The Food Almanac: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Days Of Infamy
Today was Good Friday in 1788, and a very bad day for New Orleans. The worst fire in the city's history burned 856 of approximately 1100 buildings in the French Quarter, including the original Cabildo. Among the few survivors were the Ursulines Convent, a government customs house (not the one on Canal Street now), and the two hospitals. In the aftermath, the city had a tremendous loss of population as many homeless moved away. (Sound familiar?) Most of the city, incredibly, was rebuilt within five years. The fire started where the new Sylvain restaurant is now, in the 600 block of Chartres.
Our Illustrious Chefs
Today's the birthday of Chef Duke Locicero, the owner of Cafe Giovanni, in 1961. Aside from having a uniquely good Italian restaurant, Chef Duke is a good guy to talk to about the progress of the recovery in the French Quarter. He had a tough time after the storm, but continued to lead the renewal of that stretch of Decatur Street. It's a lot nicer than it was before he opened.
Today is National French Bread Day. The picture of a person walking down a street with a long, narrow loaf of bread tucked under his arm could no better locate the scene in France if it had the Eiffel Tower in the background. The shape of a baguette isn't it's only distinguishing characteristic. Its light (in color and texture) crust, the many large, cavern-like gaps in the crumb, and yeastiness are all hallmarks. French bread is simple in its components--not much more than flour, yeast, and water. But making it requires an adherence to the time-tested procedure that borders on religious. The two primary keys are a very active yeast and an oven with sprays of water mist. The end result is the perfect companion to cheese, pates, or a French dinner.
Regional variations on French bread are everywhere. In my hometown of New Orleans, we make a bigger (in both circumference and length) French bread, with a much lighter crust and crumb. This is not only the standard bread of the table, but the bedrock of the poor boy sandwich.
And then there is standard supermarket French bread, usually made with frozen dough. It's hardly worthy of the name, with its soft crust and fine, buttery interior. Get the real thing.
Deft Dining Rule #230:
A well-made loaf of French bread will leave a thousand crumbs strewn across the table.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The greatest improvement you can make in your bread baking is to spray water into the oven every ten minutes or so. (Clean water, new sprayer.)
Forrest Mars, Sr. was born today in 1904. An infamously humorless businessman, he took over his family's candy business and turned it into the biggest maker of candy bars in the world. Mars, Inc. is the maker of M&M's, Milky Way, and (this will surprise you) Uncle Ben's Rice. Mars and Hershey's have one of the great rivalries, with espionage and everything. The story is told in Joel Glenn Brenner's terrific book The Emperors Of Chocolate.
Choconut, Pennsylvania is a little more than a mile from the New York state line. The history of the place is not as frivolous as it sounds. The name is an evolution of Chugnut, a name used for a settlement of a number of Indian populations tribes in the area in the 1700s. It's a hilly area with beautiful fall colors. The Choconut Inn is up the road about five miles in case you're hungry.
rillettes, [ree-YET], French, n.--An item from the broad French charcuterie category of meat preparation, a rillettes (the word has an "s" in both singular and plural forms) is traditionally made from pork from old sows. That was tough enough that it needed much pounding with lard to make it tender. What came out was a stringy compound with enough fat and seasoning that one could actually like it. As they do, very much, in the area around Tours and Anjou. Rillettes are less popular in this country, where most people consider it just another form of paté. but chefs have put forth a great effort in recent years to popularize it by using the technique with rabbit, duck, and other candidates. I would say that they don't quite have it down yet.
Annals Of Winemaking
Today is the birthday, in 1910, of Julio Gallo, who with his brother Ernest began the Gallo wine business. It would become the world's largest family-owned winery. Julio was in charge of production, while Ernest was the salesman. Julio died in 1993 in a car accident.
Actor James Coco was born today in 1930. . . Football player Junior Coffey hit the big scrimmage today 1942. . . Robert Sweet, drummer for the Christian hard-rock band Stryper, felt his first beats today in 1960.
Words To Eat By
"A philosopher is a person who doesn't care which side his bread is buttered on; he knows he eats both sides anyway."--Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Words To Drink By
"I don't think I've drunk one since I've left the Bond movies. Every bar you go in. . . 'Oh, yours will be a martini, shaken, not stirred!' You get sick and tired of that."--Timothy Dalton, British actor, born today in 1946. He portrayed James Bond twice.