Help Me Change a Traditional Cooking Method

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Andy M.

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When I was a child growing up in an Armenian-American household, there was a dish called herrseh that we didn’t have very often and we all loved it. It was a production whenever Mom made it.

Herrseh was made by putting a large fowl and some hulled wheat in a pot full of water and simmering it for hours and hours (and hours). Then Mom would take the fowl out of the pot, remove all the bones and return the meat to the pot. The final step was to take a large spoon or similar utensil (Mom used a small wooden baseball bat) and stir the pot with vigor to break up the meat and smooth out the texture a little. The dish would then be served with brown butter.

There was always one negative to the whole process. Mom never got all the bones out of the pot because the fowl had long ago fallen apart in the pot, so several times during the meal you’d get a small piece of bone to deal with.

Flash forward to today. I have made this dish once. It was fine and, as much as I tried, a few bones got through. I used cheesecloth but that didn’t work well.

All this background to ask for your help. I have a theory that should produce a herrseh that will taste as good as Mom’s but will be bone free. Tell me if you think I’ll be losing any flavor or texture with my proposed method. I’m making this dish for my sister and BIL later this month and want her to really enjoy it.

1. Simmer the whole fowl in the appropriate quantity of water for several hours to make a full-flavored broth and draw the collagen out of the bones.
2. Strain the broth and save it.
3. Carefully separate all the meat from the bones. Save the meat, toss the bones.
4. Add the hulled wheat to the stock and simmer until the wheat is fully cooked.
5. Towards the end of the cooking time for the wheat, add the meat back to the pot.
6. Beat thoroughly in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer (I didn’t keep the bat) to homogenize the texture.
7. Serve with brown butter.

My question is this:

Do I miss out on anything (other than bits of bone in my food) by using this method? I don’t think I do. Just want to make sure I’m not missing anything important.

Please let me know what you think.

Thanks,
 

ChefJune

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I think it would work, but it won't be as full of flavor as if you cook the chicken with the grain. However, why not put the chicken in a cheesecloth sack BEFORE cooking with the grain? then you could take it out and really remove all the bones, because even if the chicken had fallen apart, the whole thing would be contained.

Just a thought. ;)
 

Andy M.

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I had tried that in my first attempt and was not happy with the results. It would involve cooking the dish ahead of time then removing the boiling hot fowl in the cheesecloth and waiting for it to cool so you can carefully separate the meat.

If I use the fowl to make the stock then add the meat back in to cook with the grain, why would it be less flavorful?
 

JamesS

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The only thing I see that would make a really significant difference is using the mixer vs a spoon. There's a lot to be said for the inconsistency that comes from doing things by hand.

It doesn't look like you're going to mess with the flavor much by doing the stock separately. Maybe just a little for not having the bones present.

I'm curious Andy, how is this served?
 

Andy M.

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We serve it in a low, flat soup bowl. You make a depression in the middle and spoon in some of the brown butter.
 

GB

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I think your proposed idea should probably work Andy. Or what if you made stock, separately, but for the dish itself use boneless meat to start?

I also agree with James about mixer vs spoon. That is the only part of your idea that I think might not work as well as you hope.
 

Andy M.

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GB: I think a large fowl is preferred for this dish. They are not usually available other than whole. The fowl, being an older bird has a different flavor from the smaller chickens we are accustomed to.

JamesS and GB: So you're saying the mixer might result in a smoother texture than is normal for the dish?
 

GB

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JamesS and GB: So you're saying the mixer might result in a smoother texture than is normal for the dish?
Yes, either smoother, more homogenized, or even possibly pasty texture if mixed too long or too hard.
 

JamesS

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Yes, either smoother, more homogenized, or even possibly pasty texture if mixed too long or too hard.

Exactly. Think of the difference between potatoes that have been whipped with an electric mixer and smashed with a masher. With the mixer they're smooth, almost liquidy. With the masher, they have irregularities that adds texture. There's nothing wrong with either, but they are distinctly different, even with the very same ingredients.
 

GrillingFool

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Or you could bone the uncooked chicken, put the bones into a cheesecloth sack, and toss it all in....
 

ChefJune

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I had tried that in my first attempt and was not happy with the results. It would involve cooking the dish ahead of time then removing the boiling hot fowl in the cheesecloth and waiting for it to cool so you can carefully separate the meat.

If I use the fowl to make the stock then add the meat back in to cook with the grain, why would it be less flavorful?

It might not, Andy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will. That's all. :ermm:
 

Alix

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Andy, do you have a really big strainer or steamer tray? You could put the wheat on the bottom, put the fowl in the strainer/steamer and just lift it out when you are ready to take the meat from the bones.

My favorite thought is taking the meat off the bones first, then put the bones in cheesecloth to cook. Good idea that!
 

Uncle Bob

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My 2 cents...The Method will work fine up until the Mixer part...then you will alter the texture from what you remember. ~~~ I suggest a Louisville Slugger.... A 28" Should work fine!:)

Fun!!!!
 

Andy M.

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Andy, have you tried the modifications yet? I'm interested to hear how it turns out.

June, The dinner is scheduled for Saturday the 20th of this month. I will be prepping/cooking on the Friday before and that Saturday.

I'll definitely let you know, when all is said and done.

I appreciate your input.
 

Andy M.

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Dinner was a Success

My sister and BIL came over for dinner tonight and we had the herrseh. It was delicious. DS and BIL both raved about it.

Here's what I ended up doing:

Friday:

I bought a whole 7 pound fowl and made stock with it. I simmered it for 3 hours then took the meat off the bones and refrigerated it.

I then returned the bones to the pot and simmered them some more.

I put the hulled wheat in water to soak overnight.


Saturday:

At 2:00-2:30 this afternoon I put the wheat and the chicken in a pot with enough of the broth to cover.

I brought it to a boil and put it into a 350F oven for 3 hours. I checked it hourly and added some more broth.

At 6:30 or so, I put some of the cooked herrseh into my stand mixer affixed with a plastic plate lid to stop splatters and beat it at medium speed for a couple of minutes.

The texture was just fine. Pretty much a we remembered it.

Best of all, not a bone in sight.

Thanks to you all for your contributions. I appreciate it.
 
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