A New York Squabble


first published February 1995, for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

I was reminded of this story when driving on route 80 last week and held up for about 40 minutes due to construction. It was so great to be able to text my friend whom I was meeting to tell him we would be late. There was a time I dreamed of such a possibility but it was long before cell phones. I am including at the very end, my letter to the editor responding to his queries. When I was growing up in New York City, a cab ride was considered an indulgence and a luxury reserved for special occasions. Since those early years, my attitude has shifted gradually from awe to concern as to whether a taxi would be available when I need it and ultimately to concern as to whether I would survive the ride.

Although I feel I've come close to collision on numerous occasions, it's actually happened only once. Of course the driver immediately assured me that it was the other cabby's fault for stopping short and of course, though I am well-acquainted with the rules of the road which unequivocally state that the driver whose car hits the other is at fault, I murmured something sympathetic and wisely said nothing.

When I'm at the wheel of our car and get anywhere near a cab, I am tensed to expect any variety of erratic moves. But what happened a few weeks ago on a cab ride to the Port Authority Bus Terminal was beyond my wildest expectations. When I described it to my brother Michael (who escaped to California over 20 years ago) expecting concern and sympathy, he laughed instead and said "that is so New York!" I hadn't even thought to look at it that way.

I had been on my way to catch a bus to New Jersey where my parents were waiting at the bus stop in the town, to pick me up and drive 20 minutes to our house where I was planning to prepare a sumptuous dinner of boned, stuffed squab. I was traveling light. The three squab were tucked into my portable freezer bag and the only other things being transported were my purse and the manuscript of my current cookbook. I had been planning to walk to the Port Authority but was running a little late so decided to grab a cab. From the very moment I closed the door and the driver lurched into gear I sensed trouble. The driver had an "attitude." His anger, aggression and desire to engage in conflict was palpable, both from his driving, the set of his head and even his sporadic breathing.

Only a few blocks later he proceeded to cut off another cabby who seized the bait by cutting us off at the very next opportunity. One block later my cabby stopped at a light, pulling up too close for comfort to the other cab. My eyes opened wide with astonishment as he opened the right window, leaned over, shook the bottle of soda he had been drinking, removed his large thumb from the opening and pointing it like a weapon at the other cabby's open window, sprayed him in the face. The light turned green, and now the other cabby made his move. He took some hard object, crashed it against our rear view mirror, breaking it to smithereens and then, taking advantage of the momentary shock of my cabby, accelerated rapidly, cutting in front of us and making a left turn into a side street. Without hesitation, my cabby followed him. "Let me out!" I pleaded desperately. "I'm going to miss my bus." "No!" he said in a reasonable but firm voice, "I have to get him, he broke my mirror." He was deaf to any further pleas as we grew further from the bus terminal I imagined myself missing the bus and my poor parents having no idea what to do. At the next light he left the cab, ran to the driver's window of the other cab, punched the driver in the face and raced back to our cab. The other driver left his cab and came up to us. He was very handsome and he smiled at me utterly without hostility before smashing in the back window.

My driver got out again to pursue the other one and, my adrenaline racing, I grabbed my purse, manuscript and squabs and took off like a shot, in silent gratitude for my stretch jeans and Reeboks. A drunk standing by observing the whole scene cheered me on with "baby, I don't blame you." I opened my mouth to thank him for the moral support and then decided to reserve all my energy for the flight. I never looked back but I'm sure my cabby wasn't interested in pursuing the fare. He was more involved in revenge. I was glad that neither of the cabbies had a gun. I was glad that I didn't worry my parents by missing the bus. And I was glad that I had something deliciously comforting and life affirming to cook for dinner.

