The Food Almanac: Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Roots Of New Orleans Food
René-Robert Cavelier de la Salle found the mouth of the Mississippi River today in 1682. On that basis, he declared that river and its valley–quite a lot of territory–were the property of France. Those lands took on, to some degree at least, a measure of French culture, instead of Spanish or British. New Orleans, the capital of the colony, became the most thoroughly French city in America. That difference lingers to this day. Although French cooking can be found in any town with a significant restaurant community, a unique kind of French food has dominated the diets of Orleanians for almost three hundred years.

Today's Flavor
It's National Oyster Soup Day. Enough people have called and written me lately about that dish that it seems perfect timing. Oysters are still meaty enough that they don't shrivel in the broth. The classic oyster soup is made by straining and reducing as much oyster liquor as you can get your hands on, adding a bit of butter, salt, thyme, and green onions, and slipping the oysters into the simmering liquid a few minutes before serving. They're perfect when they seem to inflate and get curly edges. 

Another good approach is to make a medium-dark roux and using that instead of the milk, to make a sort of oyster gumbo. Some chefs make a terrific oyster soup by stirring some of the sauce you'd use on oysters Rockefeller into the broth. It's all good.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
The water in an oyster is a living thing
Its flavor's as fresh as a day in spring
Open those shells and make some bubbles
The soup rewards all your troubles.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Stockville is in the vast grain-growing plains in southwest Nebraska. It's dry country but irrigated by those circular water-distribution systems that look like abstract art when seen from an airplane at 30,000 feet. The nearest major town also has a food name: McCook, population around 8000, a fifty-mile drive on major highways. But you can save thirteen of those by driving the back roads through the wheat and corn fields. On the other hand, the nearest places to eat are all in the same block ten miles away in Curtis, on the main highway. They are Martha Jo's, the Yellow Rose, and Curtis Cattle Company.

Art Of Wine
Victor Vaserely was born today in 1908. He was the leading proponent of Op Art–creating abstract illusions with perspective and geometric patterns. He designed the first of the Artist Series for Champagne Taittinger, with an original Op Art piece in blue, silver, and black, for the 1978 vintage. I have a single unopened bottle of it in the original box in my "cellar," and I expect it will bring four figures in a charity auction someday.

People We'd Like To Have Dinner With
Dennis Quaid was born today in 1954. I'd like to know where he got the accent he used in his New Orleans-based movie, The Big Easy. Nobody I know around here talks like that.

Edible Dictionary
fumet, [foo-MET]. French, n.–A highly concentrated stock, usually (but not always) made from fish or shellfish. A fumet functions both as a stock and a sauce with regard to the other ingredients of a dish. It's more of a cook's word than an eater's word, but it does turn up on menus now and then. Fumet is a major ingredient in dishes like courtbouillon, lobster thermidor, and a variety of juicy stews. In French, the word from which fumet descends suggests the same thing that the Japanese word umami does: a flavor of meat, the fifth flavor after salt, sour, sweet, and bitter.

Food Namesakes
English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon died today in 1626. His death, of a very bad cold, was the indirect result attributed to an experiment he undertook involving freezing food. He stuffed a chicken with snow to see if it could be kept from going bad that way. . . John Updike's book Rabbit At Rest (the penultimate volume in the Rabbit series) won the Pulitzer Prize today in 1991. . . Frank King, who created the comic strip "Gasoline Alley," was born today in 1883. Whenever the current artist depicts a hot dog stand in the strip, its name is "Frank King." . . . Movie actor Nathan Cook was born today in 1950. . . Sharkey Bonano was born in New Orleans in 1904. He was a jazz trumpeter, and almost has a rare double food name.

Words To Eat By
"I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we're talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime associates, food, for me, has always been an adventure." –Anthony Bourdain.

Words To Drink By
"Liqueurs were not lacking; but the coffee especially deserves mention. It was as clear as crystal, aromatic and wonderfully hot; but, above all, it was not handed around in those wretched vessels called cups on the left banks of the Seine, but in beautiful and capacious bowls, into which the thick lips of the reverend fathers plunged, engulfing the refreshing beverage with a noise that would have done honor to sperm-whales before a storm."–Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.