Every once in a while, The New Yorker has a food-themed issue, and the November 4th number was one such edition.
I’m not a cook. And I’m by no means a foodie. But I do like to eat, so I gave the articles a passing glance. I did make it through the entirety of the article on chili peppers, as this was as much human interest as anything else. And the one on why we feel it’s okay to eat cow but not whale. But as for the rest… Either I start out reading them, only to lose interest entirely (and, thus, fail to find out whether Adam Gopnik ever did make his wife’s bread recipe) or end up skimming through letting my eyes focus only on the crazy (IMHO) food mentions.
Thus I zipped through the feature on Massimo Bottura, who’s apparently the hot hand in the Italian kitchen these days.
Admittedly, I might have had more patience with this article if, in the second paragraph, the writer hadn’t noted that Bottura think out loud. “Very loud.”
Which would be fine, but some of what he thinks out loud about is pretty suspect. As when he comes out with:
“…a line he suddenly remembers from Kerouac or Céline.”
Well, snap, snap, snap of the beatnik fingers to someone who quotes Kerouac – and to someone who’d recognize that someone else is quoting Kerouac.
We’re not talking Celine Dion here, warbling about her heart.
We’re talking the French anti-Semite Fascist collaborator.
Who quotes Céline? And who recognizes that someone else is quoting Céline?
Maybe I just don’t get out enough, but after that mention, I just let my eyes strol around to see what crock pot of foodie nonsense this article was bound to have on its front burner.
Talk about the blue plate special!
Why, there’s Black on Black – a dish now retired – that pays tribute to Thelonius Monk (more beatnik snap-snap, please) with a composite of “squid ink, katsuobushi, and black cod.” (So I had to look katsuobushi up. No big deal. It’s dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna, which I suppose I’d know if I were a foodie.) And that’s not just fish-and-chips cod we’re talking about here. This cod has its skin seared:
…in dehydrated sea urchin and an ash of burned herbs.
I suppose I could make this dish, too. But where does one get dehydrated sea urchin in a month with an r in it?
I know, I know. A true cook would make her own.
Bottura’s dish dedicated to Picasso features “a civet of wild hare ‘hiding’ in custard under a blanket of powdered herbs and spices.” And that’s not just any old Junket rennet custard we’re talking here. It’s a mixture of foie gras, dark chocolate, and espresso foam.
Bottura thinks of his dishes as metaphors. They tell stories. his eel – cooked sous-vide, lacquered with a saba sauce, and served with creamy polenta and a raw wild-apple jelly – refers to the flight of the Estense dukes to Modena in 1598, after Clement VIII seizes their capital at Ferrara and claimed its eel marshes and fisheries for the Church.
Eel does not appeal, but I’ll admit that the creamy polenta with raw wild-apple jelly sounds delish.
And wasn’t it just the other day that I, too, used a metaphor referring to the flight of the Estense dukes? Only in my case, I applied it to a peanut butter and banana sandwich on pumpernickel. (You had to be there.)
And so I didn’t know that sous-vide meant “food sealed in airtight plastic in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases” – thank you, Wikipedia. You going to make something out of it? As for the dukes of Estense, I double dog dare you to prove I never heard of them until I read this article.
Bottura loves him some sous-vide, which was the process used when he went about:
…trying to cook seventy reindeer tongues sous-vide, in a bath of ashes and olive oil, on the floor of a small hotel bedroom somewhere in the the forests of Lapland, with the thermal circulators set so low that he had to spend twenty-four hours on the floor with them waiting for the molecular miracle that would transform those thick, rubbery lumps into tempting morsels.
Personally, any joy I get out of cooking is confined to items that don’t take 24 hours of nurse-maiding to turn “thick, rubbery lumps into tempting morsels.” I say let “thick, rubbery lumps” remain, as nature intended them, “thick rubbery lumps.”
I also don’t think I’d have much patience with the broth he brews for his tortellini soup, which is called Noah’s Ark, and involves duck, pigeon, guinea fowl, chicken, veal, beef, pork, eel, and frog’s legs.
Sounds like liquid turducken on steroids!
Think I’ll just open a can of Progresso Italian Wedding soup and be done with it.