August 26, 2010
I’ve wanted to make these for a long time.
In July 2008, Gourmet magazine published a very fine piece of food journalism from Ian Knauer and Alan Sytsma. In it, the men visited Madani Halal, one of our country’s many halal butcher shops, which carry out the slaughtering and processing of animals in strict accordance with Islamic law.
Halal is a kind of equivalent to the Jewish system of kashrut, or kosher, both signifying what is “permitted” or “clean” to eat. In accordance with halal standards, all animals must be treated humanely in life—grass-fed only—and slaughtered swiftly in death, one quick cut of the carotid artery coming on the heels of a prayer of thankfulness to Allah for the nourishing gift of the animal’s flesh. It is a dignified, compassionate, and demanding way of doing things.
The men who run Madani Halal are a father-and-son team, Riaz Uddin and Imran Uddin. In the article, Imran asks the chefs to choose a goat, which he then slaughters himself, falling silent for prayer beforehand and sweating afterward. “Do you ever get used to that?” the visitors ask. “No,” he responds.
Imran goest on to tell Knauer & Sytsma that he hopes halal can become a bridge by which Americans can learn about and accept Islam. Though their client population is only 65% Muslim, the rest overflow from other immigrant communities, he admitted “We lost a lot of customers” after 9/11. They faced skepticism from the neighborhood when they acquired more property to expand the shop.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Jill and I both know Muslims; she has worked with many closely. She has traveled to countries with large Muslim populations, like Egypt and Jordan and Turkey. We have been invited to many a beautiful dinner spread, breaking bread with our Muslim friends as they break their Ramadan fasts. And so, for me, there is a huge crevasse of cognitive dissonance between these people I know and the very loud screaming voices I hear about all Muslims can’t be trusted, are of the devil, who hate America, should made to be carry special ID cards.
Someone please explain to me how we manage to so easily lump together a religious group that constitutes a population of 1.5 billion people. Who constitute practically every ethnic group and nationality, who are spread all over the globe living radically different lives from each other. How on earth can anyone justify writing off a mass of people this way? As if they all thought and acted in exactly the same manner, because they fall under the same religious umbrella. I sure hope I’m not expected to claim the world’s population of Hindus as representative of my thoughts & beliefs.
I was born and raised a Hindu, inheriting a group of folks who have clashed with Muslims in India for years, each group lobbing back-and-forth their irrational hatred, their violence, their fear. Of course, the irony is that if my parents had been born just some forty or fifty miles to the West, I might well be a Muslim myself. And then what?
adapted from Gourmet
To make this recipe, I had to find my own halal butcher, which was easy to do here in Houston. I wondered but did not have the courage to ask aloud if it was difficult for the proprietress of the shop to be in the presence of food all day as she fasted for Ramadan. I got myself a goat leg. I drowned it in a smoky tomato-chile sauce and baked it off for three hours, shredded it as it cooled, wrapping it in tortillas alongside my friends. I recommend you do the same.
This recipe is a project, certainly, but the results were as delicious as I had hoped. I will certainly be making it again, most likely as a dinner party dish, since everything can be prepped ahead of time.
3 ½ to 4 lb. goat leg, bone-in*
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stems removed
1 lb. tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. vinegar
½ tsp. cumin seeds
5 whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, dropping in the chiles. Simmer until the chiles are soft & pliable, 10-15 minutes. Drain the soaking water and drop the chiles into a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the goat leg!) and blend until smooth.
Place the goat leg a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Pour the sauce over the goat meat, turn to coat, then cover the entire dish with foil.
Braise for 3 to 3 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender. Remove from the oven and cool. Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, shred with forks and return it to the sauce-filled baking dish. Discard the bones.
Now whole dish goes back in the oven, covered again, to cook for another half hour. Towards the end of the half-hour, wrap the tortillas in foil and toss them into the oven to warm.
Serves a crowd (8-10) and keeps well. If making ahead, reheat in the oven to serve.
* Ask the butcher to cut the leg into pieces if you don’t have a roasting pan big enough to fit it.
crumbled queso fresco