There’s a whole lot of gagging going on these days. Gaggles. Gag orders.
To indulge my mother, I made a different kind of “gag”— a chicken and wheat porridge known as keshkag in Armenian cuisine. Because it’s her favorite dish, I made it twice last winter while reflecting on scientists silenced, journalists executed, and so many others oppressed. Mix it all together, and you get my homemade post, Kesh-Gaggle. Old-Country comfort food mixed with reflections and a wooden spoon.
Keshkag is traditionally prepared with a whole chicken, onion, broth, and dzedzads (that’s Armenian for peeled wheat kernels), cooked down until every part of the chicken has fully integrated with the bloated wheat. Just five ingredients (counting the salt), yield something really hearty and tasty.
Now, I will admit that I didn’t always see keshkag in such a favorable light. As a child, I remember seeing my dad gag at the mere sight of the dark-meat chicken parts. My brothers and I came to emphasize the “gag” aspect watching his valiant attempts not to invoke the name as he finished his bowl, a courtesy to our Auntie Zara, the cook. (He likes it better now that I use boneless chicken breasts.)
I’ve seen Armenian food bloggers’ slow cooker versions of its preparation, but I prefer making it the old-fashioned way because the cooking technique involves beating it with a wooden spoon, which is remarkably therapeutic when standing in one’s kitchen
reflecting on the news,
to an involuntary reflex—reflux!
Beating the keshkag doesn’t just feel good; it’s efficacious. The protein breaks down, marries the starch (it was arranged), and births a creaminess that would take all day in the slow cooker.
Wooden spoon in hand, I imagine this dish being prepared over an open fire, many generations back. Is it any wonder that women—marginalized, trafficked, muzzled—developed this cooking technique? What caused these keshkag-inventing-women to hit their food in the first place? Was it an inherent understanding of food chemistry, or was it sheer frustration inadvertently rendered useful?
Either way, something really delicious and nourishing comes of it. Like making art by metabolizing pain into something beautiful.
I come back to the present, reflecting on gag orders and gaggles. This cooking technique is timeless!
When it’s all done and served into bowls, the steaming hot keshkag is dressed with a pat of butter, giving it a really decadent finish. Definitely a dish I’ve come to love, despite the childhood jokes.
I even enjoy it for breakfast. It seems to fit with the savory, ethnic bowl-breakfast recipes I’ve been seeing lately, and what’s not to like about an old-fashioned dish being on trend? Plus, the chicken and grain combo is great for anyone who needs morning protein but gags-out on eggs.