The Food Almanac: Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Columbus Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Tjeerd

Serrano is the most famous of the many kinds of jamón, made from a specific breed of white pig.

Today's Flavor
Today is Tasso Day throughout the entire Cajun world. Tasso is usually made from pork shoulder, heavily seasoned, salted, and smoked. It acquires a texture about halfway to jerky, with a dense, dark brown crust redolent of the seasonings and smoke. It is cut into small dice and used as a seasoning in a wide range of Cajun dishes. It imparts its three main flavors to anything it touches. It's particularly popular in dishes with rich sauces, but it can turn up in almost anything. 

You can make your own tasso by coating cellphone-size pieces of pork shoulder with as much Cajun-Creole seasoning as will stick to it, wrapping it, and letting it refrigerate a day or two. Then smoke it in a hot smoker at about 200 degrees until it begins to get noticeably stiff, but not dry. It lasts a long time wrapped and refrigerated after that.

The word "tasso" probably descends from the Spanish word tasajo, a Latin American word for smoked beef jerky. 

This is also National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day. While those are certainly so exotic as to appeal only to those whose tastes are adventuresome, they never have been considered among the world's most delicious treats. The most interesting are the "repletes," members of a species of ant whose bodies are used to store nectar inside the colony. They're the size of small grapes, and are supposed to be very sweet and good. Never had one, or even seen one. When I first started writing about food, I was often asked by people who didn't know any better whether I ate chocolate-covered ants.

Deft Dining Rule #142
The combination of tasso, cream, and seafood is a magic potion, defeating even the incompetence of tasteless chefs. Order it anywhere you see it.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Ham Hill rises to 721 feet in the center of Maine. It's sixty-five miles north of Augusta,the state capital. It's mostly wooded, but farm fields and cattle pasture takes up a lot of the nearby real estate. After you take an early-morning walk to the top of Ham Hill--it's not strenuous--come back down and drive five miles south for a ham omelette at The Breakfast Nook in the pleasantly-named town of Harmony.

Edible Dictionary
Jamón Serrano, Spanish, n.--Jamón is the Spanish word for dry-cured ham, an almost incredibly popular foodstuff in Spain. It's made in much the same way that Italian prosciutto is. Serrano is the most famous of the many kinds of jamón, made from a specific breed of white pig. Serrano hams are further subdivided into the areas where these pigs are raised, as well as by what they eat--with the pigs that eat the greatest number of acorns in the woods being considered the best. Even the least of the jamóns is a better ham than we usually eat in America.

Food Through History
Today in 1066, William the Conqueror conquered King Harold in the Battle of Hastings, and the Normans took over England. They brought the French language and culture to England, changing those of the Anglo-Saxons. The English have ever since had a strong taste for things French, particularly the wines. It's no coincidence that the British have always figured prominently in the history of Bordeaux wines in particular. They certainly have been Bordeaux's best customers. Speaking of the Normans. . . they have a charming tradition of taking a shot of Calvados--the apple brandy made in Normandy--in the middle of a big meal. They call it le trou Normande--the Norman hole, which the Calvados burns in your stomach to let more food in.

Celebrity Chefs Today
Thomas Keller, the owner of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley, was born today in 1955. During the past decade, no other American restaurant has garnered the acclaim that the Laundry has. It routinely appears at or near the top of all Best Restaurants/Chefs In The Country/World lists. Lately, Keller's New York eatery, per se (they spell it in lowercase like that) has also been up there. Both the French Laundry and per se have three stars from Michelin; only two other chefs in the world can claim two of those constellations. Dinner in either place involves committing an entire evening to a set tasting menu, and spending in excess of $200 per person (at least). I haven't been to either; I figure they're getting plenty enough coverage from other media. I'll go after they're no longer the hottest restaurant on earth, at which time Keller will still be at least as good, and probably better. I can't seem to detect the flavor of fame.

Food And Travel
This is the birthday, in 1905, of Eugene Fodor, who founded the series of travel guidebooks that bear his name. Fodor's is still one of the leading publishers of such books, with titles covering almost any place you might consider traveling to. They all give as much coverage to restaurants and food as to anything else. Because how better to experience an exotic place than to eat the food of the people there? It's very appropriate that Fodor was born in Hungary.

Food Namesakes
Ellison Capers, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, was born today in 1837. . . DeJuan Wheat, a professional basketball player, was at the top of the key today in 1973.

Words To Eat By
"I had left home (like all Jewish girls) in order to eat pork and take birth control pills. When I first shared an intimate evening with my husband I was swept away by the passion, so dormant inside myself, of a long and tortured existence. The physical cravings I had tried so hard to deny finally and ultimately were sated--but enough about the pork."--Roseanne Barr.

Words To Drink By 
"At the beginning of the World God created wine for man’s health, since it is more precious than any other drink and more natural to him."--Francesc Eiximenis, monk from the 1200s.