Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/food/public_html/wp-content/themes/StandardTheme_20/admin/functions.php on line 229
April, 2009 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - April, 2009

Ratio

Do you harbor the suspicion that high school mathematics only served to help get you into college? Do you maintain that polynomial equations should be banned as torture under the Geneva Convention?ratio.JPG

You may be right, but basic middle-school mathematics remain essential to adult life, particularly the concept of ratio as amplified by Michael Ruhlman.

Baking always seems to be more wizardry than science. While rolling dough you must pay special attention to keep the butter from melting. With confidence only gained by experience, that is, the experience of failure, you must administer timely applications of ice water.

Firm in the belief that all sensuous pursuits require spontaneity, however, whenever Mr. Henry sings, bakes or makes love, he likes to wing it. And since winging it precludes thumbing through cookbooks searching for recipes, he rarely follows directions.

Ruhlman’s Ratio is the new bible for a chef in the heat of passion. No fumbling around for cookbooks. No fluttering the pages. No searching in the dark for your chef’s toque.

Do you judge a book by its cover? For Ratio, the book is the cover, that is, the treatise inside is summarized in the chart illustrated on the cover. Ratio is a Periodic Table of the elements of cooking, especially for custard, crust, dough and sauce.

Mr. Henry’s favorite ratio is phi, the golden ratio first described by Euclid in 300 BC (or very nearly). The angle of the Great Pyramid (Khufu) at Giza conforms precisely to this ratio. Some argue that the Parthenon does, as well.

goldenmean.gif

The golden ratio is 1 to 1.6180339887.  Unique among positive numbers, the ratio of the short part to the long part is the same as the ratio of the long part to the whole. That is, A is to B as B is to A + B. This ratio occurs naturally in the arrangement of branches along stems as well as in the geometry of crystals. Throughout the Renaissance the golden ratio was considered to be the guiding principle of aesthetics.

leonardo.jpg

What does the golden ratio have to do with food? Although Ruhlman fails to pursue this avenue of enquiry, a serious lacuna in his exegesis, fortunately for his readers Mr. Henry can report the surprising answer here:

Bread, the staff of life, man’s essential food, what Charles Issawi called “the only thing worth eating.”

In bread the ratio of water to flour is 3 to 5, close to the golden ratio of 10 to 16, arguably close enough to achieve mathematic and aesthetic harmony. Q.E.D.

Easter bunny

yoshitoshi.jpg

On Easter evening Mr. Henry removed a pink package from the refrigerator shelf and slid the dressed rabbit from its plastic cocoon. Still attached to the inner cavity a plump brown liver quivered like a bird’s wing. On either side grape-sized kidneys lay snuggling. Deep behind the forelegs a little white lozenge of sweetbread obscured a surprisingly tiny heart.

Mr. Henry was about to get his Easter treat.
Ignoring insults muttered by certain so-called family members devoid of appreciation for organ meats, Mr. Henry cut up the rabbit and fired up the iron skillet.

On the viscera he sprinkled sea salt, herbs de provence, and a generous few tablespoons of olive oil.

First out of the pan came the sweetbread, a nutty, mild, delicate hors d’oeuvre for one. Second came the liver, still pink inside, milder in flavor than chicken liver. Last came the kidneys and heart, their round shapes more resistant to the skillet’s heat. Admittedly their dark, strong flavor dark may not suit everyone’s taste, but Mr. Henry embraces the dark side.

Served on toast each was different, each sublime, the organs comprising a rich and savory feast grand enough to sate the hungriest chef.

Cooking the rabbit itself proved a more exacting challenge because the leg meat is dark but the saddle is white. Like with chicken, white meat cooks much quicker. When baking the rabbit you must take care to remove the white well before the dark is done. Baked in a sauce at 400 degrees the white meat is done in 30-40 minutes, for example, but dark takes a good hour.

bunnyhop1952.jpg

The common solution it to braise, but Mr. Henry likes to find the uncommon solution. David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs has a marinade of crème fraiche, mustard, bacon, and garlic with fresh thyme and sage.

It was good, very good, but memories of dinners in the Piemonte kept coming back. Rabbit braised in wine sauce with mushrooms accompanied by a barolo of twenty years vintage will fulfill your every aspiration in life.

Surely rabbit is the finest meat of all. At $6.99/lb. from Vermont Quality Rabbits, it’s remarkably inexpensive, too.

