We’re cooking something very special this week here on Main Street, and hopefully in your kitchen too. Hushwe is the ultimate Lebanese comfort food. A cinnamon-scented rice pilaf with beef, chicken, and nuts, hushwe packs a punch on the nutrition front. Its savory, and if you dare, buttery blend will fill you with a feeling similar to curling up under a blanket in front of the fireplace. Or lying down at night and letting all of the stresses of the day go. Hushwe brings you peace. It certainly brought my papa peace, as he requested it for what turned out to be his last supper. I’m going to tell you more about that tomorrow.
Children love hushwe. When I visit my nephew, who is five, and tell him I brought a treat, he shouts, “Chocolate?!” No, not chocolate, I say. “Hushwe!” he shouts, and he is right. At Thanksgiving when I told my niece about the sweets I’d be featuring on my blog, she asked, “But when are you going to make hushwe?” When we were kids, our friend Jimmy Casper used to say, “Pass the be-quiet-wee!”
Brawny hunters love hushwe. My brother Tom makes hushwe with pheasant for his hunting buddies when they hunt pheasant in South Dakota, and they eat every last bit of it. He likes to say, “The Americans love the hushwe.”
Oh, and hushwe soothes a bad tummy. Dan Shaheen says that when his dog was very sick once, the vet told him to go home and feed him some rice with cooked ground beef. That was hushwe. Now when Dan feels off, he says, “I could use some hushwe.”
Hushwe is also good for the grieving. You show up with a big pan of hushwe on the doorstep of a home that has lost a loved one, or has a serious trouble, and you are offering them some serious healing. My mother has made hushwe for many a grieving family, and I think of it as one of her spiritual practices.
The chicken for hushwe can be made, or procured, in a variety of ways. You can poach the chicken and use the broth in one tidy process, as we did for chicken and toasted bulghur. I like to roast a chicken for hushwe for the obvious reasons—it scents the house and makes for very tender meat. Plus that’s how my mom always did it. That is, until the advent of the grocery store roasted chicken. That has made hushwe a fast go-to meal when you want something good but don’t have a lot of time or energy for much of a project.
I’m going to assume you might like to roast a chicken at least every so often, so here’s a simple method: bring the chicken to room temperature, as you should before you cook any meat. This ensures even cooking throughout. Place the chicken in a low-sided roasting pan. A ceramic casserole dish works well too. Pat the chicken dry. If you get high quality, clean chicken, you don’t really need to rinse it off. Washing a chicken just spews chicken juice all over your sink and kitchen unnecessarily. Rub with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and a little garlic powder. Pour a little water (1/2 cup) around the chicken to encourage a broth that can be used to make the hushwe.
Roast at 425 degrees, uncovered, until the meat reaches 160 degrees. The time this takes depends on the size of your chicken, anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, that’s a must-have for your kitchen tool drawer. It will prevent over- or under-cooking and save you a lot of heartache. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees, but pulled from the oven at 160 (at culinary school we took chicken out at a much lower temp than that, but I like to go with 160). The meat keeps cooking after it’s removed from the oven.
For me, the very best part of hushwe is the toasted nuts. Tradition would call for toasted pine nuts, but ever since one of the Lebanese ladies of Lansing brought us a big pan of hushwe with almonds on top when Sitto died, I have made it no other way. The nuts are made by frying them in a dab of butter with a shake of salt, until they turn deep golden brown.
Join me tomorrow for hushwe storytelling, photos, and of course, a recipe.