NY Times Travel section had a nice piece by Ann Mah about eating French regional specialties in the places where they originated. Like Mah, HG has found the Paris versions pallid. For the real stuff, Mah traveled to Lyon for Quenelle de Brochet; to Alsace for Choucroute Garnie; to Cassis on Provence’s Mediterranean coast for Bouillabaisse; to Brittany for Galettes and Crepes; to Languedoc, Roussilon and Midi-Pyrenees for Cassoulet. The writer devoured a lot of mouth watering stuff on her countrywide jaunt. HG has never found the need to run all over France for these specialties. BSK makes a very lush Choucroute using Bubbie’s sauerkraut (stewed with the BSK mixture of onions, apples and caraway seeds) and adorned with Schaller & Weber pork products (available online). BSK makes her own version of Boulilabaisse when at the HG/BSK seafront house on Prince Edward Island (BSK uses freshly caught and harvested haddock, cod, clams and mussels plus mineral rich PEI potatoes and tangy fish broth). HG makes a fiery, hot pepper laden mayonnaise to smear on slices of toasted baguette to accompany the dish. HG/BSK never construct a Cassoulet. The best in culinary history was served to HG/BSK at the Port Washington, L.I., home of HG cousin Wini Freund. Useless to compete with that masterpiece. HG/BSK don’t do Galettes (reliable sources say that true Breton galettes can now be found in the Marais neighborhood of Paris at Cafe Breizh). Top flight crepes are made by Gifted Daughter Lesley R. in her sunny Rhode Island waterfront kitchen. She tops them with creme fraiche and Alaskan red salmon caviar. HG can easily knock off a dozen with a few (or more, alas) glasses of icy vodka. BSK and Lesley R. once made Quenelles in Nantucket using bluefish that had just been pulled from the sea. HG was absent but both women attest to their excellence. However, curiously, they have never made them again. Best Quenelles HG ever consumed were at the venerable Veau D’Or bistro in New York many years ago. In order to duplicate that experience, HG will have to get over to Lyon. Unlikely. HG will have to live with his delicious memories.
When HG is feeling particularly festive, the ever hungry oldster manages to forgo the lunchtime treats of Menudo, Chicken Enchiladas, Carnitas, Arroz con Pollo, Posole, Green and Red Chiles that are always available at El Parasol and Sopaipilla Factory in the HG/BSK New Mexico neighborhood of Pojoaque. Instead, HG and BSK dude up a bit and lunch at The Compound on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Beautiful, restrained decor (by Alexander Girard) in a landmark Southwestern building. A few pieces of good art on the white, plastered adobe walls. Usually, HG/BSK chooses among three specialties: Stacked Salad (very savory variation on the California Cobb salad); crispy Chicken Schnitzel with a caper, lemon and parsley sauce with sautéed spinach; Wild Mushroom Saute with Organic Stone Ground Polenta with a side of Arugula with Shaved Parmesan. Splendid victuals. Today, BSK opted for the mushroom/polenta dish while HG delved into the unexplored side of the menu. HG had a very sumptuous Spiced Panko Crab Cake served with frisee, Old Bay aioli and a small bouquet of sweet herbs and fennel seeds (gave a nice, unexpected bit of crunch). The crab cake was loaded with high quality lump crab meat with just enough Panko to hold it together. Best crab cake dish HG has ever had. Dessert was equally unusual: Black Pepper Sorbet. Cool. Creamy. A love bite of spice. Summing up: The Compound lunch is superb and moderately priced. The wine by the glass list is thoughtful. The light. The seating. The clientele composed of elegant ladies who lunch. Deft service. Quiet voices (unusual in the Land of the Free and Brave). The Compound is a don’t miss experience.
So, pal, life getting you down? Boss giving you the bad eye, buddy? Boyfriend/girlfriend announced a break up, bunky? You need comfort, friend, so do what Asians (and HG) do. Have a few bowls of Congee. If chicken soup is Jewish penicillin then Congee is Asian penicillin. Every Asian mom has her own version (the dish is also called okayu in Japan, Jook in Korea and in Indonesia, Bubur Ayam.) Essentially, it is rice porridge. You can add, shrimp, scallops, pork, beef, chicken or hard boiled egg. You can top it with peanuts, fried garlic, fried shallots, sesame oil. You can flavor it with Sriracha, soy sauce, garlic chile sauce. With each spoonful, the blues will be banished. HG guarantees it. HG began eating Congee at the busy, no frills Congee Noodle House on Broadway in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Vancouver, B.C. A very heartening breakfast on one of Vancouver’s many rainy mornings. At Congee Noodle House, the Congee was accompanied by a fried cruller (a rather greasy special taste). HG ignored the cruller but accompanied the Congee with fiery chile pepper fried squid or minnows. The Congee at the restaurant was very smooth similar to grits or Cream of Wheat. At home in Santa Fe, HG makes the Indonesian version—Bubur Ayam. The rice is not a puree. It retains some body.You can find a very good, authentic recipe on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook website. Eat Congee. Be Happy.
