Today brings us to the Middle East–to Saudi Arabia. We’ll be cooking up Al Kabsa, a dish that originates from Saudi Arabia but is often regarded as a staple dish in many countries throughout the region. I read through multiple recipes and they vary a bit, but the main components are rice and meat. The recipe we loosely went off of called for starting with a whole chicken. Cutting raw meat is a job that I detest. It’s slimy and I get worried about nasty bacteria-filled juices spreading over my counter when it inevitably leaks off my cutting board. Luckily Colin has no fears about getting his hands dirty with raw meat and whacking a full chicken into bits. He watched a YouTube video about how to carve it. He discarded the neck and other fatty globby grossness, and ended with thighs, breasts, legs, and wings. In the future I think we’d just buy some pre-cut chicken. I’m not sure we gained a whole lot from chopping it up ourselves other than the fact that it was a little cheaper per pound, which helped recoup some of our grocery budget from our expensive conch fritters.
We slowly cooked the whole spices, onions, and chicken in a bit of oil. The aromas in our house were unbelievable. When the chicken was tender we removed it and set it aside. I went to add the rice to the broth, only we were missing a pretty key ingredient, long grain rice. Our pantry was packed with red rice, brown rice, wild rice, sushi rice, and Korean short grain rice, but the long grain? Nowhere to be found. It took us a bit to remember that one of Micah’s musical toys had taken an unfortunate dunk in some water and we pulled out all of the rice in our cupboard so we could submerge the toy in hopes of bringing it back to life. It now sings half the songs…which is just enough to make me go half crazy. We weighed all of the options but decided the dish needed the right kind of rice, so I ran out to the store. Once we had the right stuff we made the rice in our aromatic chicken broth and added the chicken back in at the end stages of cooking.
I think it’s safe to say after completing this meal that the author of the original recipe–that we used for inspiration–lacked some key details for making the dish. The main issue was that the first step was to ‘add the whole spices to the oil and let it “sputter” and then it never told us to take the whole spices out. So when we had the finished dish we realized there were two cinnamon sticks, three cardamom pods, 6 whole cloves, and a 1/4 tsp of full peppercorns still in the dish…biting into a full cinnamon stick would have been very unappetizing. My loving husband took tongs and a fork and dutifully sat over the pot fishing out cardamom pods and cloves to make the dish edible.
Right before we were ready to eat, I noticed the recipe said that garnishing the dish with raisins and pine nuts toasted in butter was a nice touch. I was close to just skipping the step of toasting them since we were nearing bedtime and hunger levels were rising. But, I threw them in a pan and added a slab of about a tablespoon of butter…OH MY GOODNESS. The raisins reconstituted in the butter and the pine nuts developed this buttery nutty toasty flavor that completely made the dish. I’m really not sure if the Saudis would add the amount of butter that I did, but I would highly recommend doing it my way. I think these raisins and pine nuts belong on any rice dish, anywhere.
The final product was good but not great. If it had been a quick meal to throw together I think it would end up on our menu every once in a while but the amount of time and effort it took was not worth the final flavor. My kitchen smelled amazing. I anticipated that my first bite would explode with flavor but the food was still a little bland. Maybe it was my execution. Maybe kabsa just isn’t my jam. Maybe I just need a bigger pile of raisins and pine nuts on top.
Join us next week as we travel a very short distance to Yemen! Yemen shares a border with Saudi Arabia so we will be staying in the same region, but we have a radically different dish on deck.