We went up to al Ain in the United Arab Emirates to film the passing-out parade of the army academy. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain.
It was quite a small hotel and it was to be taken over by the officer cadets to offers celebratory lunch where the principal guest would be Sheik Zayed and his entourage.
The night before the parade, we were joined at dinner by Colonel Shaddid, he being the Chief Public Relations Officer for the Armed Forces.
He told me that the following day, we would have to eat in the coffee lounge with all the other guests because the cadets lunch would take out the whole restaurant and the whole of the terrace outside. It would be fitted out with tables for four.
In the morning, I went outside the hotel and I could smell burning wood. I walked round the back of the hotel to find scores of women tending scores of fires. The fires were set underneath oil drums mounted on four house bricks.
I asked what they were cooking. They said that it was whole lamb, several to each drum. They were to be immersed in water and cooked for several hours.
In 1959, when I got married, I purchased Philip Harben’s cookery book. In it he mentions Anhepsital cooking. This consists of immersing meat into water and cooking it for a long time without bringing the water to the boil.
Harben points out that the reason that we roast meat at 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 Celsius) is to allow the centre of the joint to be cooked. He says that to cook meat to a “T” one has to cook it at 160 degrees Fahrenheit (72 Celsius). It is only possible for this temperature to reach the centre of the joint if the 450 degrees is introduced to the outside.
Anhepsital cooking says – “What if you immerse the joint into water and retain the water temperature at 160 degrees” (72 Celsius). Eventually, the whole joint is at 160 degrees, practically no juices emanate from the meat and what liquid is left after cooking has no value as a stock”.
Unaware of Philip Harben’s formula, the Arab ladies were able to cook Anhepsital fashion by judgement and they probably never heard of the name.
Harben’s formula is: T = 2M x .6 where T is for time in hours and M is for weight of meat in kilos.
Here in Al Ain, I was able to see how it was done on a large scale and realised that this was, probably, the region of the world where it all began.
When we went back to lunch, the coffee bar was full of residents and the waiters said it would be more than an hour before we could get served. In the meanwhile, the cadets and their guests were sitting down.
Colonel Shaddid was at the reception desk, so I went over to him to tell him that we had no chance of eating lunch because we had to go out shooting in the afternoon and we could not wait for the coffee shop to feed us.
He said “Give me your room number and I will send something up”. I gave him Osman’s room number and then invited our whole party, including the army driver allotted to us, to go to Osman’s room and wait. We were a group of seven.
About twenty minutes later, a waiter wheeled in a trolley which had a huge plate of Mansaf and a whole lamb.
A feast fit for a king, or at least a Sheikh. Osman could not believe what he saw. Our driver believed that he should not be there. The lamb came away in the hand, it was tender and the taste was wonderful. It had the appearance of being boiled, but the taste of being roasted. I had tasted Anhepsital cooking.
Next chapter: Chapter 77: A selection of starters