components. It comes back to the same thing - the spirit of cooking." George Haddad

This was a new recipe week and having just dealt with the first recipe in Wog Food and been impressed I decided to choose something from elsewhere in the book and lighted on a recipe called Tawook, at the end of the chapter on George Haddad - who I will come to shortly. And here is my somewhat messy looking photograph of the finished dish.

The thing is that I thought that Tawook is the name of an actual dish - a barbecued chicken kind of dish. After all, in the brief introduction, that's what Haddad described it as: "one of Ali's early signature dishes. It was frighteningly popular. It is a marinated barbecued chicken dish." Ali's is a reference to his second restaurant in Hobart called Ali Akbar.

Tawook or Taouk however, is the word for 'chicken'. That's all it means. However when you input 'tawook' into Google Images what you get is this:

Masses of pictures of skewered chicken - Shish tawook. There was no mention of skewers in my recipe. Just chicken. And when I checked out a few of the above recipes, there was a huge variety of marinade - from simple oil and lemon, to yoghurt based ones, to ones featuring various different spice mixes. And when I checked my Middle-Eastern cookbooks - still no reference to tawook, nor online if you feed in the names of Middle-Eastern gurus, like Greg Malouf, Claudia Roden, Yotam Ottolenghi. So funadamentally I think we are just talking charcoal chicken here - and as you can see from my terrible photograph there was not much charcoal involved - well I grilled it in the oven.

So George Haddad. This is his photograph in the book. Isn't it wonderful? So antique somehow. I have no idea whether he is still alive. He came to Australia with his parents and large family shortly before the civil war in Lebanon. After stints at Fanny's and Glo-glo's in Melbourne he went to Hobart where he was one of the very first - if not the first - to open a Lebanese restaurant.

The first was just a café really where he served sandwiches:

"I used the things I did when I was a kid - a bit of baba ghanoush, some olives, whole spring onions and rolled it up in flatbread. At Caper's I did it between two slices of rye."

Two more restaurants followed - Ali Akbar and then Atlas, but a falling out with his brother-in-law meant that it was sold. No more restaurants - he then turns to being a political adviser and I have no idea what subsequently happened to him or whether he is still alive. Suffice to say his daughter is a Tasmanian politician.

His legacy continues however through the popularity of those sandwiches - as in this example from Tom Sarafian, one of the many chefs who recognises his influence:

"Charcoal chicken from Donati’s, brushed with lots of toum, wrapped up in homemade saj bread, with an unhealthy amount of harissa mayonnaise and homemade chips seasoned with za’atar, more toum, sumac and pickled cucumbers." Tom Sarafian

And also, of course, in the overall massive popularity of Lebanese food. I'm willing to bet that toum was unknown back then, ditto harissa mayonnaise and sumac, and saj bread too - I'm not sure whether this is a different kind of bread or just a different word for pita bread. Haddad did mention za'atar, but really this is also a relatively recent thing. I think it's still not readily available in your supermarket. But yes this example is an updated version of the original Haddad sandwiches.

But back to my recipe of yesterday. It was extremely tasty - lots of lemon, and herby content bolstered by garlic, tomato and spring onion. Fresh tasting. However, there is no yoghurt, and no spices. He refers to labneh here and there, but also makes this comment:

"It's not an exclusively Jewish thing that you don't mix meat and dairy, especially fish. To cook a fish dish with chilli and yoghurt would just not occur to a Middle-Eastern mind like mine." George Haddad

How times have changed. On the right Ottolenghi's Seven spice chicken with tahini, which I think is probably a fairly standard version of Shish tawook. The seven spices that he mentions make up Baharat - a Lebanese spice mix that pops up in many of those kebab recipes. As does the yoghurt which is also part of the marinade mix. And note that Ottolenghi is not only Middle-Eastern but he is also Jewish, so theoretically not into mixing dairy and meat. But then he's probably not very religious. However it does show that times change, and food changes with it, although immigrants may not:

"The immigrant's view of everything to do with their homeland freezes the year they leave it." George Haddad

Also an interesting comment as I know that I often say things like "In England they do such and such a thing" which they may well not do anymore. I have no idea what being English means today. I do know that London, for example has changed beyond recognition, but that's it really. And the same would apply to immigrants all around the world. Which is perhaps why we become dépaysé as the French would say - sort of 'without a country'. Which to my mind can be a really good thing if also a little - almost lonely - I cannot think of an appropriate word.

George Haddad may well have intended his chicken to be skewered and barbecued but the recipe didn't say so. Indeed there are no cooking instructions really. He simply says "Marinate for at least 24 hours, before barbecuing the chicken as desired." How very Elizabeth David.

Indeed the entire recipe is very Elizabeth David in that you have to use a bit of imagination, and have a bit of cooking experience. Herewith the list of ingredients for the marinade, which you combine before covering with a half and half mix of olive and vegetable oil (1/2 cup - 125ml each). He doesn't even mention putting the chicken in the marinade:

1 kg chicken thighs, skin removed. This is the most precise bit of information in the the recipe.

1 large onion, 1 large lemon, 1 green capsicum - which you are then told to chop - how big, how small, all the same? Do you peel the lemon? (I didn't) I assume you remove the seeds from the capsicum.

1bunch parsley - what do you do with this? So many options.

2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper - one assumes you grind the black pepper, but then maybe not. Maybe you just crush it. Or even leave it whole.

1 head, chopped, crushed garlic - Do you peel the cloves first? Having seen Jacques Pépin throw garlic skin and all into his food processor when making fromage fort, I now wonder. Is chopped, crushed a choice, or do you do one before the other? And how small do you chop it anyway?

1/2 bunch spring onions, roughly chopped. Just the white part or all of it?

1/2 cup (125ml) lemon juice - uncharacteristically precise

1 cup whole crushed peeled tomato - whole - how can it be whole if it is crushed and peeled?

1 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves or 2 fresh tarragon sprigs - do you chop the fresh tarragon or leave the sprigs whole?

I had to more or less quarter this recipe - well I used one big breast rather than thighs, which I reckoned was about a quarter. Anyway I still had a lot of chopped veggies and herbs and quite a bit of juice. Which in the end made it a very lovely dish - to taste - perhaps not in looks. It was like having a cooked salsa to give you a flavour hit with every mouth. And you would lose it on a barbecue.

It was indeed lovely. David said a keeper, but I think a novice cook might be a bit put off by the lack of instruction.

You could also just throw all the marinade ingredients into a food processor, which I might try next time. I think it might make the sauce cling to the meat rather more.

I am pleased I did not throw this book into the street library though. I must see what else there is to enjoy. Food from the 90s sampled today.

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