The Food Almanac: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hot tamales, pot pies, and the end of Prohibition


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

Days Until. . . 
New Year's--27
Make those reservations now!

Chef d'Oeuvre du Jour
Hot Tamales @ Joe Sepie's, Jefferson: 4402 Jefferson Hwy . 504-324-5613 . Not many local restaurants serve the old-style, totally Americanized hot tamale anymore. This little cafe on Jefferson Highway at Central Avenue makes its own tamales, and does a good job with them. They're just moist, peppery, and greasy enough, without needing the Sunday paper to absorb the excess. They also serve the basic local sandwiches and platters. This is one of NOMenu's 500 Best Dishes in New Orleans Restaurants. The entire list is here

Today's Flavor
This is National Pot Pie Day. The cold weather has settled in, and there's something inherently warming about a pot pie--both in the thought and the eating of it. Second, we still have a lot of turkey to get rid of from Thanksgiving. Especially the dark meat, which with its bigger flavor and chunkier pieces, are perfect for pot pie. 

Pot pies have gone out of vogue, and I think I know why. The pastry used for them is too firm and yucky. And the filling doesn't have enough zing. It just sits there in a starchy sauce thickened with too much flour and potatoes, and without enough chunks of meat or vegetables. I think the solution is to use a fluffier pastry than the dense pie crust usually found, and make them smaller. And we ought to use more seasonal vegetables and things that go with pepper. Like beef and oysters together, for example. Carrots. Brussels sprouts. Mushrooms.

You will go a long time between sightings of pot pies in restaurants. It doesn't seem like restaurant food to most people, except perhaps in rural areas where home-style cooking is all they know. Even there, the chains have killed so many old cafes that there aren't many left to make pot pies. Reclaim them by making one or two this week.

Drink And The Law
At 4:32 p.m. on this date in 1933, Utah (of all states!) ratified the Twenty-First amendment to the Constitution, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment, and therefore ending fourteen years of Prohibition. We could lift a glass legally again. But not so fast. One of the provisions of the new amendment was that states and localities could continue to make their own laws concerning alcoholic beverages. Out of that came the impossible hodgepodge of local and state rules, some of which defy rationale. (Example: By Louisiana law, a restaurant must pay for deliveries of beer, but not wine or spirits, at the time of delivery.) Prohibition, of course, exacted it own costs, primary among them (from our perspective, anyway) the closing of much of the American wine business.

Annals Of Expensive Bottles Of Wine 
Today in 1985, a bottle of 1787 Chateau Latour once owned by Thomas Jefferson (whose initials are on the bottle) went at auction to Malcolm Forbes for $157,500. That would be insanely cheap nowadays, but I remember that this made headlines back then. I wonder if the late Forbes ever opened it? Chateau Latour is one of the first-growth Bordeaux standard-setters, and made in a style that leads to long life. But I don't know about that long.

Annals Of Healthy Eating
Today in 2006, New York City passed a law banning trans-fats in food served in restaurants. They had till 2008 to stop using trans-fats in frying oils. By now, the evil stuff is supposed to be gone from every ingredient. Many thought of this as an outrageous intrusion into personal liberty, but it does address a very real and proven health hazard. The fallout from this has not all landed yet, and other cities are considering the same ban.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Lemon, Mississippi is on State Route 35, about sixty miles from both Jackson and Meridian. It's just a curve in the road through dairy and chicken-raising country, with pastures interrupted by pine forests. The nearest dining is KD's Catfish, less than a mile away.

Edible Dictionary 
shabu-shabu, Japanese, n.--A Japanese entree made by dipping translucently thin slices of beef into a pan of simmering broth. This is done tableside by the diner, who with chopsticks swishes the beef around in the broth for the few seconds it takes to cook it completely. The sound made by this action gives the name to the dish. The beef is served with several sauces, into which the beef is dipper between pan and mouth. It's a lovely, light dish, but seen in only a few Japanese restaurants these days. The tableside setup slows service down and requires a skillful waiter.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Stale brioche is the ultimate main ingredient for pain perdu (French toast, lost bread).

Annals Of Food Writing
Today is the birthday, in 1935, of Calvin Trillin. He's written a great deal about food over the years; his famous book on the subject is Alice, Let's Eat, but he has two others along those lines that he refers to as his "Tummy Trilogy." A recent piece of his in The New Yorker described his passion for a stew served only during Holy Week in a few towns in South America. He writes on many other things; lately, he's been reflecting on his father, his wife, and his being a father. His unique humor makes his words a pleasure to read.

Annals Of Chewing Gum 
Today is the birthday of chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, in 1894. And, coincidentally, on this day in 1905, the trademark of Chiclets--for lozenge-shaped, candy-coated gum, a competitor with Mr. Wrigley's works--was registered.

Food Namesakes
A clothing and paraphernalia store called Apple was opened by the Beatles on this date in 1967, on Baker Street in London. . . Dutch actorJeroen Krabbé was born today in 1944. . . Rock musician J.J. Cale was born today sometime after midnight on this date in 1938. Now here's something odd. Yesterday we had birthdays both for somebody else named Cale and somebody else named Crabbe. Hmm. . .Honey, a movie about an inner-city girl who wanted to become a choreographer, premiered today in 2003. . . .Sir Arthur William Curriewas born today in 1875. He was a Canadian military hero in World War I. . . And Eddy Curry Jr., NBA basketball player, was born today in 1982. . . Today is the feast day of St. John Almond,who lived in Ireland in the 1600s.

Words To Eat By
"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."--Calvin Trillin,born today in 1935. Here are a couple more of his better lines:

"I never eat in a restaurant that's over a hundred feet off the ground and won't stand still."

"My wife Alice has a weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day.”

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.