The Food Almanac: August 31, 2012

Get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris

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

Today's Flavor
National Squid Day reaches its tentacles around our dining and cooking today. As fried things go, few are as appealing as a pile of fried calamari. It seemed to be made of two different animals, the golden rings crosscut from the bodies, scattered with the fried spiders from the head section. When fried lightly and sent out immediately afterwards, they're impossible to stop eating.

Squid come in every imaginable size. They can be as small as your little finger or big enough to fight a sperm whale to the death. The ones as big as your arm often turn up on sushi bars, panes of their bodies cut out and crosshatched to make them chewable. They're very tough and not very flavorful.

Smaller squid are better. They're best fried with a light but well-seasoned coating, preferably with a little marinade of something lemony. (Lemon juice would work perfectly.) While many restaurants serve calamari with a side order of red sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, that wouldn't be necessary if they were lighter and seasoned better.

Edible Dictionary
cuttlefish, n. — A cephalopod, closely related to squids and octopi, found in most of the world's seas. From the perspective of the kitchen, the greatest emphasis on cuttlefish is in the Mediterranean, where they figure in a large number of dishes, especially in Italian and Spanish cooking. The bodies and tentacles are cut up and prepared in all the ways squid are. But the most famous contribution cuttlefish make to cookery is its ink, which colors pasta and rice dishes a very dark grey, while also adding flavor. While alive, the animals use the ink for camouflage. Cuttlefish bodies contain a flat, oval-shaped, light, bony material that often winds up in bird cages as a source of calcium in the avian diet. Amazing animals, cuttlefish.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When cleaning squid that are very fresh, beware that it may still be alive. It has a small beak that can bite. It feels like a nip from a small fingernail clipper.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Squid Bay is 131 miles west of Juneau, Alaska, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. That would be an island in these parts; the land consists of mountains poking out of the water. It's in Glacier Bay National Park. The bay is shaped like an arrowhead, and is surrounded by dense temperate rain forest. It rains here about 300 days a year. This is the wilderness, so if you're hungry, start fishing. You might get some calamari to fry.

Food in Publishing
William Shawn, the second and longest-serving editor of The New Yorker magazine, was born today in 1907. Shawn ran the highbrow publication throughout its glory years, and was among the most influential figures in American literature. He rarely published his own words, and never allowed his name to appear in the magazine. He lunched at the Algonquin Hotel every day with his writers, ordering the same thing every day: a glass of orange juice and a bowl of Special K cereal with skim milk. No wonder the magazine only recently began writing about restaurants.

Annals of Drinking
Robert F. Borkenstein was born today in 1912. He invented the Breathalyzer, one of the first machines for determining the level of a person's blood alcohol. It gave the cops a tool to keep drunk drivers off the road — an unarguably important development. However, a side effect was the demise of fine-dining restaurants located far from population centers. When the New Orleans Police Department cracked down on drunk drivers in the 1980s, it devastated volume at restaurants like LeRuth's on the West Bank and Crozier's in New Orleans East. People started dining closer to home.

Annals of Popular Cuisine
Arthur Godfrey was born today in 1903. Godfrey started brilliantly in radio, then became the biggest star on early television. Godfrey invented the TV talk show as we know it. A Prairie Home Companion is essentially an updated version of Arthur Godfrey Time, which ran on CBS radio for 27 years. CBS built a theater especially for his television variety show; it's still in use as the Ed Sullivan Theater, the home now of David Letterman. Godfrey was such a master of ad-libs that he was for a long time the only person allowed to work without a script on network radio. Godfrey's commercials made Lipton the dominant tea brand in America. For all that, so little of his work was recorded that he's almost unknown to anyone under the age of 60.

Food Namesakes
Jeff Frye, former Major League baseball pitcher, was born today in 1966. . . John Parsons Cook, a Congressman from indiana, was born today in 1817. . . Burton Y. Berry, ambassador to Turkey and Greece in the 1950s, was born today in 1901. . . Actor Chris Tucker was born today in 1972. ("Tucker" is Australian slang for food.)

Words to Eat By
"We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink." — Epicurus.

Words to Drink By
"A man ought never to get drunk above the neck." — Unknown.

Or — even more important — below the waist.