Sometimes I do, too, but I can’t make it like Jiro can. Living National Treasure Jiro Ono is the world’s greatest sushi chef, and also the subject of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the next movie that I absolutely must view! Just watch this trailer to see for yourself just why. WAIT: get yourself a snack first, or you just may leave gnaw marks on your monitor.
In the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his world renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. As his son Yoshikazu faces the pressures of stepping into his father’s shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro – san relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi.
It’s available from Amazon, too,for those who can never get enough visual stimulation.
Thanks to Brett Blair on Twitter for the tip!
Though not a fussbudget, Mr. Henry likes order. He likes first things to be first and fair to be fair. He may admire the rugged wild, but he prefers his personal world to be tame.
In matters of style, he likes things to look like what they are, hence his preference for Art Deco over Art Nouveau. In language, he likes things to be called by their real names, hence his abhorrence of “the war on terror,” yet another pernicious Orwellian locution that has gained common currency through mindless repetition.
Having spent all last week trying to untangle the spindly white cords of his new Apple earbuds, Mr. Henry finds his tired mind benumbed by software tutorials and Lilliputian iPhone keypads. He yearns for order, for routine, for the comfort of homey, established habits.
He longs for a day when each morsel of food and each sip of drink follow one another like the swelling dum-dum-dum of a Beethoven crescendo.
Wine experts discuss “pairings” with food, but what about sequence throughout the day?
Mr. Henry finds that what he ate for lunch influences his choice of wine for dinner.
Since he does not drink wine for lunch, the alchemical advantage that an appropriate wine provides to the digestive process must await the dinner hour.
Like a hunting hound, the initial dinner sip races down Mr. Henry’s eager gullet tracking faint scents of lunch far, far down the tract. Thus, Mr. Henry does not want to throw an earthy red from the Languedoc onto a sushi lunch, even with six hours of distance between them.
In daily routines he strives to achieve chords of harmony spiced by notes of dissonance – the organic order of music.
In traditional societies, rigorous rules of order apply, although sometimes these remain hidden from foreign eyes. Fausta regaled Mr. Henry with a Thousand and One Nights tale from India:
At a princely home in Jaipur for lunch she was presented with a dozen dishes, a dozen sauces, and a dozen pickles. Before Fausta could begin, the lady of the house carefully schooled her in the meal’s subtle order.
Naturally enough, mild flavors were to be enjoyed before strong ones. Other pairings were more unexpected. While coriander still lingered on the palate, for example, a certain chutney was recommended. With Indian food especially, a cuisine overwhelmingly complicated both to prepare and to enjoy, a road map to proper order and sequence can be enormously helpful.
Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, a book that has been staring down from Mr. Henry’s cookbook shelf for nearly three decades, lists recipes that require two days of preparation, a trip to Queens Boulevard for ingredients, and two prep chefs. From the cook they demand perhaps too much order.
In this Orwellian world, orderliness itself has become a luxury – not the “law and order” kind, mind you, in which law is bent to better impose order. No, Mr. Henry is speaking of the luxurious order of solitude at breakfast, a companion at lunch, and a family at dinner. Mr. Henry would like to place his order for more of this kind, if you please, and pronto.
And what about the little strings running the length of a banana which usually break when pulled away? Cannot scientists address this affront to order?
Mr. Henry is brand loyal. For decades he has kept the same barber, tailor, dentist, doctor, mechanic, and partner in marriage. For decades he has used the same personal products – the same soap, the same shampoo (the 2-in-1 kind, nothing fussy), and nearly the same toothpaste (now opting for one with more peroxide). He would still be buying Noxzema shave cream had they not removed most of the menthol and “improved” it into a goopy, flowery mess.
Change for its own sake pains Mr. Henry. (It is impractical, after all, to be an iconoclast unless you find some new, genuinely improved icon as replacement.) Though a religious and political firebrand, in personal habits Mr. Henry more closely resembles a hound curled up by the fireplace.
Notwithstanding these noble instincts, when first he tasted Choctál, in an instant he knew he would stray.
Heading for the ice cream locker at Zabar’s, he literally stumbled over the Choctál lady blocking the aisle. Peeved, he tried to sweep right past her. Doesn’t Mr. Henry KNOW that chocolate ice cream always disappoints? After years of disappointment, he no longer grouses about the lingering aftertaste of Hershey’s syrup lurking in every common brand. Now to satisfy his chocolate ice cream needs he simply shaves Scharffen Berger bitter onto Häagen-Dasz vanilla. Can there be a finer, simpler postscript to a meal than this?
Yes, there can.
