The Presidio Brat

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Historic Christmas Dinner - Presidio Style

arguello and rezanov
Concepcion and Rezanov as depicted on the Presidio chapel (Interfaith Center)
Few know the tragic story of Baron Nikolai Rezanov, a Russian statesman who came to the Spanish Presidio in 1806. Hoping to set up a trade treaty with New Spain, he was welcomed to the Presidio by Don Luis Arguello, not the commandante after whom our lovely street is named, but his son.
Don Luis hosted Rezanov at the Arguello home - in what is now the defunct Officer's Club - which may explain why Rezanov fell madly in love with Arguello's daughter, Concepcion.
Николай Петрович Резанов
Tell me that's a hat
Born on the Presidio, military brat extraordinaire, Concepcion was 15 when she met Rezanov. Thank god her father was out of town - she and Rezanov spent all their time exploring the Presidio and planning a future together. Unfortunately, this was 1806, which meant that they couldn't get married -- he was Russian Orthodox, she was Catholic. In order to make such a cross-bred affair legit, Rezanov had to go back to Russia to ask the tsar's permission. While traveling home to do this, he fell off his horse and died. In Siberia. In winter. Concepcion didn't find out for another two years, at which point she swore off men forever and joined a nunnery. Which may explain how she went from this:
To this:
old concepcion
Another explanation could be her family's amazing cooking. In the heyday of their love, Concepcion and Rezanov would have shared the bounty of a lush California. The Arguello household could serve up the most festive boda in town, and an early California banquet of that caliber would have had to include an Aves Relleñas - a stuffed fowl drenched with red chile sauce.
I first discovered this recipe in the Presidio of San Francisco Cookbook, published in 1976 by the Presidio Officer's Wives Club. Their version of the recipe was taken from Early California Hospitality (1938) by Ana Packman. So if you feel like indulging in a bit of historic Presidio cookery, here is an updated recipe.
Aves Relleñas -- Adobadas y Asadas
(Stuffed Fowl Roasted and Drenched with Red Chile Sauce)
1 large brined turkey or goose or suckling pig
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
For the relleño (stuffing):
2 lbs. shoulder beef (neck) and giblets
1 quart boiling water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. fat
4 green onions
1 ripe onion
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. toasted breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup pitted ripe black olives
1/4 cup raisins
Wash turkey. Rub salt and pepper inside and out. Cook beef and giblets in one quart boiling water. When giblet meat is tender, cool and chop into small pieces. Set broth aside.
Heat fat in skillet and fry minced onions until wilted. Add the chopped meat, vinegar,  black olives and raisins. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Add in toasted breadcrumbs. Pour in one cup of the meat broth, a little at a time - this should be crumbly and not watery. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in the eggs. Add salt to taste. Stuff dressing into fowl and bake the bird at 325 degrees.
For adobo (basting sauce):
6 dry red chiles
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. crushed oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp. toasted breadcrumbs
Wipe chiles clean and remove seed veins and seeds. Cut into pieces and steam them over one cup boiling water for about half an hour. Rub chiles through sieve - or spin briefly in a food processor - adding in vinegar, salt, pepper, mashed garlic and oregano. Add the remainder of the meat stock. The result should be a rich, red puree.
When the skin of the bird is browned, begin basting with the the chile puree every 15 minutes until the bird is done.

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