Sunday, July 6, 2008

Half a Sheep

Zola: Hard to believe, but yesterday was our 10 year wedding anniversary so I needed a very special celebratory meal. I'd been saving Laurent's tale of marriage and meat for just such an occasion.

Laurent: Patricia was busy working on a weekend, while I was relaxing at home by myself enjoying a few beers on a lazy and hot summer afternoon. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.

My father in law announced himself,

"Laurent... are you home? It's Ricardo, your father-in-law..."

I should mention that I was recently married and had only been living in Brazil less than half a year. My Portuguese was still a bit rough.

"Ricardo, ah... eh ... come on up" I responded and hit the intercom button opening the door.

A minute or so later their was a knock on the door. I had started to say hello, but stopped mid-sentence a bit taken back. My father-in-law was standing at the door holding a large plastic bag containing a bloody carcass.

Without missing a beat, Ricardo said, "We were in the countryside at a friend's farm and bough a sheep, I thought that you may want half of it and had it cut in two."

He extended the bag to me for me to take it. I grabbed the bag and exclaimed "Of course!" and almost dropped the bloody bag still slippery and moist. I quickly asked if he wanted a beer or a shot of rum, but he gracefully declined. Ricardo excused himself, saying that people were waiting for him in the car downstairs and he had to get going. He gave me an awkward hug and left me with a half a sheep in a bloody bag.

The carcass was still warm, fresh from the slaughter. With the sweltering summer afternoon not expected to cool off soon, I had to refrigerate the meat quickly. I tried to stuff the carcass into the refrigerator with the idea of dealing with it later it would not fit. Even after removing all the shelves the half sheep was already too stiff to curl and too large to close the door. I realized that I would have to divide the carcass into smaller parts if I hoped to refrigerate it.

I had never butchered any thing bigger than a duck or a large trout into edible parts. A little intimidated, I took off my shirt, put on an apron and started to hone a couple kitchen knives against the back of a plate. While I was sharpening the knives, I scoured my mind on how to best go about butchering the sheep. With no answers ready in mind, I open another beer and cleaned the stainless steel sink. The sink, I reasoned would be the best place to put the half-carcass, while I was working on cutting it into smaller pieces.

Carefully I took the sheep out of the bag and slid it into the sink. While doing this, I succeeded in splattering myself with the blood and liquid that had been in the bottom of the bag. My white apron was already getting dirty and I had not even begun to cut. Looking at the half sheep inside the sink, decided to first separate the legs; creating three manageable pieces instead of one large slippery section.

Slowly, but surely over the course of the next few hours I managed to detach the two legs and butterfly them. While the foreleg was easy to remove, the hind leg presented a greater challenge. Finally, with a fell swoop of the ten inch chef knife I managed to detach both the hind leg and the tip of my index finger.

The blood on my apron and arms was now a mixture of mine and the sheep's. I quickly went dripping to the bathroom in search of a band aid and first aid supplies. Rummaging through the bathroom cupboards, I did not find a single band aid or any rubbing alcohol. I found some feminine sanitary napkins and reasoned that they were designed for absorbency. Quickly, I wrapped one around my finger and held it in place with my uninjured hand. After searching some more for some tape and a disinfectant, I found a roll of black electric tape and a bottle of cachaca, strong Brazilian cane spirits. After disinfecting my finger with the cachaca and securing the menstrual pad to my finger, I took a big swig from the bottle and got back to work.

Ding dong rang the door bell. Without thinking of my appearance and still holding the knife I ran to open the door.

Patricia screamed. With the half a sheep, a couple bottles of beer and less the tip of a finger, time had passed and she had already returned from work. Standing in my shorts with only an apron on, reeking of cachaca, wielding a large kitchen knife and dripping blood with a menstrual pad wrapped around my finger, I must have been a frightening sight. After reassuring my wife that she had not married a psychopath, I explained the situation to her and finished butchering the mutton.

The only way to thank the generous gift of a half a sheep was to make a feast. I decided that we needed to invite as many people as could fit into our small fifth floor apartment so I had Patricia call up her father and invite him to dinner.

My wife's father, Ricardo, is the only Lebanese born son of a large Lebanese family, who settled in Sao Paulo in the 1950's. The family legend is rich and the Lebanese roots run deep especially in the kitchen. As a nod to their Arabic heritage I decided to use the mutton to make Moroccan Rice a recipe that I had encountered while living in Paris and managed to hobble together recipe researching online.

The recipe is as follows:


2 cups of nuts (pine nuts, almonds or/and walnuts)
One leg of mutton hacked to pieces and ground with fat

2 cups of Uncle Ben's or parboiled rice

1 cup of raisins and or dried fruit such as apricots or even cherries

2 teaspoons of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Make stock
Use bones, onions, and assorted greens to make meat & vegetable stock
If Lazy use beef stock cubes

Make rice
Use stock to make rice normally
Include cardamon in rice if available
Include dried fruit in rice towards end

Meat (while rice is cooking)
Chop nuts
Fry nuts until golden in one cup of oil.
Drain nuts and retain oil.
Place nuts on paper towel to remove excess oil
fry spices in oil
Add ground meat and stir
Continue cooking until well separated
Salt to taste

Take half of meat and mix with rice
make sure rice/meat combination fluffy
Serve in large dish
Top with remaining meat and with fried nuts

Serve with sides of arabic salad, cucumbers, onion, tomato, Baba Ghanoush, humus, arabic (greek) style yogurt,

Zola: I didn't buy half a sheep, but I did run down to the butcher's to get a leg of lamb (which is huge, by the way). The meal was amazing. I stuck with the lamb, rice, and salad, threw in a couple of stuffed grape leaves--but I also made my own harissa to make these olives that I get down at my favorite cafe in Seattle, Cafe Presse. Make the harissa paste then pour in the entire contents of two bottles of nicoise olives.

Harissa paste:
13 oz bag of dried chili pods
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of ground coriander
1/2 cup of ground cumin
1/3 cup salt
2/3 cup olive oil

Using scissors, cut off stems, take out seeds, and cut up the chili pods and put them in a bowl of hot water to soak. Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend.

Well deserved cheater dessert of chocolate gelato, fresh raspberries, and an almond florentine finished everything off.


Larry Rains said...

Alright! Thanks for publishing the story and hope that the recipe turned out well.

You guys rock. Let's do dinner again this summer.

Zola said...

Ah man, it was *so* good. Thankfully I didn't screw it up. Because we'll be eating it for a while, still.
Yes-dinner! I am still dying to get into How to Cook a Wolf. Let us know when you two are free.

ndrwmtsn said...

looks awesome.

guy, you were great at sp20. thanks for the help and friendliness.

BTW if you eat ethiopian, you know injera, the bread thing. i just discovered a new version, which used 100% teff and not a teff/flour blend. it's darker and tastes like injera + beef jerky. strong taste. strange eats. i found it yesterdat. that is all.