With one reluctant spoonful of chocolate from Ghana, he was a goner. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame – guilt at having strayed from his allegiances, shame at what little self-control he foresaw he would marshal – he bought three pints at a serious $7.00 each. Because it is an ice cream made with gelato technique, that is, with less air, the intensity of Choctál satisfies after only a single scoop. The price, therefore, is not outrageous.
The taste is absolute heaven.
There are four flavors of chocolate, each from a single region. The darkest is Dominican, a spiraling, swooning ascent into chocolate valhalla.
The most enticing to the Henry household was Ghana, which, though still a dark chocolate, concludes with a bright, joyful, almost fruity finish. The Madagascar vanilla is unequalled in delicacy of aroma.
When he recovers from rapture, Mr. Henry will face the inevitable melancholy. First, he will worry about his waistline. Second, he will brood. Will this mid-life dalliance lead to more perilous infidelities? His remorse will surely be dark and bitter.
Mr. Henry is tolerant of eccentricities. He chooses to reside, after all, in New York City where long before the advent of cellphones sidewalk pedestrians talked animatedly to themselves. When running the gauntlet at Fairway, for example, he doesn’t mind receiving an occasional elbow in the kidney from a blue-haired lady. Long ago he learned what to expect when ordering a “regular coffee.” (It’s coffee with milk. Please don’t ask why.)
However much he may embrace the caprices of city living, he remains a little squeamish about the preparation of his food. He expects restaurant employees to adhere to basic standards of courtesy and, more to the point, of hygiene. Cities are where civilization is supposed to be located, no?
Two Dudes Catering, the riveting new Food Network show, features two total stoners in the kitchen. It conclusively demonstrates: 1) the Two Dudes can cook like nobody’s business, 2) as reflected by their palaver and the upkeep of their clothes and hair, they appear utterly incapable of doing anything else.
Mr. Henry finds endless fascination in the functioning idiot, the overachiever, the C-student billionaire, the clueless success story. (Is not President Bush the shining example of this quintessential American dream, namely, that ANYBODY can get ahead here in the land of opportunity?) Such stories give him more than hope; they form the backbone of his long-term financial plans.
And yet, and yet, when the Dudes’ execute lightening quick chopping skills without rousing their higher brain functions, Mr. Henry wonders whether the Duh-Duh-Duo are really taking every sanitary precaution to ensure that diners will not ingest C. difficile or some other antibiotic-resistant pathogen.
In the Iron Chef America “battle eggplant,” the Two Dudes came within one point of equaling Iron Chef Cat Cora, a surprising and noteworthy feat. Against all odds, their food really was prepared imaginatively, carefully, and beautifully.
Flash: Through secret sources deep within Food Network itself, Mr. Henry discovered that the Two Dudes pushed the TV production team to install 24-hour surveillance cameras in the kitchen, thereby recording every legendary Dude word and deed. The mind reels at the opportunity of witnessing such history. Somehow the producers failed to appreciate the trove of treasure before them, however, and elected to edit in the can.
Wow, Dudes, sorry. That was so random.
It all starts, as things do, with one small misstep, a minor oversight that unwinds balefully into tragic chorus.
Even though he saw that the husk ends were dry, Mr. Henry bought some corn. He knew Mrs. Henry would feel compelled yet again to deliver her lecture, “How many times must I explain to you about fresh ears of corn?,” a well-argued and convincing thesis. But he had been beating the Manhattan streets all day. His feet were growing corns of their own, and back home his noble hound Pepper needed walking.
Oh where is fresh corn to be found? Where are the sweet ears of yesteryear? To buy fresh corn must he always take subways to foreign climes? Must he buy exclusively from farmstands in parking lots?
How many food miles these dry cobs had traveled Mr. Henry shudders to think. What became clear to him, however, was that he needed a quick-witted solution.
Cornbread! He hadn’t indulged in a good corn bread since winter. This week’s cold snap made cornbread a practical choice. Yes, all would be alright. Then, his nimble imagination galloping ahead of his vaunted sense of practicality, he smelled the cornbread together with its empyreal helpmeet – pulled pork with barbecue sauce. He imagined brioche buns oozing with sloppy joe. He imagined crunchy, vinegary cole slaw. His tongue became heavy with desire to pronounce each menu selection with a southern accent.
His bona fides as arbiter of fine food notwithstanding, Mr. Henry had never before slow-cooked a great slab of pork. Every recipe he found called for baking 10 hours at a tepid 225º. Could there be a shorter route?
