The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's National Bittersweet Chocolate Day!


In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--32
Valentine's Day--34

Today's Flavor
Today is National Bittersweet Chocolate Day. Bittersweet chocolate is really more for cooking than for eating, although some like it. It's less sweet than semi-sweet. Great for making chocolate mousse, or for chocolate sauce to go over something that's already very sweet. 

Here in New Orleans, you are encouraged to celebrate Fancy Creole Chicken Day. A number of dishes, all developed about a century ago, are mainstay in local restaurant, particularly the older ones. All of them amount to a half chicken, baked or sometimes grilled, topped or surrounded with some kind of hash. The most popular are:

Chicken bonne femme. "Good woman's chicken" is covered with cubed potatoes, garlic, parsley, and other savory bits. The famous version is cooked at Tujague's, where it's the best dish in the house. 

Chicken Clemenceau. Named for the Premier of France during World War I, its garnish is mushrooms, peas, butter, onions, and a good deal of garlic. Galatoire's makes the definitive version. 

Chicken Pontalba. This is what I think is the best of all. The roasted chicken is topped with fried potato cubes, grilled ham, green onions, and bearnaise sauce. Chef Paul Blange, the first chef at Brennan's, created it in the 1940s. The Palace Cafe makes the killer Pontalba. 

All of these are wonderful Creole classics, and not all that hard to make at home. The most time-consuming part is cooking the chicken.

Kitchen Innovations 
Today is the birthday (1949) of George Foreman, the former heavyweight boxing champ. After retiring from the ring, he began a new career after of devising and selling countertop grills. It's a brilliant product: it seems like something you need, even though it's probably going to be one appliance too many. Its primary merit is that it grills both sides of something at the same time. They need that capability in fast-food restaurants, but I can't say I've ever wished I could do that. Still, lots of people like Foreman grills.

The Physiology Of Taste 
Neils Stensen, born today in 1683 (and also known as Nicolaus Steno), discovered Stensen's duct. That's what moves saliva from the gland that makes it to the mouth. We don't think of saliva too much (with good reason), but it plays a more important role in eating than most people know. Aside from making it easier to swallow food, it actually begins the digestion process. If you put a cracker in you mouth, chew it up, but don't swallow it, you can taste the starches begin to turn to sugars, by the action of enzymes in saliva.

Edible Dictionary
civet, [SIH-vet], French, n.--A stew, most famously prepared with rabbit (civet de lievre, also called jugged hare). Two ingredients are distinctive: the blood of the rabbit, and onions. (The word "civet" is a French reference to onions.) It's martinated in wine and herbs for as much as a day, then cooked in the low-and-slow way. As well-known as this dish is in classic French cooking, I have never seen it on a menu in New Orleans.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you're going to go through the trouble of deboning a leg of lamb, you may as well stuff the place where the bone was it with something. Think lamb sausage, bread crumbs, and garlic.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Banana Hill, Mississippi is an actual hill in a hilly, rural area in the north central part of the state, forty-one miles from Tupelo. But it shows up on official maps as a community. It's about half woods and half cotton fields around there. The nearest place to grab a bite is at Gene's Coffee Shop, a mile away in Blue Mountain, population 670. I wonder if Gene's serves Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, the most expensive variety in most coffeehouses.

Deft Dining Rule #214: 
In case you haven't heard, the old rule requiring lamb to be served with mint jelly has been repealed. It never was a good idea.

Annals Of Tea 
Today in 1839, tea from India arrived in markets in London and the rest of England. It was much less expensive than the tea from China--enough so that a critical mass of people were able to afford to drink tea routinely for the first time. It was the beginning of the mass popularity that tea still enjoys in Britain, where they like the stuff so much that they even drink it on hot weather. They say it cools them off.

Annals Of Inedible Mushrooms
Today is the birthday (1911) of Norman Heatley, who develop effective methods of extractingpenicillin from bread mold. Its healing ability had already been discovered, but getting the active ingredient out of the mold was challenging until Heatley figured out how to grow it. He used kitchen equipment: cookie tins, pie pans, butter churns, and roasting pans. His work allowed enough penicillin to treat sick and wounded soldiers in World War II, especially on and after D-Day.

Food Namesakes
Wallace Berry, composer and author of books on music theory, was born today in 1928. . .Chandra Cheesborough, born today in 1959, was a gold-medal Olympic runner in 1984. . . British broadcaster Alistair Cooke began the job that would make him most famous today in 1971, as host of Masterpiece Theatre.

Words To Eat By
"Today the biggest decisions I make aren't related to the heavyweight title. They are whether I visit McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Jack-in-the-Box."--George Foreman, whose birthday it is today.

"Chicken may be eaten constantly without becoming nauseating."--Andre Simon.

Words To Drink By
"Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors, and miss."--Robert Heinlein.


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