Butter Roasted Squab with Bulgur Squab is my favorite fowl. Its fabulous rich meat is full-flavored, not at all gamy and stands up well to other intense flavors such as the wheaty bulgur and robust red wines. The joints of squab are very difficult to cut so the ideal way to serve squab is to bone them whole, leaving only the wings and leg and thigh bones intact. This is a luxury for the guests but a bit time-consuming effort for the cook. Squab is most delicious when the breast is still rosy. If you prefer a milder flavor, Cornish game hens can be substituted and do not require boning but should be cooked to well done 170°F. Serves: 4

Bulgur and Current Stuffing (Makes: 3.5 cups)

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1 1/2 cups medium bulgur
2 tablespoons dried currants
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup squab broth (see below)

In medium-size heavy saucepan, with tight fitting lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and bulgur and fry, stirring often, two to three minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add the currents. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar and pepper; add boiling water and simmer tightly covered 15 minutes.

Fluff the mixture with a fork and allow it to stand covered for at least five minutes.

4 squab about 1 pound each*
stock: 1 bay leaf, 3 peppercorns, a few sprigs of thyme, ½ small onion, unpeeled 2 large cloves garlic, cut in half and peeled 1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 3/4 teaspoon salt black pepper, freshly ground, to taste cayenne pepper, to taste

Equipment: A shallow roasting pan Raise oven rack so roasting pan will sit in the upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 425°F at least 30 minutes before roasting.

Remove necks, gizzards and livers from squab cavities and reserve. Rinse squab under cold running water, scraping out any internal organs, and pat dry with paper towels. To bone you will be turning each squab inside out as if it were a glove.
1. Cut wish bone out of breast with knife
2. Cut the joint that connects each wing to back with shears
3. Use fingers to separate breast from breast bone and reserve breast bone
4. Use fingers and small knife to separate skin from backbone
5. Turn squab inside out and cut thigh bones from back with shears
6. Peel away skin to tail, cut out backbone and reserve. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
7. Turn squab skin side out Rub squab all over with cut garlic and then the butter.

Cover and refrigerate. Make stock from neck, gizzard, breast and back by simmering about 30 minutes or til tender with bay leaf, peppercorns, a few branches of thyme and onion. Strain and reduce to 1/4 cup. (Eat or discard gizzards and necks along with breast bone and back.)

Stuff squab loosely with bulgar, without packing. Skewer opening. (Spoon remaining bulgar into small casserole. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup reserved broth, tossing lightly with a fork. Cover tightly and bake along with squab for the last 15 minutes of cooking.)

Sprinkle each squab with the remaining salt, pepper and a pinch or 2 of cayenne pepper. Fold back wing tips under back. Tie together only the legs. Place squab in oven and roast for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 400°F and continue roasting 10 minutes or til an instant read thermometer, inserted in thigh (not touching the bone) reads 155°F (145-150°F in breast). If necessary to continue cooking, baste with the pan drippings and roast another 5 to 10 minutes.

Understanding Squab is cooked directly on pan, rather than placing on rack, because solid metal conducts heat and cooks the backs. The short roasting time would not adequately cook the backs if on a rack. * available at specialty markets and by mail order from 1/800-Dartagnan. Query Response to the

Email to editor: Dear Jim, Re: "A New York Squabble" 1) what I meant by sporadic is a kind of jerky irregular gasping as opposed to smooth rythmic breathing. Would there be a better word? Spasmodic perhaps? 2) "I grabbed my squab" should be squabs as there were 3 (as mentioned in paragraph 2! Also a few sentences later--"I still had my squab" should be squabs. 3) water to cover by 2 inches or if the style requires a specific amount I would say about 2 cups. 4) no need to slice the onion. 5) since we are not boning the squab, there will be room for less stuffing so more of it will have to cook without benefit of the birds' moisture. Therefore, change reduce (for the broth) from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. Then when it says "sprinkle with reserved" again should be 1/3 cup. 6) After "stuff squab...without packing" please add: "skewer closed the opening" (or if space allows: "Close the opening with a small metal skewer." 7) Do you think it might be necessary to specify that the squab should be breast side up after"arrange squab"? 8) The name 1/800/DARTAGNAN is correct as it is the name of the company. Actually, it is only necessary to use the DARTAGN but then people won't know the name of the company and that would be disconcerting. (i.e. This kills two squab with one stone!) Having the extra two letters will not result in an incorrect number. All the best,