The Food Almanac: Thursday, March 6, 2014

Staff Writer
It's National Frozen Food Day!

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Restaurant Anniversaries

Brigtsen’s opened today in 1986. Frank and Marna Brigtsen worked together at K-Paul’s, after Paul Prudhomme had hired the young chef first at Commander’s Palace, then in his own restaurant. Then they went out on their own. The early Brigtsen’s showed many similarities to K-Paul’s: the menu that changed every day, the policy of sending food to the table as soon as it came off the stove (instead of waiting until for all the other dishes for the table were ready), the doctrine of serving fresh local product with a local flavor.

Brigtsen’s became a hard reservation to get immediately, and it’s still that way–although weekdays only require normal notice. It’s my favorite kind of restaurant: just reading the menu makes you hungry, because it perfectly blends the familiar with the innovative. The building is an old cottage, only slightly reconfigured from its residential days (although at least two restaurants used the place before Brigtsen’s), and making no pretenses to rich atmosphere. But that keeps the prices down, and the restaurant is as essential to the local dining scene as any other in town.

Food Calendar

This is National Frozen Food Day. That’s because on this day in 1930, the first frozen foods were put on sale in food stores. It bore the brand of the man credited with inventing the modern method of freezing food: Clarence Birdseye, whose work created the entire frozen-food industry. I’d say we paid a price in flavor there, but freezing did bring the price of food down while vastly improving the availability of certain edibles that would have been available only in season previously, or not at all. But you’ll never eat frozen food at Brigtsen’s, nor should any restaurant with pretensions to serving the best use freezers except for the likes of ice cream.

Of course, few of us can maintain perfect gourmet restaurant standards at home, and even the best chefs have a lot of stuff in their home freezers. That’s okay if you religiously follow the essential rule of frozen food:

Freeze food as rapidly as possible, and thaw it as slowly as possible.

The food industry uses a technique called IQF–individually quick frozen–to take the temperature of, say, fish or shrimp or chicken down to well below zero in just a few minutes. That prevents water from being frozen out of the food’s cells and then forming big ice crystals. When that happens, the textural integrity of the food is compromised, creating that mushy effect. It also leaves a lot of water inside the food–also a hallmark of badly frozen product. Thawing the food slowly prevents damage as well, since quick thawing causes the border between the frozen and unfrozen parts to stretch the cellular structure and, again, create an unpleasant softness.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

I considered the fate of my surplus steaks.
Pulled out some foil in a thick wide sheet
Fast-conducting metal is all it takes
Quickly and sharply to reduce the heat.
Someday my children will gladly find
Dinners aplenty, enough to deplete
Ravenous hungers, or the nibbling kind.
And behind all that, this old, old meat.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Jelly Slough is a hard-to-define, sluggish stream running through a wetlands area about midway between Dallas and Houston, Texas. It empties into the Trinity River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico on the eastern edge of Houston. It’s surrounded by hilly cattle ranches, and very rural. Why, you have to drive thirteen miles to the nearest restaurant, in Buffalo. I’d recommend the Longhorn Bar-B-Que there, right in the center of town.

Edible Dictionary

loquat, n.–Also known as Japanese plum, the loquat actually grew originally in China. Like many things Chinese, it was brought to Japan and became popular enough there that Japan leads the world in its cultivation. It’s a plum-shaped fruit about two or three inches long, turning an orange-yellow when ripe in early spring. The fruits grow on evergreen trees that are usually pruned to about ten feet tall, but can grow twice as large. The trees are widely planted around New Orleans, including many trees in accidental places–such as along the I-10 in Metairie. When the drop occurs, those with Japanese plums in their yards hustle to figure out what to do with them. They usually make it into jam if they don’t let it just fall and rot. We’ve always thought this is an untapped resource, but have never seen it on a menu.

Annals Of Junk Food

Oreo, the world’s most popular cookie, was introduced by Nabisco a hundred years ago today. The first batch was baked in Manhattan and sold in Hoboken. It was as it is today: two dark chocolate cookies with a fake buttercream filling holding them together. The original ornate design on the cookie was very similar to today’s. The only major change over the years was to add the Nabisco colophon to the center. A few decades ago, Esquire magazine tried to discover who created the design and why. They didn’t find out, but they did learn one amazing, little-discussed fact about Oreo: it is a ripoff of the long-running but now extinct Hydrox, made by Sunshine Biscuits.

Annals Of Wine Marketing

Today in 2007, Ernest Gallo died, at 97. He was the sales half of the Gallo family wine team, with his brother Julio (who also lived to a ripe old age) being the production guy. “Can you sell as much wine as I can make?” Julio asked his brother when they set out on their winery venture in the 1930s. “Can you make as much wine as I can sell?” Ernest shot back. They both could, and did.

Big Eaters Born Today

Tom Arnold (1959), Ed McMahon (1923), Lou Costello (1906), Shaquille O’Neal(1972).

Food Namesakes

Cookie Rojas, all-star baseball player, was born today in 1939. . . Guy Kibbee, actor, was born today in 1882. . . Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born today in 1806. . . Today is the feast day of St. Basil of Bologna, the bishop of that city in the Fourth Century.

Words To Eat By

“I’ve known what it is to be hungry, but I always went right to a restaurant.”–Ring Lardner, American journalist and writer, who was born today in 1885.

“Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?”–Stanislaw Lec, Polish writer, born today in 1906.

Words To Drink By

“The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”–Albert Einstein, My First Impression of the USA (1921).

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