The Food Almanac: Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's National Scaloppine Day!

Today's Flavor 
Sharpen the knife and get out the meat mallet, because this is National Scaloppine Day. Scaloppine (plural of scaloppina, since you rarely cook just one) are thin, small slices of meat. Other words for the same thing include cutlets, medallions, medaillons, escalopes, and collops. The meat most often turned into scaloppine is veal, but chicken is not far behind and gaining. Pork makes excellent scaloppine, and other meats can be used, too. 

Scaloppine are usually cooked in a hot pan with a little butter or olive oil. The cooking is very brief, the time measured in seconds, not minutes. The juices and browned bits left in the pan are the beginnings of a wide range of sauces, among which piccata (white wine, lemon, butter, and capers), marsala (made with the fortified wine of the same name) and parmigiana (with tomato sauce) are the most popular. But cooks with even a little imagination can deglaze that pan with almost any liquid after the scaloppine are cooked, and add an almost infinite range of other ingredients.

A few points are essential. The first is to make sure the meat (other than chicken) is cut across the grain. This is especially important for veal. Pre-sliced veal in the supermarket is almost always cut along the grain, making for very tough meat. The meat used for scaloppine should have a uniform texture over a wide area. Round is excellent in that regard, and relatively inexpensive. Loins cut from rib racks is pricier but makes beautiful scaloppine.

Getting thin scaloppine can be accomplished by slicing very thinly or by pounding, or by doing both. Finding a good pounder is essential. Everybody's pounder is different. My favorite, until it fell apart from all the banging, was what looked like a stainless-steel hockey puck with a handle on one flat face. A chef friend has a heavy, oddly-shaped piece of cast iron that looks like foundry scrap. My mother used an old, heavy, small Coca-Cola bottle.

Today is also Jump For Jelly Beans Day for the pre-school constituency. And Cotton Candy Day and National Raspberry Cake Day. As we bring July to a close, we note that it's been National Baked Bean Month, National Culinary Arts Month, National Hot Dog Month, And National July Belongs To Blueberries Month.

Edible Dictionary
paillard, [pie-YARD, with a soft "d"], French, n.--A wide, long, slice of veal or baby beef, pounded out into a thin sheet, then grilled over a hot fire. Because it's so thin, it cooks very quickly, usually much less than a minute. It's typically garnished with a light sauce of herbs, finely chopped shallots and pepper. Although veal is the classic paillard, the idea translates into other meats and even fish. It's named for a Parisian restaurant in the late 1800s. Larousse Gastronomique says that the term is obsolete in France, but I still encounter it here and there in New Orleans French-onspired restaurants. And Italian ones, too, where the word is rendered "paiarda." This is a great dish to prepare at home, if you can get a butcher to cut the oversize slices of veal for you.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Troutdale is a small town in the mountainous Appalachian panhandle of Virginia. It's on the northern side of a valley cut through the mountains by Fox Creek, at 980 feet. The well-named Straight Mountain rises to 1200 feet just north of Troutdale. The 2000 census showed over 1200 people living in Trout Dale, but in fact there are only about 200. The others are prisoners in a neaby facility that was erroneously included with Troutdale's population. The town is growing, however. A lot of people come to the monthly bluegrass concert there. Novelist Sherwood Anderson lived in Troutdale for a long time. The nearest restaurant is Casey's Diner, 18 miles away, requiring a long drive to a jagged mountain pass.

Deft Dining Rule #810
When a restaurant menu includes more than three variations on veal scaloppine, it's just mixing and matching sauces and toppings to make it seem more various than it really is.

Music To Dine By
The jazz pianist Hank Jones was born today in 1918. He was highly respected in jazz circles for his elegant, highly listenable improvisations. Many jazz keyboard players refer to him as an influence--even though he was not well known to most casual jazz listeners. Any restaurant playing his music would find people lingering on for an after-dinner drink.

Food And Weather 
Today in 1921, it rained frogs in Connecticut. And that wasn't the only time. Apparently a big enough storm can sweep frog eggs and frogs themselves from trees into the sky, to fall down much later and very far away from the frogs' homes. So pray for rain, and get the flour, butter and garlic ready.

Food Namesakes
Amazing! We have four people born on this date whose name is Cook! In 1963, Norman Cook, singer with the group The Housemartins, flew into the world. . . Former Playboy Playmate Victoria Cooke was born today in 1957. . . and South African cricket pro Jimmy Cook was born today in 1953. . . Philip Cook, Jr., a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and later a Congressman, was born today in 1817. . . It's the birthday, in 1958, of Bill Berry, the drummer in the group R.E.M. . . Jean DuBuffet, a French artist, began eating all she could today in 1901.

Related Stories
8 New Ways to Coat Your Cutlet

Words To Eat By
"Omit and substitute! That's how recipes should be written. Please don't ever get so hung up on published recipes that you forget that you can omit and substitute."--Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet.