Yuk yuk. Even writing its stupid name makes me want to vomit. However, before I reach for my (metaphorical) bucket, let me note that it only seems fair, after going on about our wonderful khoreshes, our diverse and friendly kukus, the incomparable kashk-e bademjan etc etc, to take you on a walk on the dark side, and introduce you to the unpleasant messiness of Iranian culinary art.
The first thing you need to know about “ab-gousht” (literally, meat-juice) is that is a man-food.
In the gendered world of the kitchen, where even my son of three knows that only girls eat lettuce, meat-juice is a highly chauvinistic dish. Men need to eat meat-juice with loud cries of delight to prove their manliness, and more, to prove their belief in tradition, in family values, in responsibilty. To prove they are not Westernized sissies who like pizza and Chinese take-aways. To prove they are real Iranian men. Women prepare and eat “meat-juice”, obviously to please their men-folk.
“Meat-juice” is not only a very gendered dish, it is also very class-based. So, somebody might declare their love of “meat-juice” to prove they are of the real people, they belong to the working-class, they remember the good old days when their grandfather made “tilit” in the ab-gousht with dried bread and it was supposed to last a whole month, before people ate rice and chicken everyday. Or somebody might say with pride that “ab-gousht” is never ever cooked in their kitchen, meaning they are too refined and too rich (too nouveux riche) for that.
I am trying to think of a Canadian dish which carries the same gender and class connotations, and I need some help here. Hamburgers? Hotdog? Shephard’s pie?
Well, now that the socio-economic context is in place, let us proceed to the actual process of making this disgusting food. (You can tell I’m really not working on my thesis and that also I’m really bored at work, can’t you?)
Take some meat, preferably with bones. Dump it in a deep pot, known in fancy traditional restaurants as “dizi“. Add some raw onions, potatoes and tomatoes, and soaked chickpeas. Cover with water. Flavour with turmeric and salt. Let boil for a long long long time.
Eventually, when the whole house is saturated with the reek of boiling meat and onions, and you have signalled your determination to enjoy a hearty dish of “ab-gousht” to all the neighbours at least three streets away, the dizi is ready.
Now is the time where experts disgree. Do you separate the solids from the yellow water, and mash up the cooked meat and vegetables, thus preparing “goosht koobideh” (literally: mashed meat)? This is done with a special heavy kitchen utensil (the “goosht-koob” or meat-masher) which looks like a murder weapon. The juice is then served separately in bowls, and eaten with lots of dried bread soaked into it (the famous “tilit“). The mashed meat is also served separately.
Or, some prefer to serve the meat and juice together, perhaps with some “kashk” drizzled over it. If you come from the north of Iran, you will like your “meat-juice” served with rice. In the desert cities, (Yazd?) I understand they add dried fruits to the dizi, although I have never actually seen it, been a citified Tehran girl who used to feel stifled if away from the smoky Tehran fumes for more than three days.
There you have it. If you visit Iranian “friends” who offer you a traditional dish of “ab-gousht“- well, be warned that although it is traditional, they don’t really think much of you. And if you visit Iran and your guide suggests having a “dizi” in a traditional restaurant, the sort where you sit cross-legged on wide wooden benches covered with filthy carpets, as a taste of “real” Iran, politely but firmly refuse, and ask for cholo-kebab instead. Trust me, you won’t regret it.