Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Frybread and Navajo Burgers

With an Indian reservation just 20 or so miles north of here, I have come to appreciate Navajo cuisine. And we're talking here mainly about frybread.

Frybread is nothing more than flour dough flattened into a circle and fried in oil. But lard is better. It can be a little crispy, which is best when eating it by itself.

The other day we went to the annual fall festival in Socorro called (guess what) Socorrofest. There was a wide variety of bands playing in the gazebo and dozens of art, crafts and food vendors throughout and bordering the plaza. Also a wine and beer tent featuring New Mexico brewers and wineries. Incidentally, for my money the wines coming from the Tularosa valley are as good as the best anywhere. And so is the Monk's Ale brewed by Benedictine monks at Abbey Beverage Company at the Monastery of Christ of the Desert in Abiquii. 

But I digress.

Vanessa and I found a frybread vendor near the wine and beer tent, staffed by AISES students from New Mexico Tech - that's American Indian Science and Engineering Society. It was a fundraiser for the club, so how could we not partake of their board of fare?

Anyway, I hadn't had a Navajo Burger for much too long a time. Navajo Burgers are one my ultimate comfort foods; two hamburger patties, chopped green chile, and lettuce and other stuff that you'd expect with a burger, all folded into that delicious fried dough. And just five dollars.

What a meal. It lasted me well into the evening.

I first discovered Navajo frybread while we were vacationing in New Mexico before we eventually moved here. It has been a traditional food since the 1860s, when the government deemed it necessary to round up all Navajos and relocate them to the Bosque Redondo reservation in eastern New Mexico.

From northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico they were forced by Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry to walk hundreds of miles across the state, known now as the "Long Walk." Men, women, children, and elderly suffered the months-long forced march (there were actually several) and an untold number of family members perished along the way. Food was in short supply as well, and what was eaten had to be easily prepared, and thus the first frybread was born.

Today frybread is still a staple not only in the Navajo Nation, but also with Mescalero Apache and in most other reservations across the western states. It has provided not only sustenance, but is also a symbol of their struggles and perseverance. It is part of the sense of identity to the Navajo people.

Anyone can make frybread - it's a no-brainer - but nothing beats the way it's cooked over an open grill by a Navajo lady.

Like we get it here in New Mexico. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wings. Just wings, please.

It's hard to believe but I never had chicken wings until I was well into my thirties. Hard to believe because I was raised by an Alabama-born mother who made us fried chicken probably every two or three weeks.  Also, I believe that when I was growing up wings/hot wings weren't as sought after as they are today.

But now in my older and wiser years, one of the best comfort foods for me is chicken wings. They could be be fried, baked, broiled or barbecued, anything but pre-made frozen from the supermarket. And they must have the bone in. Knawing away on each bone is part of the comfort, being the instinctual carnivore that I am. 

I also like them with the skin on and dry - instead of drippy and smeary. Drippy and smeary are what you get more than not if you order them someplace.

Over the years I've met people from different places who brag on their local wings. "Oh, Memphis has the best wings," or "You haven't had good wings if you haven't had them in Denver," or "Go to Birmingham for the best wings," and on and on. I find that all that talk irrelevant.

Then I've known chicken wing gastronomes who spend time arguing whether it's white meat or dark meat. Aye-yai-yai.

There are also the Hooters wings devotees, but I won't go into that. 

Actually I will.

One time I had a co-worker (my on-air partner on a morning radio show) who asked me to go down to the Hooters near the radio station to get us some wings. She said she would pay for mine if I went because she said she refuses to "go in there."

They were okay wings, but I figured one had to eat them right there inside Hooters served by a Hooters waitress to fully appreciate the dining experience.

Anyway, this last Thursday I decided it was time for another batch and fetched out from the freezer a long tray of raw chicken wings I bought at Smith's a couple of months ago.

The worst part of making chicken wings at home is cutting them up and removing the tips. Last time I left the tips on and found I had to use an extra baking sheet because they wouldn't all fit on one. It's an icky job, but I've learned to just soldier through and whack away.

After that gets done, it's all downhill. I get the little slimy fragments all lined up on our baking pan with the grill thing on top and bake them plain for fifteen minutes on each side, and while that's going on I mix up a third cup of Frank's Hot Sauce with a third cup of melted butter. But the more Frank's the better, I've learned.

Then I swab 'em down and bake for fifteen minutes, take them out, turn them over, and swab down that side and bake for another fifteen minutes. This turning and swabbing goes on over and over again until I run out of sauce.

After all that backing and swabbing, maybe an hour and a quarter, they end up nice and dry and zesty.

Trouble with making wings is, however, is that they run out too fast. You'd think 28 wings would last more than a couple of days worth of snacks. But no, between my wife and I they were gone in less than 24 hours.