Feast for the Magi

If like Mr. Henry you are partial to classifications, you could divide the world into three culinary groups: sweet-milk people, sour-milk people, and no-milk people.

Western Europeans and their descendants drink fresh milk and eat aged cheeses. Central Asians and Middle Easterners eat yogurt and fresh cheeses. Far Easterners can’t stand milk products of any kind.

andrea_mantegna_adorazione_magi.jpg

Hosting a holiday dinner for native Wisconsinites Kate and Dan, the Henrys decided to surprise these dairy-staters with an exotic sour milk feast the Three Wise Men would enjoy, in case they happen to show up unannounced on the doorstep.

Those unpredictable Magi, they never call ahead. Like the British they come from the East bearing gifts, ever so tasteful and appropros, expecting you to reciprocate in kind.

200px-zaatarbygassan.jpg
Lacking confidence in his command of Persian cuisine, and lacking as well access to fresh pomegranate juice, za’atar, and other basic components of Middle Eastern food, Mr. & Mrs. Henry improvised a version of South Asian food that, while very spicy, was not so hot the kids would refuse it.

Interestingly, yogurt plays a central role in almost every dish from dahl to korma to naan, flat bread Mrs. Henry cooked on a hot dry skillet.

Lamb korma became the principal dish and was accompanied by red lentil dahl and aloo gobi, cauliflower in a spicy mix of potatoes, tomatoes, and peas.

For a gentle kid-friendly chutney Mr. Henry quickly stewed three diced mangoes with diced ginger, brown sugar, orange juice, and in lieu of vinegar a little verjuice, a sour grape juice. The result was mouth puckering and palate cleansing.

Then he prepared a simple raita with only four ingredients: cucumber, sheep’s yogurt, mint, and salt. Core the cucumbers and grate them coarsely. Mix with salt and let sit covered in the refrigerator for several hours. After this quick pickling, push out all the salty water and add chopped mint and yogurt, as much as you like. Mr. Henry likes a thick mix, mostly cucumber, less like a sauce than like a salad to lighten the meal and cleanse the palate.

For dessert, there was watermelon, clementines, mint ice cream, and the remainder of the pinot noir.

Piggy career

Green peas blended with cilantro spread on crackers? Sounds a trifle British, what? Wrong. It’s French, arguably. Mr. Henry found it on a food blog devoted to French language as well as French cuisine called chocolate and zucchini.
frozen_green_peas.jpg
To this eater it sounds enticing. Peas were baby Henry’s first green vegetable. Thanks to the miracle of flash freezing, peas remain a perennial household favorite. Mrs. Henry mixes them still frozen into her pot pie before baking. They emerge piping hot but not too soft.

Until he went searching for what to eat as an accompaniment to charcuterie the thought of making peas into a cold spread never entered the Henry imagination. After returning from the land of jamon iberico, however, he needed to host a tasting event to compare and contrast its great rival prosciutto di Parma.huli-woman-holding-a-pig-tari-papua-new-guinea-oceania-posters.jpg

Jamon iberico de bellota, cured ham made from pigs that forage principally on acorns in the western forests of Spain, is denser and chewier than Italian prosciutto. While grinding your molars on jamon iberico, moreover, your mouth is overcome by a sensation foreign to the American palate, namely, the insistent flavor and texture of lard.

There are societies in Papua New Guinea that consider raw pig fat to be the epitome of luxury, something reserved for extra special visitors. At such events each member of the village takes turns stuffing a loving handful of fresh pig fat into the honored guest’s mouth. If the honored guest happens to be a shy Princetonian anthropologist unaccustomed to meat in any form, the experience will be life transforming.

In fairness to the fatty acorn-eating pata negra pigs of Spain, it should be noted their fat is very high in oleic acid, a beneficial monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid also found in olive oil and Brazilian açai.

Whatever the merits of fatty acids, frankly the name doesn’t sound so appetizing. Mr. Henry and his tasting group all preferred prosciutto. Its sweet saltiness and melt-in-your-mouth texture simply cannot be improved upon.

salumeria-rossi.jpg

Yesterday at a new Upper West Side eatery on Amsterdam at 73rd Street, Salumeria Rosa, Mr. Henry tasted their signature prosciutto, one called parmacotto which is slowly cooked for days. It was beyond great, the best prosciutto of Mr. Henry’s piggy career.