The Food Almanac: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's National Clam Chowder Day!


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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--22
Valentine's Day--24

Restaurant Anniversaries
Andrea's opened today in 1985. It was the first successful top-end Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area, and the timing was perfect. Ambitious, sophisticated restaurants were opening all around town. Chef Andrea Apuzzo, then the chef of the Royal Orleans Hotel, partnered with his cousins Roberto and Costantino De Angelis to buy the former Etienne's in Metairie. All three were from Capri, where their family operated first-class hotels. Their father Agnello secured the location. Etienne de Felice wasn't interested in selling, even though he was very interested in retiring. Agnello and Etienne had a meeting, and the deal was done. 

Andrea was magnificent in its first years. Roberto was a master of service and style, and the dining room was a nexus of pleasure and continental service. The cooking hewed closely to the flavors of Capri and the Amalfi Coast. But few ethnic restaurants in New Orleans stay entirely true to their homelands for long, and Creole flavor began creeping into Andrea's food.

Andrea's cousins left the business in the early 1990s, leaving Chef Andrea as the sole owner and tastemaker. And the localization process accelerated. Andrea's rises at times to its former heights, but not consistently. Nevertheless, you can't talk about Italian dining here without bringing up Andrea's.

Food Around The World
Today in 1813 is reputed to be the day that the first pineapple arrived in the Hawaiian Islands. The fruit originated in central South America, and spread throughout the tropics worldwide. But nowhere did the big, prickly fruit take hold as fast as it did in Hawaii, to the point that the fruit and the place are synonymous. Pineapples are a symbol of welcome and good luck. They certainly have been for Hawaii, especially its Dole family.

Today's Flavor
It's Clam Chowder Day, and more specifically New England Clam Chowder Day. Here in New Orleans, we don't eat much clam chowder. Only a few restaurants and stores bring in live clams. (One of those is the aforementioned Andrea's.) When the bivalves turn up at all, they're usually in an Italian or Spanish restaurant for the making of cioppino, bouillabaisse, or the like.

The two major isotopes of clam chowder are New England and Manhattan. The former is by far the better. A good New England clam chowder starts with bacon, onions, and celery, to which is added clam or oyster liquor or fish stock. The potatoes go in as soft cubes and break up as the soup simmers. The touch of milk or cream at the end adds a bit of richness; butter is sometimes also used to make a blonde roux, but it's not usually necessary to make the soup any thicker. The big problem is the clams, which are chewy to start with and become more so after they're cooked for more than a minute or two. As for Manhattan clam chowder--made with tomato--the less said about it, the better.

Deft Dining Rule #548:
Before ordering chowder in any restaurant, demand to know everything in it, and what color it is. And ask this: "Not canned, right?" Watch the server's eyes when you ask this.

Edible Dictionary
chiffonade, [shiff-uh-NAHD], French, n., adj.--As applied to leaves, cut into thin strips. This is most often done with herbs like basil and parsley, but also with lettuces, spinach, and other leaves big enough to allow it. The purpose for this cutting is both to release more flavor and for more even distribution of the leaves in question. It also adds something to the presentation. Although it's no usually thought of as such, cole slaw is a chiffonade. The wordchiffon means "shred" in French.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Little Neck is a bulbous peninsula at the mouth of the Ipswich River on the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts. It's thirty-seven miles north of Boston. The town is all but an island, connected with the mainland by a low, narrow neck of land. Although a good deal of clamming takes place in the area, and clambakes are as common as barbecues, the reference to the prized, tender small littleneck clams is indirect. (The clams are really named for Little Neck, New York, although there is some argument about that.) The Massachusetts Little Neck is entirely residential. For a restaurant, you have to drive three miles into the town of Ipswich, where is the Clamhouse.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome, virgin and martyr. She lived in the third century, and is still much revered in Rome and elsewhere. She has a church named for her on Jefferson Highway near Causeway Boulevard in Old Jefferson; for many years I sang in the choir there. St. Agnes is the patron saint of the Girl Scouts.Who, incidentally, began their annual cookie sale a couple of weeks ago. . . Today is also the feast day of St. Meinrad, who lived in the ninth century. Because he took in two ruffians who would up beating him to death, he is the patron saint of hospitality.

Food Namesakes
Randy Bass signed with the Honshin Tigers to play baseball for three years in Japan for $3.2 million today in 1986. . . In 2006, Jennifer Berry was named Miss America in Las Vegas, but for the first time in decades the pageant wasn't broadcast on a major network. . . Emma Lee Bunton, one of the Spice Girls (Baby Spice) was born today in 1976. . . Major league catcher and manager Johnny Oates hit the Big Diamond today in 1946.

Words To Eat By
"But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! The whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. We dispatched it with great expedition."--Ishmael, in Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

"Clam chowder is one of those subjects, like politics or religion, that can never be discussed lightly. Bring it up even incidentally, and all the innumerable factions of the clam bake regions raise their heads and begin to yammer."--Louis P. De Gouy, chef and author of The Soup Book.

Words To Drink By
"If the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should be as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu and seaweed slime."--Edward Abbey.


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