The changing fashions in food have long fascinated HG. For example, beets, once despised, have become not just chic, but ubiquitous — you can hardly find a menu that doesn’t include some form of a beet and goat cheese salad. HG has always found a beet (like vinegar) to be an enemy of wine. Nevertheless, in Paris the top bistros du vins have betteraves on their cartes. Raw fish was only found at Japanese sushi bars. Suddenly, raw tuna and chopped tartares of tuna and salmon became featured players. Even Italian restaurants (possibly influenced by the massive success of Esca and David Pasternack) have crudos among their appetizers. For a time, steak was dismissed as a boorish, unhealthy and unfashionable food. There was a reaction and carnivores rejoiced as more than a score of upscale steak houses opened in New York. “Small plates” have become fashionable. Is there sticker shock when hearty appetites do some big time grazing on these “small” plates with big time prices? Foam, sous vide, molecular are among the gastronomic buzz words of the past decade. HG, a conservative, is skeptical about these arcane techniques. Restaurants used to take pride in offering imported food from faraway places. Now, the very best chefs (like Marc Meyer of New York’s Cookshop, Hundred Acres and Five Points) are determinedly “locavore,” a trend HG endorses with enthusiasm.
Liver. A much reviled organ here in America where it is habitually over-cooked into a grey, mealy tastelessness. In Europe, they know how to do calf’s liver correctly. It is served pink and a rasher of bacon is not obligatory but is pleasant. In Paris, a thick hunk of calf’s liver is often sauced in butter and sherry vinegar. HG has also enjoyed liver in Venice: Fegato (liver) Veneziano consists of very thin slices of liver cooked quickly in a hot pan with onions. Goes nicely with a mound of white polenta. HG/BSK never cook calf’s liver at home. Admittedly, it is not a health food and BSK takes great pains in keeping HG alive. But, once in a while, an exception can be made and BSK makes that exception with delightful chicken livers. BSK sautes them beautifully so they are brown and crisp on the outside and pink inside. A very nice lunch consists of these chicken livers with mushrooms, onions and softly scrambled, creamy eggs. HG likes to cook chicken livers in a sauce of sauteed mushrooms, onions, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes which is served over fettucine. HG believes this was a favorite dish of the great tenor, Enrico Caruso.
As part of Exquisite Maiko’s birthday dinner the other night, SJ prepared a real oldie-but-goodie: a gratin of cheese, onions and newly picked Prince Edward Island potatoes. A time honored rustic French dish that does not get enough play these days. It is called Gratin Dauphinois if cream is used as the braising/binding agent and Gratin Savoyard if beef stock is used instead. Thinly sliced potatoes are placed in a heavy casserole that has been strewn with chopped garlic. Butter, cheese and cream (or beef broth) are added and it is cooked in a moderately hot oven. The heat is turned up at the end (or the dish is placed under the broiler) so a nice brown crust is developed. It is the definition of comfort food. SJ added shavings of cheddar and swiss cheese to the dish as well as sliced onions. SJ used milk instead of heavy cream in the dish. Made SJ unhappy. Felt it made the gratin watery instead of unctuous. Too picky. HG found it super delicious. Gratins usually accompany roasted meat. HG finds this a mite heavy. HG likes a gratin to stand on its own, accompanied by nothing but a green salad and red wine. Garlic lovers might try to find James Beard’s recipe for a gratin. HG recalls his gratin utilized olive oil, a bit of white wine and many, many cloves of thinly sliced garlic. Guaranteed to keep Count Dracula at bay.
Getting bored with HG’s press agentry for Exquisite Maiko’s kitchen wizardry? Too bad. Stop reading. But, if you want to know how to make magic with farm raised salmon read on. After a day of Prince Edward Island beach fun, EM julienned the remaining vegetables in the refrigerator (cabbage, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, onions) and tossed them in a bowl with a marinade of rice vinegar, sake, mirin and soy sauce. A slab of salmon was cut into manageable pieces about two fingers long and two fingers wide. These pieces were dusted in flour and sauteed until brown in canola oil. The salmon then went into the bowl, absorbing the the marinade flavors. The marinade had “cooked” the vegetables. This salmon dish was served with perfectly cooked rice, EM’s braised Japanese eggplant and some sriracha (for HG, the sriracha addict). The sublime appetizer was EM’s hand-made pork gyoza. EM will spend a day making gyoza and keeps batches in the freezer. EM has been cooking busily during her stay on PEI. HG’s dream came true: Fantastic dishes prepared at home daily by a talented Asian chef. The dream ends as EM, SJ and family return to Brooklyn. Soon,HG/BSK will be back in New Mexico. There are culinary consolations. Awaiting HG in the high desert paradise HG shares with BSK: BSK’s fabulous roast chicken. Adobo dusted pork chops. Green salads BSK prepares with the lettuces cultivated by HG/BSK’s organic farmer neighbor. Braised escarole in broth with onions, garlic, pancetta and white beans. Green chile stew with peppers freshly roasted at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Pasta showered with herbs from BSK’s garden.BSK is a locavore and HG’s palate reaps the benefits. And, when HG needs a respite from healthy home cooking, it is off to El Parasol Restaurant in Pojoaque for a steaming bowl of cholesterol rich menudo. Land of Enchantment, indeed.
After contributing nothing, except appreciation, to the sterling culinary efforts of HG/BSK’s talented family, HG finally cooked something. Very blustery day on Prince Edward Island. An abundance of cooked corn and cold chicken in the refrigerator. Corn fritters and maple syrup preceded by chicken salad seemed like a good idea for a lunch while watching the roiling surf. Here’s how HG made the crispy little, corn-filled fritter yummies: One cup of buckwheat pancake flour plus a beaten egg plus a cup of milk and a tablespoon of canola oil. A dash of baking powder. Mixed it all up. Scraped the kernels off five ears of cooked corn. Some more mixing. Fried spoonfuls in sizzling canola oil. Good stuff. On to the the Chicken Salad: First, HG added plenty of sliced scallions to the cut up chicken. (HG and BSK have a tendency to add scallions to almost everything but ice cream). In a bowl HG placed a healthy amount of Hellman’s Mayonnaise (one of the few good supermarket perennials). Added a robust amount of curry powder (feel free to add a bit of cayenne if your curry powder is too mild). Mixed the chicken/scallions with the curry/mayonnaise. Plated it with a spoonful of mango chutney (and some peanuts for crunch.) (Unlike HG’s beloved BSK, HG does not fancy chicken salad. The exception is when HG prepares it.)
HG often accompanies the Asian-flavored salad with papadums, the crisp Indian flatbread.The corn fritters brought back memories of the long-shuttered, wonderful Gage and Tollner Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn. G and T served a thick and juicy mutton chop with corn fritters and the combination worked beautifully. There was a dish on the G and T menu that HG never encountered elsewhere: Sauteed clam bellies. The rubbery tails were snipped off the tender bellies. The bellies got a light dusting in seasoned flour. A swift saute in bubbling butter. A squirt of lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce. Lovely appetizer. HG’s going to make an effort to duplicate this dish and will report success or failure.