HG has written before about the reluctance of most Americans to make squid and octopus part of their everyday diet. Sure, raw octopus is hard to find and cooking it well takes some skill. But, squid? Always available at Whole Foods and many supermarket fish counters. Cheap. Healthy. Simple to prepare. Versatile. Here’s how HG/BSK do it. Squid tubes are cut into rings and the tentacles into manageable clusters. Rinsed and then dried thoroughly. Very thoroughly, so that when fried, the squid will get crispy. Toss them into a pan of hot, smoking vegetable oil. Cook for one minute to 90 seconds. After draining on paper towels, BSK ads them to a pan of gently warmed Sicilian olive oil, thin slices of garlic, Greek hot and sweet pickled peppers. Showers the dish with parsley and some lemon juice. HG likes the sautéed squid (minus the peppers) mixed with linguine and a parsley/anchovy/olive oil mix plus some capers. David Tanis, the very good food writer, likes to top warmed canned cannelloni beans (Goya is the best brand) with squid, surrounded by slices of raw, sweet onion and ripe tomato and drizzled with a bit of olive oil. As far as octopus goes, HG gets some cooked octopus at Whole Foods and treats it like sashimi. Otherwise HG revels in grilled octopus at Greek restaurants (The eateries in Chicago’s Greektown section are expert in cooking octopus). But, the best octopus dishes are found in Europe. HG/BSK remember with fondness eating octopus with the late, great Italian food authority Marcella Hazan and her husband, Victor, at a stately restaurant in Mestre, the industrial town that is Venice’s neighbor. These were baby octopus just pulled from the Venetian lagoon, poached gently and served with only olive oil, lemon juice and coarsely ground black pepper. Sublime. In Madrid, HG/BSK found a funky, noisy, non-tourist bistro that served beautifully tender Polpo Gallego (octopus prepared in the Galician style). After lunching on this dish plus a platter of delectable little fried peppers); Gambas Ajillo (garlic shrimp) and a pitcher of sangria, HG/BSK were fortified to view Velasquez, Rubens, Titian, Bosch, Rembrandt, Goya and El Greco at the nearby Prado art museum. Nice to combine delicious food for the body with exhilarating food for the soul.
Warning to you of tender sensibilities — this is an R Rated Posting. HG is going to be naughty. Very naughty. Since HG is of advanced years and has limited knowledge of the mechanical advances in the area of human sexuality, HG was quite surprised recently to find there are many male masturbatory devices on the market. It is a growing industry say economic analysts. Essentially, the onanistic male slips his most precious and private part into a sort of comfy sleeve and electronic vibrations take over. These “sexual aids” can cost as much as $150. The French describe pornographic literature as “Books that are read with one hand.” We Americans (and Japanese where many of these devices got their start) have scaled new heights of decadence by discarding the human hand as a deliverer of solitary pleasure. Farewell to, as the wits of HG’s adolescence termed it, “Miss Palm and the Five Finger Sisters.”
Big culinary news is Nashville Hot Chicken. Both SAVEUR and BON APPETIT did articles on it this month. A specialty of some down-home restaurants in the city, the blazingly spicy dish has branched out from Nashville and is now available in a number of places across the USA with franchise plans in the offing. HG doesn’t approve and doesn’t understand the fuss. Basically, this is a deep fried chicken dish with a few salient differences. The chicken is brined in buttermilk laced with Tabasco, rolled in flour and deep fried. Then comes the crazy part. Brown sugar, chile powder, garlic powder and–six to ten tablespoons of cayenne. (That’s a helluva lot of cayenne) are whisked into a cup of cooking oil and brushed over the pieces of fried yardbird. HG figures if you want to set fire to your mouth why go through all these steps. Just a mix a bottle of Tabasco with spoonfuls of cayenne and have at it. HG is a big fan of spicy food but draws the line at masochism. The French, of course, are severe classicists. Hate spicy food. That’s why Mexican, Indian, Thai, etc. food in Paris is so insipid. If a Parisian gets a whiff of cayenne, he signals his disapproval by making fanning motions at his mouth. HG will pass on these foul Nashville fowl and save the HG appetite for SJ’s newest passion: Alabama Chicken. Recipe, please, SJ.
Yes, HG’s thoughts about food, dining, Paris, New York, Santa Fe, etc. may sometimes provoke a smile and, hopefully, even a modest grin. But, if you hanker for more robust fare, something that will provoke the eruption known as a belly laugh, get hold of the June 2, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. Turn to the “Shouts & Murmurs” on Page 35 and read Yummy by Paul Rudnick. This short piece on the goy-ification of Manischewitz, the gefilte fish and matzo company, is laugh out loud funny.