Kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes, together with plov, dolma, and of course kebabs (kebabs being a distant first: virtually the only meal you’ll ever eat in a restaurant outside of Baku). A kutab — not to be confused with kutap — is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.
Classic lamb kutab, as served at Mugam Club in Baku
The most common kutab fillings are ground lamb and greens, with the occasional cheese or winter squash, but you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as the layer of stuffing remains quite thin. In addition to the four above-mentioned classics, all of which I’m presenting here with some personal tweaks, I’ve also created two new “signature” kutabs.
My first new kutab uses foie gras and pomegranate in a nod to all the Brooklyn restaurants that feature the fattened duck liver on their menus for no apparent reason other than it’s expensive and French. Baku Palace serves kutabs and foie gras as separate dishes, so why not put them together?
The second contains actual duck meat. I recently posted a duck breast kebab, and now you can use the legs (and the wings if you’d like) to make a kutab. Then you’ve got the whole bird turned into an Azeri dinner for 4!
With my first deer now in the freezer, I need to come up with recipes for the whole beast. I made a great roast out of the hind leg last weekend (more on this another time), but I had cut off the less tender shank and saved it for another recipe — hence these luscious and distinctive meatballs. Instead of being ground, the meat is first stewed, then wrapped around a cube of foie gras, and then breaded. Thinking about it, this recipe combines three Hungarian traditions: hunting, foie gras, and deep-frying. My friends have been facetiously calling them “Hunter’s Balls”!
I served them with a slightly sweet dip made of crème fraîche mixed with onion jam.
Braised deer shanks
Yields about 20 meatballs
2 lb deer shanks, bone in
black pepper, ground
4 oz peeled carrot, large dice
4 oz peeled onion, large dice
4 oz peeled parsnip, large dice
2 oz celery, large dice
1 peeled garlic clove
16 oz red wine
24 oz water
4 thyme sprigs
1 tsp cacao powder
2 oz butter
Season the deer shanks generously with salt and pepper, then sauté in an oven-proof pot with olive oil over high heat, until brown on all sides. Add the carrot, onion, parsnip, celery, and garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the red wine, bring to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the water and the thyme. Bring back to a boil, cover with a lid ajar, and cook in a 200 F oven for about 4 hours, until very tender.
Let cool for 30 minutes. Take out the shanks and reserve. Strain the cooking liquid, and reduce to 8 oz in a saucepan over high heat. Shred the meat between your fingers, then finely chop with a knife. Add the meat and the cacao powder to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat until almost completely reduced, stirring regularly. Mix in the butter, and continue cooking until there is no more liquid, but without drying out the meat. Let cool and refrigerate.
Breadcrumbs Yields enough breadcrumbs for about 20 meatballs
6 oz Pullman bread, sliced
Place the bread slices on a baking sheet on the oven rack, and toast at 300 F for 10 minutes on each side.
Break the slices into pieces, and pulverize in a blender. Reserve in a closed plastic container.
Deer and foie gras meatballs
Yields about 20 meatballs
5 oz foie gras
braised deer shanks
about 3 oz flour
2 eggs, beaten
canola oil for the deep-fryer
Cut the foie gras into approximately 20 cubes. Take a small amount of the deer shank mixture and flatten it. Place a cube of foie gras in the center, wrap it in the meat, and shape into a ball between the palms of your hands. You should use just enough meat to completely cover the foie gras. Repeat until you run out of meat or foie gras. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Place the flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs into 3 separate bowls. Heat the deep-fryer to 360 F. Coat each meatball with flour, then dip into the egg, and thouroughly cover with breadcrumbs.
Deep-fry the meatballs in small batches for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Let rest on paper towels for a minute, then serve.
Don’t let barbecue season lure you away from more gourmet food. There’s no need to wait till the next holiday season to eat foie gras! Washed down with some chilled dessert wine, it makes a lovely snack on a warm afternoon.
Hungary is the world’s second-largest producer of foie gras, although their production is mostly from goose liver. (Bulgaria is the third-largest.) In the United States, foie gras is made from duck liver, and about 99% of it is produced in the Hudson Valley. I usually get mine from D’Artagnon.
This recipe makes a large terrine, but you can easily half the proportions and use a smaller mold. Make sure you buy fresh, Grade A, whole foie gras. Frozen foie gras will result in a soggy texture — as if your terrine had been pre-chewed — and is a complete waste of your time and money.
The terrine can be kept for about 1 week. Serve with quince preserve and toasted brioche-style Pullman bread. And don’t forget the dessert wine!
Duck foie gras terrine
Yields about 12 servings
2 whole Grade A foie gras, about 3 1/2 lb all together
1 oz salt
1/4 oz sugar
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch garam masala
3 tbsp sweet Tokaji wine (or other white dessert wine)
1 tbsp calvados (or cognac)
Soak the foie gras in hot water for 30 minutes.
Drain and pat dry. Separate the 2 lobes of each liver. In each lobe, make a 1/2″ deep incision lengthwise using a knife. Pull out the veins with the knife or your fingers. You should find a few veins running lengthwise. Don’t overdo it though: you don’t want to turn the top-quality whole liver into some cheap trimmings. Your lobes should still be in one piece once you’re done.
In a bowl, mix the salt, sugar, pepper, nutmeg, garam masala, Tokaji and calvados. Place the lobes into a dish, coat both sides with the mixture, then cover and refrigerate for 12 hours, flipping the foie gras after 6 hours.
Line a 2 qt terrine mold with plastic wrap. Place one small lobe and one large lobe at the bottom, smooth side facing down. Top with the remaining lobes, smooth side facing up, and cover with the marinade.
Fill a baking dish with water about halfway, and heat in a 300 F oven for 30 minutes. Place the terrine mold into the baking dish, and cook for about 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 130 F.
Remove the terrine from the baking dish, cover with a lid, let cool and refrigerate for at least 2 days.
To serve, remove from the fridge 30 minutes in advance, pull the foie gras out of the mold, peel off the plastic wrap, and slice with a hot knife.