And finally, the recipes . . .
I ended up making quite a few recipes with and without the glistening stock from my last entry: onion soup les halles, frisée aux lardons, asparagus & haricots verts salad, skate grenobloise, salade d’onglet, onglet gascon, faux-filet au beurre rouge, steak au poivre, daube provencal, mignons de porc à l’ail, côte de porc à la charcutière, rôti de porc au lait, palette de porc à la bière, poulet roti, poulet basquaise, duck à l’orange, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, clafoutis, and blueberries with lime sugar. Yes, all of the titles of recipes are in French except the blueberries. And yes, I did just learn how to do all those diacritical marks on my keyboard. What a pain.
While homemade stock and demi-glace turned out to be the main secret of making home cooking taste like restaurant food, my favorite recipes, the ones I keep going back to, are simple and stockless. Mignons de porc a l’ail. Light of my life, fired up pork tenderloin. My sin, my soul. This is the only perfect recipe I have found for pork tenderloin. Before it, tenderloin was just a serviceable piece of meat for making a quick meal. Sliced thin, it made sweet and sour pork more elegant, and pounded between sheets of wax paper it went well with nam pla and a little Thai red curry paste. But roast tenderloin was a bit trickier. Tenderloins are thin and taper at one end, so they’re easy to overcook or cook unevenly. Pork tenderloin is also fat impaired. Bourdain’s solution is as simple as it is elegant. Just tie two tenderloins together. Slather one tenderloin with roasted garlic and a slice of bacon (maybe two) and place the other tenderloin on top with the “tails” facing in opposite directions. Tie it all up with twine, and the result looks more like a loin, but is far more tender and tasty. All that bacon and garlic melts into the meat and contributes to a great pan sauce.
I’ve tried varying the recipe. I’ve smoked it and grilled it, but nothing was as good as the original recipe. I made it for dinner guests from my teaching circle at Drexel, and I’ve made it for just about every family member and friend who has been through my house. I find myself inviting people over just so that I can make it, because it’s too much meat for two—but perfect for a dinner party of four to eight. I’m almost reluctant to include the recipe here because it’s one of the most reliable tricks in my magic show.
I am also fond of Rôti de porc au lait though as far as I can tell this is not a traditional French recipe. I’d seen it previously in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cookbook, and according to Molly Stevens, Hazan was the first to popularize this “ancient and somewhat magical dish”. It’s related, I assume, to the Italian Arista al Latte dating back to 1430. It doesn’t seem out of place in the Les Halles cookbook though, because like the mignons, it’s a relatively simple example of pork alchemy.
Sure, people will look at you skeptically when you describe the dish. Even now, I find it difficult to describe a big lump of pork loin, simmering in warm milk, and not think that there might be some wisdom to kosher dietary laws that prohibit this kind of thing. But the more it cooks, the more it makes sense. The milk basically simmers down and turns the color of latte. I assume this is partially from caramelization and partially due to the juices escaping from the meat. The final result isn’t that much different to making a pan sauce that is finished with cream—it’s just two different methods for reaching a similar conclusion. The milk sauce is just a bit sweeter and can be passed around in the table in a gravy boat. As a point of reference, though, if you do have Jewish friends and family members, don’t call it “Pork Latte”. That’s just rude.
Among the deserts, I’d probably focus on the clafoutis. There’s probably nothing special about this recipe, except that it was the first I tried. But it’s great. It’s like a desert soufflé, only less eggy. Perhaps that makes it more like a pop-over? Yes, a pop-over, studded with cherries and flavored with kirsch. We’ve had a lot of snow lately in west Philadelphia, and we’re expecting ten to twenty inches more tonight, so I recommend this as a sweet + savory way to combat the cold weather blues.
