The Food Almanac: Friday, January 18, 2013

It's National Peking Duck Day!
Peking Duck
Wikimedia Commons/Poco a poco

Peking Duck

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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--25
Valentine's Day--27

Restaurant Anniversaries
Keith Young's Steak House opened today in 2005, in Madisonville. Keith was part of the family that opened Young's Steak House in Slidell many years ago. He decided to strike out on his own, and opened a restaurant with a similar menu to the one at the original place, but in a much more attractive building. Indeed, it's one of the handsomest restaurants on the North Shore. During the past few years, Keith added more dining rooms and a bigger bar to handle the crowd. He expanded the menu, too. The beef remains terrific. Stick a candle in one of those four-inch-high filets!

Inventions For Better Eating
Joseph Glidden was born today in 1813. He is as responsible as anyone else for the amount of beef we eat in America. Glidden invented barbed wire--cheap but very effective in keeping cows from running off. Before its use, cattle roamed freely over the range, making things tough on farmers and cattlemen alike. With it, the beef industry boomed. Barbed wire made Glidden a very rich man.

Annals Of Breadmaking
Fifteen years after the creation of pre-sliced bread (the wonder of Wonder Bread), today in 1943 the Federal government banned its sale, a measure that remained in place until the end of the war. Bread-slicing machinery used metal needed for the war effort. So its manufacture was taken out of the market, and its use restricted. Bakeries issued instructions to consumers on how best to slice their bread. Its most interesting instruction was to lay the loaf on its side, the bottom facing you.

I wonder whether this gave rise to "pan bread," the thickly-sliced white bread they use at Casamento's (and nowhere else I can think of). It's just regular white bread, cut manually end to end instead of crosswise. Toasted and buttered and covered with fried oysters, it becomes something great. Speaking of. . .

Eating Around The World
On this date in 1778, Captain James Cook "discovered" what he called the Sandwich Islands, in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. These were the Hawaiian Islands, previously unknown to Europeans but home to a numerous seafaring people. Meanwhile, the Earl of Sandwich--who is said to have created the assembly of bread and meat that bears his name--kept on eating them while continuing his workaholic ways at his desk.

Annals Of Food Writing
On this date in 1980, Peter Jenkins completed a six-year walk from New England to New Orleans to Oregon. He wrote about it in two terrific books, A Walk Across America and The Walk West. Peter got married in New Orleans in the middle of his walk, and he lived in Slidell for a few years. He's become a friend, and in Along The Edge Of America he wrote about a lunch he and I had together at Uglesich's. His latest book, Looking For Alaska, is another great read about his close-to-the-ground travels. A Walk Across America inspired me to take a 1200-mile bike ride from here to Chicago in 1986.

Great Moments In Food Law
Today in 1950, the Federal tax on margarine was repealed. It was begun in the 1880s as a result of lobbying by the dairy industry, which did not like the intrusion of margarine into the market for butter. Other restrictions on margarine were pushed through by friends of the butter boys. One of the most peculiar said that margarine could not be colored. In its natural form, it was nearly white. For a long time, margarine came with a packet of coloring agent that the consumer had to mix in if he wanted his margarine to look like butter. Remember when margarine was popular and modern? When I started writing about restaurants, one thing my reviews noted was whether a restaurant served margarine or butter. Now few restaurants serve margarine routinely. (Although quite a few cook with it.)

Food Calendar
Today is Peking Duck Day. That's a good dish you don't see much around town anymore. Ding's and the original Dragon's Garden began roasting Peking ducks in the late 1970s, ushering in a new era of Chinese cooking in New Orleans. The dish takes several days to prepare. The first step is hanging the duck to air-dry for a few days. Next, it's roasted with a coating of honey and herbs.

When it comes out of the oven, the chef presents it grandly on a platter at the table. After a round of ooohs and aahhs, the chef returns to the kitchen to cut the ducks up, separating the skin from the meat. It returns on the platter with some green onions and hoisin sauce. You roll all of that in a "pancake" (like a soft, thin flour tortilla) and eat it with the fingers, like a burrito. The best I've had locally was at Cafe East, where not only do they present the duck as just described, but with an additional stir-fried dish with vegetables and the miscellaneous parts of the duck. It's a meal in itself.

Food In Sho-Biz
Danny Kaye--comedian, actor, and the first King of Bacchus--was born today in 1913. In addition to his brilliant stage presence, he was a very accomplished and ambitious gourmet cook. Ruth Reichl tells about a dinner at his house in her book Comfort Me With Apples.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Beer Bottle Crossing, Idaho is an uninhabited pass through mountains high enough to keep a snow cap much of the year, in the central part of the state, 135 miles north of Boise. It's ten miles to the nearest places to eat and drink, in Donnelly, on the other side of Lake Cascade. The two places we liked best there are Vigilantes Restaurant and The Little Fire Fly.

Edible Dictionary
pistou, [pee-STEW], French, n.--Pistou is the French word for pesto, the Italian mixture of basil, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil or butter. The word comes from the implement classically used to make the stuff: the mortar and pestle, used to grind up the ingredients. The most famous use of pistou by far is the soupe au pistou made in the South of France and Provence. It's made with chicken stock, beans, and vegetables, and then flavored with a stirring in of the pistou right before serving. The aroma given off by the pistou on the hot soup is wonderful. The dish is a springtime fixture, but few things are as perfect on a cold winter day.

Food Namesakes
Confederate Brigadier General James Chesnut, Jr. was born today in 1813. . . Football player Julius Peppers, the only man ever to play in both the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl, was born today in 1980. . . Famous French racehorse Epinard (French for spinach) was stolen by the Nazis today in 1941. Epinard was retired to stud, but wound up pulling supply wagons.

Words To Eat By
"The white Aylesbury duck is, and deservedly, a universal favourite. Its snowy plumage and comfortable comportment make it a credit to the poultry-yard, while its broad and deep breast, and its ample back, convey the assurance that your satisfaction will not cease at its death."--Isabella Beeton, early British cookbook author.

Related Stories
How Peking Duck Gets Made

Words To Drink By
"Nyuk nyuk nyuk!"--Curly Howard, the funniest of the Three Stooges. He died today in 1952.