(Egyptian braised squab stuffed with cracked wheat)
Egyptians have kept pigeons, also known as squab, since ancient times, and their mud brick pigeon lofts dot the skyline up and down the Nile. One of their favorite ways of serving pigeon is stuffed with cracked wheat and gently braised as hamam mahshi (ha-MAM mah-SHEE).
A green cracked wheat called freekeh is used most often, but bulgur wheat can be used too. (You'll also find freekeh spelled fireek, farik, frikeh, freeky, or freek. Kind of fun, huh?)
Squab — another name for domesticated pigeon — is an excellent choice for hamam mahshi. If squab is hard to find, use Cornish game hens instead.
- Squabs with giblets -- 4 (1-pound)
- Lemon, juice only -- 1
- Salt and pepper -- to season
- Butter or oil -- 3 tablespoons
- Onions, finely chopped -- 2
- Ground cinnamon -- 2 teaspoons
- Bulgur or freekeh, soaked 30 minutes in water to cover -- 2 cups
- Fresh mint, chopped -- 1 tablespoon
- Parsley, chopped -- 1 tablespoon
- Chicken broth -- 4 cups
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Chop the giblets finely and set them aside. Squeeze the lemon juice over the squabs, season them inside and out with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium flame. Add the onions, chopped giblets and cinnamon and saute until the onions are cooked through and translucent, 7 or 8 minutes.
- Drain the bulgur or freekeh and squeeze out any extra moisture. Stir the bulgur or freekeh and the mint, parsley and salt and pepper into the onions. Remove from heat and stuff about 1/4 cup of the cracked wheat mixture into each squab. Set the remaining cracked wheat mixture aside.
- Sew the body cavity of each squab closed with a trussing needle and tie the legs together. Place the squabs, breast-side up in a large casserole dish or ovenproof pot. Pour 2 cups of the chicken stock over them and cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
- Place the dish in the oven and braise for about 1 1/2 hours. Baste with the braising juices once or twice during this time.
- About 1/2 hour before you remove the squabs from the oven, bring the remaining chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the remaining cracked wheat mixture, cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- To serve, fluff the reserved crack wheat with a fork and spread it over a heated serving platter. Remove the squabs from the oven and remove the trussing strings. Place the squabs neatly on the bed of cracked wheat and pour any braising juices over the squabs and wheat. Serve immediately.
Hamam Mahshi Variations
- Farrouj Mahshi (Stuffed chicken): Use 2 small (2-pound) chickens instead of squab and stuff each with 1/2 cup of the stuffing mixture. You may have to braised a bit longer to cook the chicken all the way through.
- Stuffing Variations: Stir 1/2 cup of soaked and drained currants and/or 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts into the stuffing mixture for a fancier dish. Stir in a pinch of ground allspice, cloves or cardamom.