The Food Almanac: Monday, January 14, 2013

It's National Pastrami Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Erika39




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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--28
Valentine's Day--30

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
cotechino, [koe-teh-KEE-no], Italian, n.--A lightly-cured pork sausage popular in Northern Italy. Its origins are as a way to preserve meats, developing in a situation where no food could be wasted. As it was, the pork used was (and still is) from secondary cuts. It contains a fair amount of fat, which with all the seasonings are packed into a pig's intestine and tied off. It's neither smoked nor cooked when sold. The buyer must cook it, typically by boiling it for a few hours. Although this is clearly not a luxury sausage, people from Northern Italy--particularly around the city of Modena--hold cotechino in great reverence. It's traditionally served with beans on New Year's Day for good luck.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pork Creek is in the northern extreme of New York State, forty-two miles from the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian border. Pork Creek flows about twenty-four miles through the glacier-scraped hills and forests, sometimes disappearing into bogs along the way. It flows into the Oswegatchie River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence. This is well into wild country, and it's eight miles to the nearest restaurant--the Casablanca, in Gouverneur. It's on US 11, on which you can drive all the way back to New Orleans (and I have).

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.

Related Stories
Sandwich of the Week: Oinkster Pastrami SandwichNew York's Pastrami QueenSandwich of the Week: Grilled Chipotle Pastrami at Sam La Grassa's in Boston

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.