The Food Almanac: Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's National Rock Cornish Game Hen Day!
Cornish Hen
Wikimedia Commons/ Davey Boy

Cornish Hen


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

Food Calendar
Today is National Rock Cornish Game Hen Day. Cornish hens are little chickens, and in terms of flavor and cooking that about sums it up. They're a cross of two chicken breeds, developed specificially for marketing purposes in the 1960s. They were given a gourmet cachet, and so appeared on the menus of many fancy restaurants. They're smaller than regular chickens because they develop a large breast at a young age, and are harvested after only a few months. 

We like Cornish hens, because you can serve a whole one per person without tremendous waste. Like chickens, they are especially good when roasted on a rotisserie. Brining them makes a big improvement in moistness of the meat--as it does with chickens and turkeys. Because they're so small, you can stuff them with various things and roast them without much possibility of a food-safety problem. The best Cornish hen we ever had was the one they used to have at Arnaud's, stuffed with a rough pork pate and served with a wine and tomato sauce. 

The most unusual good Cornish hen preparation is what Joe Sobol used to do at Frankie's Cafe. He's coat them with a seasoned flour and deep fry them, whole. It was fried chicken on the hoof, more or less, and that actually worked.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cornish, Maine is in the southernmost part of the state, on the Ossipee River, about thirty-two miles from Portland. It's in an area of classic New England small dairy farms. It's conceivable that they may raise Cornish hens around here, because this is the part of the world where the little birds come from. The place to eat is Bay Haven Lobster Two, right in the middle of the small town.

Edible Dictionary
Red snapper, .n--Red snapper is one of the best-loved of American saltwater fish. It swims in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Its supply is plentiful, but to keep it that way its catch is well regulated. This makes it a bit more expensive and less widely available than most other fish. That all of it is caught with rod and reel adds to the scarcity. Red snapper's tender texture holds together well in cooking. The taste is excellent, despite the fact that its oil content is relatively low. Snapper is distinctly better in taste and texture than redfish, with which it is often confused (on menus, not in markets).

The best cooking method is pan-cooking, preferably with some savory vegetables and a light stock. It's also good sauteed in butter or even grilled. It's great cooked whole, particularly if it's a smaller specimen. The technique of covering the fish with a pile of kosher salt and baking it (at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes for a five-pound fish) gives startlingly good results.

Food In Science 
Gottlieb Sigismund Kirchhof was born today in 1764. He was interested in the fermentation process that brews beer, and in his research he discovered how to make glucose--the simplest of all natural sugars. He also developed a method for refining vegetable oil that made that product easy to manufacture in large quantities.

Great Moments In Gluttony
Diamond Jim Brady attended a dinner party in New York City today in 1910, and consumed four pounds of roast beef, seven dozen oysters, and almost three gallons of orange juice. He and his girlfriend Lillian Russell--thought of by American men of the time as the ideal of womanly beauty--often had meals like that, and she kept right up with him.

Annals Of Junk Food And Drink
Today in 1912, the first prize toy was inserted in boxes of Cracker Jack. The candy-coated popcorn with nuts was already nineteen years on the market, but the free prize really boosted sales. We were surprised to learn that these days you no longer get a toy in your box of Cracker Jack (I guess we haven't had any in awhile). Instead, the prize is a card with games and fun facts and jokes. Bet it was some dumb liability problem.

Cherry Coke in bottles and cans was introduced in 1985. It success hinged on the fact that it was, in fact, not new at all. People now over forty probably ordered a cherry Coke in a drugstore soda fountain, where it was made by squirting cherry syrup into the glass before filling it the rest of the way with Coca-Cola. Here's a little known fact: Cherry Coke is made with New Coke.

Food In Peace And War 
The Cod War broke out today in 1976 between Iceland and Great Britain. No shooting took place, but the two countries were at each other's diplomatic throats over right to the dwindling populations of the fish. Who cares about cod? Nobody whose food choices are made according to taste, of course. But the economic importance of codfish was so great that a whole book has been written about it. A good one, too, by Mark Kurlansky. It's called Cod. It explains why you can't find codfish to make codfish cakes anymore: the cod are gone.

Annals Of Beer
The Tsingtao Brewery was founded today in 1903 by a company of Germans and British, who wanted to have recognizable beer for Europeans living in China. The original brewery (there are many now) was in Qingdao (the modern spelling of the place name) in Shandong province. There the Germans found superb spring water coming from the nearby mountains. The beer is a classic pilsner in style. You find Tsingtao in almost every Chinese restaurant in America, but you may have given up on it for awhile in the late 1990s, when pollution in China gave their barley an unpleasant flavor aspect. Now most of the grain comes from France, Canada, and Australia.

Food On Broadway 
The William Inge play Picnic opened today in 1953 in New York City. If you ever saw the play or the movie, you know the people in it don't much eat--although they do drink. You get the idea they don't really enjoy picnics much.

Food Records 
Today in 1999, the biggest strawberry shortcake ever baked was assembled in Plant City, Florida, where they grow a lot of strawberries in the winter (as we do here). It weighed more than three tons. I wonder whether they used real whipped cream.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Actress Margaux Hemingway was born today in 1955. She was named for the great Bordeaux red wine chateau, which her parents claim to have been drinking the night she was conceived. Her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, was the author of A Moveable Feast, among many other classic works of literature. . . . John Fishman, drummer with the rock band Phish, was born today in 1965. . . Danielle Berry, creator of early computer games, was born as Daniel today in 1949.

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Words To Eat By
"I don't like to say that my kitchen is a religious place, but I would say that if I were a voodoo priestess, I would conduct my rituals there."--Pearl Bailey.