Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ahhh, Nuts...

What is it about goat balls this week?

Earlier this week, an old friend of mine posted a bunch of ancient band promo pictures, mostly from his band, on FaceBook. This was circa 1976, and yes, it's true, in those dark days there were many crimes against fashion committed. One of the pictures featured a great guy I used to play with who, for the purposes of this tale, must remain nameless. My friend passed away tragically in an accident many years back, but he is remembered fondly by all who knew him. A great singer and front man, he was also known for two very prominent physical attributes: he had a truly immense afro, and also perhaps the largest scrotum known to man. His nickname in the band? "Goat Balls".

You might well ask, "How do you know this?". I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm a musician, and I've spent a lot of time on the road. When guys in bands get on the road, it can get a little stifling. Travel. Play show. Eat bad food. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes you need to blow off a little steam. According to my friend Joe Alvaro, who played bass in the band, our singer friend had a very special way of blowing off steam that he had been known to do on at least two documented occasions.

After a gig, when the usual bevy of party girls and hangers-on had found their way back to the band's hotel for the inevitable after party, our hero would wait for an opportune moment to sneak into the bathroom armed with a roll of duct tape, a section of newspaper, and a lighter. While all the other guys in the band were furiously trying to get lucky, and the local boys were trying their best to pick up the surplus girls, much like remoras looking for edible crumbs around a shark's mouth, he would get busy in the bathroom. He would remove all of his clothes, and then carefully fold his enormous scrotum up over his unit, covering it completely. Using the duct tape, he would judiciously apply a strip of tape so that the monster sac was then attached to his belly, thus completely obscuring Mr. Johnson from sight. The whole package bore a stunning resemblance to processed poultry skin, and therefore earned the name "The Cornish Game Hen".

The public unveiling of "The Cornish Game Hen" to stunned partygoers was only phase one of the operation. Phase two is best related in a private message, but suffice to say that it was a spectacle of dance that even now is only spoken of in hushed tones of awe by those who have seen it and lived to tell the tale. Years later, I actually played with this singer in a band called whose name is best forgotten. When I mentioned the Cornish Game Hen and the accompanying sacred dance, he blushed a little. He never denied it. He was a great guy, and I miss him.

Later this week, our new friend Gee, who is also on FaceBook, proposed that despite my porky faux pas of the previous week, we return to his friend Anwar's farm in order to film a special dish, "Mutton Dum Biryani". Sajna, who is Anwar's charming wife, is an expert at making this very special dish, She was kind enough to let us into her kitchen to document this amazing recipe. It takes about 4 or 5 hours to prepare, and while not technically complicated, it is a great example of what the Italians call "insaporire", which loosely translated means "flavour" or "taste". It really means so much more than that. It means giving each ingredient the proper time and attention it needs when cooking in order to develop the maximum flavour. Sajna gave us a master class over the course of almost 5 hours.

First of all, you need to have mutton. About three kilos worth to feed the 25 people that had be invited for lunch that day. Mutton is a mature lamb or young sheep in European and North American parlance. In India, mutton means goat. Yes, I'm talking about those all-pervasive, pellet pooping, poster-eating, city dwelling horny critters. Notice I am no longer talking about the band here. Sajna had a few kilos of goat meat on the bone already cut up waiting to be cooked in the pressure cooker.

As Laurel asked questions and I manned the camera and recording gear, Sajna took this huge plate of mutton and slid nearly all of it into the pressure cooker, along with some spices and a little yoghurt. I did say nearly all of it, right? Bits of liver, kidney, and heart were tossed into the pot. There were two somewhat suspect chunks left on the plate. "Why aren't you putting that part in? What is that?", Laurel asked innocently. Sajna did not answer immediately. I began to have my suspicions, but I kept them to myself, as I involuntarily crossed my legs. Sajna sort of blushed a little and pointed in a southerly direction. She silently mouthed the word "Balls". "You mean testicles?", Laurel asked. Sajna quickly nodded and pushed the plate aside and locked the pressure cooker up tight. "Goat Balls", I thought to myself. Twice in one week.

Sajna prepared the masala, or spice mixture, for the biryani by sauteing onions for nearly an hour over low heat until they were meltingly soft. Then she added large amounts of garlic, ginger, green chili, tomatoes, and spices. Each ingredient was cooked for at least 20 minutes before the next one as added. The cooked goat meat was finally added and left to simmer, along with cilantro and mint.

Outside, a fire was lit with coconut shells and wood, and a massive volume of basmati rice was cooked and then drained into a wicker basket. In a large pot, the goat masala was put in, and then a layer of rice was placed on top. Then came some crispy fried onions, raisins, and cashews. More rice, then onions and nuts again. A splash of rosewater and then nearly a pint of ghee, or clarified butter was drizzled over the top. Then came the "Dum" part. The dum is a simple flour and water dough that is applied to the lip of the pot, so that when the lid is placed on it, there is a very complete seal created. No moisture or steam can escape. The huge pot was then placed on the fire, and some coals from the fire were heaped on the metal lid, effectively forming an oven. The whole mixture was left like this for about an hour, until the coals died completely down.

Guests arrived, drinks were poured, children played, and spirits were high as everyone anticipated the arrival of the biryani. And with good reason. It was truly amazing. Rich and flavourful, the meat just melted off the bone. Laurel and I agreed that this was the finest biryani either of us had ever eaten. It was a real thrill to document the whole recipe from start to finish, and a real pleasure to watch a true master at work. Sajna made cooking for 25 people look easy.

Good thing 27 people didn't show up...


Anonymous said...

I LOVED the story about Vince and his goat balls wrapped up and resembling a Cornish hen! What a treat to read. Lovely blog you have here :)

Joe Alvaro said...

Thanks for that Rob...brings back memories of some real fun times with Vancouver's quintessential frontman who was as zany off stage as on.I miss him too.

Russell marslan said...

Man I remember Goat Balls and the Dance of the cornish game hen.
And Vinces hair on fire at lasseters Den,, the Blues Dimension, and all that great stuff! What a time!
Good friends........great musicians and people.

Rob Bailey said...

Vince was a friend and loved by many. His musician buddies miss him. I hope his offspring do get a chuckle from this! And this is only one of the stories...