Undeterred by inexperience, Mr. Henry bought five pounds of blade roast, slapped it on the kitchen counter, and massaged it with his own concoction of dry spices: brown sugar (lots and lots), cumin (a good heaping), cayenne (a smidge), paprika, (a smidge more), dry mustard, a big pinch of herbs de provence (why not?), ground black pepper, mixed whole peppercorns, whole cloves, and kosher salt (has nice granulation). No time for marinating or resting.
After searing the meat in canola oil, he covered it in two coarsely chopped onions, two whole cloves of garlic, and two cups of water. With the lid on, the dutch oven went into the stove at 350º for seven hours, all the time there was. The house smelled like Jimmy’s pit Bar-B-Q back home. Poor Pepper was pacing and licking her chops all day.
Mr. Henry is not ashamed to reveal the trepidation he felt as he lifted the lid, hoping against hope he wouldn’t burn his fingers once again on its handle. The liquid was gone! The browned meat sat nobly proud of a viscose, inky mystery. Four dinner guests were set to arrive. Mr. Henry placed the lid back on top and prayed for juices to settle.
Sensing that hesitation at this crucial moment would be fatal, Mrs. Henry rose from her yoga mat and stepped into the breach. With the assurance of a battlefield colonel she added more mayonnaise (!) to the cole slaw and punched up its brightness with a sprinkling more salt and a dash of sugared white sushi vinegar. To the mysterious dark pot liquor she added apple cider vinegar and ketchup.
We few, we happy few! We pulled and we slathered. We went WAY down South. Because others were too busy eating, holding a glass of cold Vouvray Mr. Henry toasted his signal victory against overwhelming odds.
Borrowing the idea from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Mrs. Henry tossed kale in olive oil and veggie salt, and baked it at 350º for about 12 minutes. All its bitterness disappeared. The result was an intensely green, somewhat shriveled, crunchy leaf. “Hey kids,” Mr. Henry slyly asked, “who wants green potato chips?” They couldn’t get enough of them.
Fresh pineapple, a deliciously stinky aged hard cheese called toma persa, and Lorna’s beautiful pastries ended the feast.
When Mrs. Henry decided on a whim to hop a flight to San Diego, the Henry household was left to its own devices, that is, with Mr. Henry firmly, if temporarily, in command. Trying not to be alarmed by this sudden absence of leadership in battle, Mr. Henry swore a silent oath to provide Little Henry with first quality hot dinners each and every night.
The first night Mr. Henry bought his ultimate quick fix solution – grass-fed, organic, Australian ground sirloin at Citarella – the world’s best hamburger. Served on a toasted brioche roll alongside baked new potatoes and Ceasar salad, accompanied by a glass of Dolcetto, all was bliss.
His more serious efforts the following evening succeeded remarkably well. A whole roast chicken rubbed with butter and salt, stuffed with apple and fresh sage, and after 30 minutes basted with Madeira emerged succulent and aromatic. Plain baked yams provided a colorful accompaniment as did toasted okra and sauteed French string beans topped with chopped cilantro. A chunky apple sauce made with fresh orange juice in lieu of water won the evening. For wine Mr. Henry chose a cold, tart Vouvray.
The next night Mr. Henry bought fat lamb chops longing for a rub of herbs de provence and gray sea salt. Broiled and allowed to rest for a good 20 minutes, they were divine. A salad of Israeli cucumbers, dill, yogurt and sour cream sat up perkily on the plate. Pears poached in wine from the Languedoc were the perfect finish.
However, in the thrill of finding such perfect lamb chops, Mr. Henry over-reached and met with tragedy. He is accustomed to using canned flageolets. (Fresh ones have always been hard to find.) At Citarella he stumbled upon some dried ones. Rushing home after lunch he threw them in a pot of water to soak. After an hour they had swelled by at least one third. Mr. Henry made the fateful decision to use them that very evening.
A survivor of many an undercooked chili from his college days, he knew that dried beans need to soak overnight. Yet here were flageolets already deceptively green and seemingly compliant. Despite hours on the stove that night and the following night as well, however, they never yielded.
Beaten by a bean. Next time he’ll stick to lentils. They don’t need to soak so long.
A note on grass-fed beef: Less fatty than corn-fed, it consequently cooks more quickly. The best way to tell if it’s cooked is to poke it with your finger. When it begins to resist your touch, take it out of the skillet and let it rest. The taste improves dramatically when the juices have stopped running.
8 Israeli cucumbers, cored and coarsely grated
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
½ cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon sour cream
Mr. Henry prefers to use the food processor. It grates them coarsely but uniformly. He adds several pinches of salt, covers and refrigerate for several hours.
When ready to serve, squeeze all the water from the cucumbers and mix everything together.