The Food Almanac: Tuesday, January 14, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Pastrami Sandwich Day!

Wikimedia Commons/ Erika39

Pastrami is beef–usually brisket–that’s been cured, lightly smoked, and often peppered on the outside. It makes a great sandwich.

Food Inventions
Today is the birthday, in 1861, of David Wesson. His 1899 breakthrough was figuring out a way to make cottonseed oil usable in cooking. The raw material was available in enormous supply, inexpensively. But cottonseed oil had a terrible odor when heated. Wesson deodorized it with a high-temperature vacuum process. That brought Wesson Oil to the kitchen, and it’s still there. More than a few cooks say it’s still the best oil for frying.

Today’s Flavor
It’s National Pastrami Sandwich Day. Not a bad idea. Pastrami is beef–usually brisket–that’s been cured, lightly smoked, and often peppered on the outside. It makes a great sandwich. Because of its association with New York-style delis, pastrami is usually served on rye or other deli-style breads. But it makes a great poor boy sandwich. The best places for a pastrami sandwich are Martin Wine Cellar Deli, Stein’s Deli, Kosher Cajun, Casablanca, and Maspero’s.

Deft Dining Rule #270:
The pastrami on a sandwich should be sliced no thicker than the thickness of a credit card. The mustard should be brown, and spread uniformly and thinly enough to be visible only from above, not in cross-section. No mayo.

Edible Dictionary
vanillin, n.–Vanilla flavoring made from sources other than vanilla beans. This sounds like a cheap substitute, but in fact most vanillin is extracted from wood–notably oak. That substance is, in fact, an entirely natural component of wood. Its aroma is often noted in wines aged in new oak barrels. It doesn’t merely suggest vanilla–it really is exactly the same substance that comes from the vanilla bean. So calling it “imitation vanilla” (as required by law) is really not entirely accurate. However, there is no doubt that vanilla bean extract is the better product, because it includes other flavorful substances in addition to vanillin.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cheesequake, New Jersey is thirty-six miles south of Manhattan, and just across Raritan Bay from the southern tip of Staten Island. It’s a small suburban town adjacent to a state park of the same name. In the park, freshwater and saltwater marshes meet, the interface fed by Cheesequake Creek. The name is a corruption of a Native American name for the place, Cheseh-okeh, meaning “village on the high ground.” Cheesequake has quite a few restaurants, of which the one most likely to provide something like an edible cheesequake would be Bistro Amerigo, right in the center of the town

Music To Eat Gumbo By
Today is the birthday, in 1938, of Allen Toussaint, the leading contender for the title of Greatest New Orleans Musician Of All Time (Not Counting Louis Armstrong). Toussaint is a mellow guy who seems to prefer the edge of the spotlight to the center of it. Listen to him play piano–even if he’s just noodling around–and you hope he plays for hours. He wrote a long list of New Orleans classics, including most of Irma Thomas’s songs and the Number One hit Southern Nights. Beyond his powerful musical presence, the man has a superb personal style. He’s always impeccably attired, his tastes running to beautiful suits with stunning ties. I spent about a half-hour one-on-one with Toussaint some twenty years ago. He told me that his favorite Champagne was Cristal, although he may have changed by now. As for spirits, he said he favored the Holy Spirit.

Food On The Air
Today is the birthday (1919) of Andy Rooney, who until he died in 2011 was the quirky, funny, iconoclastic feature reporter on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The first I ever heard of him was a special he made in the late 1970s called “Mr. Rooney Goes To Dinner.” In it he gave his philosophy of dining. Most of his tenets were along the lines of “Never eat in a restaurant with an ‘Open’ sign in the window. If they’re good, they won’t need to tell anybody they’re open.”

The most interesting part of the piece showed two visits to Antoine’s–one he made anonymously with a hidden camera, the other with a full camera crew very much in evidence, with the full P.R. treatment. It was embarrassing for Antoine’s, and especially for the waiter (whose identity I can’t remember). Rooney said that all sorts of malfeasances had occurred on his anonymous visit, and that the waiter who was so accommodating when the camera was rolling was the same one who’d treated him shabbily the day before.

Food Namesakes
Trumpeter Billy Butterfield, one of the founding members of the Worlds Greatest Jazz Band, sounded his first note today in 1917. . . Record producer T-Bone Burnett laid down his first sound today in 1948. . . Pitcher Catfish Hunter was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame today in 1987. . . Another big-league pitcher, Steve Cooke,walked onto the Big Mound today in 1970. . . Harrison Salisbury, long-time New York Times correspondent, write his first lines today in 1908. . . In 1890 on this date, George K. Cooke patented a new kind of gas burner that was self-lighting, with both a main gas jet and a smaller pilot jet.

Words To Eat By
“Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.”–Milton Berle.

Words To Drink By
“I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”–Humphrey Bogart, who died today in 1957. Those are alleged to have been his last words.

Related Links
Grahamwich's Pastrami Reuben SandwichSandwich of the Week: Langer’s Hot Pastrami New York's Pastrami Queen