The Food Almanac: Monday, July 1, 2013
Eating Around The World
Today is Canada Day, that country's equivalent of the Fourth of July. Is there Canadian food? Yes. A good deal of the beef we eat is Canadian. Most of the lobsters that turn up in our stores and restaurants come from Canadian waters, which produce the greatest number of homards in the world. Also setting a standard of excellence are the mussels from Prince Edward Island (often noted as P.E.I. mussels on menus.) Their scallops are good, too. On the West Coast, Canadian salmon and halibut are classy enough that they're widely distributed. One culinary horror story has been expanding from Canada lately: poutine. That's French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curd (something like rubbery ricotta). Yuck!
Today is the beginning of the following: Lasagna Awareness Month, National Baked Bean Month, National Culinary Arts Month, National Ice Cream Month, July Belongs to Blueberries Month, National Picnic Month, and National Pickle Month.
Most worth celebrating, however, is National Hot Dog Month. Although the hot dog is pretty close to the bottom of the gourmet scale, only the ultimate food snob would say he doesn't get a twinge of pleasure once in awhile from indulging in a frank. It seems an essential gustatory act when one is in any kind of ballpark. There's something magical about hot dogs: we learn to love them when we're little kids, but we never become immune to their charms.
A hot dog is made with pork or beef or both. I prefer pork, although all-beef hot dogs are often more expensively made. The meat is ground finely with curing ingredients. The smoke flavor some hot dogs have usually comes from another additive. A small percentage of hot dogs are covered with a natural casing; those are among the most expensive, and usually among the best. Hot dogs are pre-cooked, but enough incidences of listeria food poisoning have come from eating them right out of the package that it's probably a good idea to cook them again.
The hot dog as we know it was popularized at the World Fair in St. Louis in 1903. But the antecedents of the hot dog are numerous and go back in history a very long way. Here's a web page devoted to the genealogy of the hot dog. It's full of stories you've probably never heard before.
New Orleans has never been a good place to find hot dogs. You think of hot dogs here, and you think of the Lucky Dog cart--and then you try to forget it as quickly as possible. A few stalwart restaurateurs have attempted over the years to incite interest with a first-class Chicago or New York-style dog with interesting garnishes, but most failed dismally. But we have a few local hot dog traditions. Many people like hot dogs with red beans and rice. The pepper wiener poor boy--a specialty at Juneau's and (in the old days) Domilese's--is another local version that need expansion. The only long-running hot dog sandwiches of excellence are the split, charcoal-grilled Numbers Seven through Nine at Bud's Broiler.
Deft Dining Rule #561
A hot dog that doesn't make you want another one right away is not a very good hot dog.
Food In Manufacturing
Today in 1910, Black and Decker opened for business. The company started out making food-related machinery: a gizmo for capping milk bottles, and another for dipping candy. But their name became famous for construction tools. My first power drill (which I still have, after thirty-eight years of regular use) is a Black and Decker. So it seemed funny when they started their line of kitchen appliances in the early 1980s. My first food processor was a Black and Decker. I still have and use that, too, after twenty-eight years. Pretty good stuff these guys make.
Annals Of Junk Food
On this date in 1917, Coca-Cola changed its formula. Nobody complained. That formula is the one still in use for Coke Classic, although almost all other forms of Coca-Cola use the New Coke flavor. . . Wally Amos Jr., who created the "Famous Amos" chocolate chip cookie, was born today in 1936. . . Forrest Mars, who created M&M's and the Mars Bar, died today in 1999. He was a driven, no-frills businessman who permitted almost nothing to be known about himself. His history is presented in a great book called The Emperors of Chocolate.
Cheese Of The Day
Cheez Whiz appeared on shelves in grocery stores for the first time today in 1953. It's cheese and milk emulsified with oil to be spreadable. The name alone is enough to keep the tasteful person away. But Cheez Whiz does have one tenuous claim to culinary interest: it's the traditional cheese used on the Philadelphia-style cheese steak sandwich. At least that's what some purists claim. I use provolone on mine. Original recipes are often far less good than the improvements that follow them.
Wiener Mesa is on the Canoncito Navajo Indian Reservation in west central New Mexico, fifty-seven miles west of Albuquerque. Not only does it genuinely look like a giant rock hot dog, but the talus slopes around it resemble the bun. Only the mustard is missing. It rises to 6471 feet, and is nearly flat at the top. The nearest place to get a real hot dog is at the Dancing Eagle Casino, a seventeen-mile hike across the desert to Casa Blanca on the old Route 66.
Coney dog, Coney Island hot dog, n.--The name is a reference to the Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn, where eating a hot dog is only slightly less popular than breathing. However, somehow the name was adopted in Michigan--most particularly the city of Flint--and applied to an unusual local variation on the hot dog. Around there, a coney dog is a big all-beef frankfurter with a natural casing, served with an overload of mild, all-beef chili, fresh chopped onions, and mustard. The chili never has beans. It is impossible to eat one of these without the bun falling apart. It's as much a part of the culinary culture of that part of Michigan as the poor boy is to New Orleans.
Food And The Law
Today in 2007, restaurants in New York City were prohibited from using trans-fats in their cooking. This affected Hispanic restaurant more than most, but many recipes had to be changed. Trans-fats are everywhere Crisco or margarine were present, and that's a lot of dishes. The health benefits are hard to ignore. And better-tasting substitutes for trans-fats are easy to find.
Music To Eat Beans By
Dan Ackroyd, Canadian-born comedian and actor, was born today in 1952. He was one of the Blues Brothers, first on Saturday Night Live, then in the movie. From the latter the House of Blues chain of music clubs and restaurants was born. The HOB on Decatur Street here in New Orleans is always packed, but the food has only rarely been memorable. A statue of Ackroyd in his Blues Brother attire stands in the Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Evelyn "Champagne" King, who sings dance music, is forty-six today. . . Claude Berri, an actor and director known best for the movie Le Sex Shop, is seventy-two.
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, was born today in 1725. He is the man for whom one of the best dishes at Antoine's is named. Poulet Rochambeau is a roasted, deboned, cut-up chicken atop a thick slice of ham, topped with a slightly sweet brown sauce and bearnaise. It's the first entree I ever ate at Antoine's, and still one of my favorite dishes there. Chicken Rochambeau is also served at Galatoire's and Arnaud's, though not as well as at Antoine's. Rochambeau the man was a French aristocrat who participated enthusiastically enough in the American Revolution that he deserves the honor, and then some.
Words To Eat By
"I once served a steak to Janis Joplin at Max's Kansas City. She was quiet and very polite. She didn't eat her steak but left a five-dollar tip."--Deborah Harry, singer in the group Blondie, born today in 1945.
Words To Drink By
"Eat well is drink well's brother."--Scottish proverb.