Friday, January 29, 2010

Food/Chicken "Salmi"

When my heroine in Across the Table needs to orchestrate an important conversation, she stages it with food. Rose Dante takes her husband to an isolated beach north of Boston to recreate with sun and a spicy meal the early days of their marriage on the island of Trinidad.

I spread the blanket on the sand near the shoreline. It wasn’t the azure blue of the Caribbean, but the sun caught the water at just the right angle and broke up into thousands of pinpoints of light. It was like my brother Jimmy’s girlfriend Marie, the Sicilian, had snagged one of her gaudy dresses and all the sequins had spilled across the ocean.

Al pulled me down next to him, and I swear, I would have done anything with him at that moment. But he whispered to me.

“I just want to hold you, Rose. Rest your head on my chest so that I can breathe in your perfume.”

We lay like that for a while, quiet, just listening to one another breathe, me feeling the weight of his arm draped over me and knowing with certainty that’s where I wanted to be.

When both our stomachs started growling, I stirred.

“How about some lunch?” I murmured.

“As long as you promise to lie down again with me after we eat.”

I set out the dishes I’d prepared the night before: chicken salmi that had absorbed the flavors of wine vinegar and garlic and oregano overnight and that we ate with our fingers, the olive oil slick on our chins; string beans and potatoes with some chopped up tomatoes from Uncle Annio’s garden; and the fried bananas now soaked through with rum and brown sugar. I even had managed to put a couple of bottles of beer in the basket.

What my mother called "chicken salmi" when we were growing up is a pungent dish, simmered for hours so that the chicken falls off the bone. She didn't leave the recipe, and I couldn't find one in my search through my cookbooks. But here is a close approximation.

1 chicken, cut up into pieces

Olive oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried basil leaves

3 garlic cloves, chopped fine

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy, ovenproof casserole and brown the chicken pieces.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for one hour, basting the chicken every 15 minutes.

As Rose explains, this tastes even better the second day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld.

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