The Return of Mal Carne
That said, I cannot in good conscience say that everyone will like this book. People who don’t like hyperbole will not like this book—but I’m guessing they’ve all stopped reading this blog by now anyway. “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans” will not like this book. Nor will the teeming masses that count themselves fans of Rachel Ray. I have nothing against Rachel Ray personally, but it is hard for me to imagine anyone wanting to be Rachel Ray and wanting to be Anthony Bourdain—the cognitive dissonance would be too great. I say this not just because of the rather one-sided feud that has been going on in the press, but because their agendas are simply too different. Anthony Bourdain is demanding and admires tradition and terroir, hard work and meat in all its glorious variety. He believes chefs and celebrities should encourage people to aspire to greatness. Rachel Ray believes in ease, economy. She aspires to 30 minute meals and 40 dollars a day—even if it means stiffing the waiter. Rachel Ray says she admires Anthony Bourdain and everything he does. Anthony Bourdain says that Rachel Ray “uses her strange and terrible powers to narcotize her public with her hypnotic mantra of Yummo and Evoo and Sammys. ‘You’re doing just fine. You don’t even have to chop an onion—you can buy it already chopped. Aspire to nothing . . . Just sit there. Have another Triscuit. Sleep . . . Sleep . . .”
It should be clear where I stand, but the health issues may well be a serious concern. It has been for me as well. In the interest of full disclosure, a year ago I had some unpleasant stomach concerns that had me admitted to hospital three times in one month. My doctor assures me that while my problems are not caused by the indiscrete consumption of French food, it isn’t really conducive to it either. Cut back on red meat and fat. No more gascon onglet for you. It’s not the cholesterol—I’m also supposed to avoid raw vegetables. I just don’t digest food as quickly as I’m supposed to, and particularly when this underlying conditions combines with ulcers or a virus, things turn nasty.
I’ve been stable for more than a year now, but these restrictions were quite a blow, distancing me from some of my favorite cookbooks. It was Bourdain that first helped me to understand the importance of fat. Sure, we should be aware of how many trans fats or saturated fats we consume, but we should also be aware of what fat, used properly, contributes to our diet and our cooking. Fat isn’t just for greasing your pan. Fat is flavor, essential to steak and hamburgers. This is why we’re disappointed when we shell out extra for 95% lean ground beef: it ends up being flavorless, dry, and it doesn’t hold together as well on the grill. Fat has unique binding properties, too. People put cream rather than low-fat milk in coffee because the fat binds with the astringent flavors—which also allows you to make coffee stronger without the tannins becoming unbearable. Coffee with non-fat milk is not caffe au lait. It’s just coffee diluted. Fat is about smell too, because it captures and holds the aromas of other ingredients. Fat is frying because it holds high heat better than water. Without it, frites would just be soggy, boiled potatoes. Fat is even a passable preservative, allowing you to keep that duck confit in your fridge for much longer than duck alone. Fat is a texture, unavoidable in most pan sauces. As Harold McGee points out, butter, all by itself, is a sauce—a combination of milk solids and fats. Perhaps we could even call it a “master sauce,” since it’s used to make Bourdain’s beurre blanc and beurre rouge. I didn’t get all of this from Bourdain of course. But by the time I was diagnosed with a mild case of gastroparesis, he did get me in the habit of storing duck fat in my fridge for potatoes. Ann had just bought me Fat by Jennifer McLagan and I was all ready to take up “larding,” the tradition of using a long needle to insert bacon into meat that nature had not endowed with enough deliciousness of its own.
But all that’s over now. Am I bitter? Hell yes. But it’s surprising how quickly a little projectile vomiting serves as behavioral reinforcement. Fortunately, I’ve found that the biggest issue is really the size of meals rather than the ingredients, and for the most part I’m still okay with butter and cream in moderation. I was a bit hesitant to mention all this in my blog, but I figure if Grant Achatz can run Alieana while suffering from tongue cancer, or if Carol Blymire can blog her way through Achatz’s cookbook with Celiac disease, I have little to worry about. It’s not like I was stricken with chronic vegetarianism or a curious desire to only eat raw foods. Even these afflicted, my colleagues inform me, can lead rich and happy lives.
In the mean time, I’m on the lookout for culinary traditions that deal more in small dishes, fish and chicken. Sure, Bourdain will never fit that bill, but this blog entry isn’t about remorse. It’s about the sense of wonder I had when I first started reading him, back when I still had the constitution of a garbage disposal. So let us sing the praises of the man who says that your body is not a temple but an amusement park. Let us sing the praises of his cookbook, your ticket to ride.