The Food Almanac: Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's National Squab Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Edseloh


Today's Flavor
Today is National Squab Day. Of all the birds we commonly eat in this part of the world, squab is the most delectable. A squab is a baby pigeon. It's a farm-raised bird, so you need not be concerned that it came from underneath a bridge. It hasn't flown yet, but it was about to undertake that exercise when it was harvested. A prime squab is bigger than an adult pigeon, because its parents feed it constantly, and it does very little other than eat. It gets fat, and that's why it tastes so good. 

The meat of squab is red, and when cooked medium-rare (the perfect temperature) it can fool the eater into thinking he's eating some kind of light beef or veal. The birds are bigger than quails but smaller than Cornish hens, with a higher percentage of breast meat than in most others. 

At one time, quite a few restaurants around town served squab. Antoine's had a classic dish called pigeonneau sauce Paradis that had a sweet-savory sauce with grapes. It's still there, but they make it with chicken. Mosca's used to roast squabs with rosemary and garlic. The last restaurant to offer it regularly was Peristyle. If you see it anywhere, order it. It's not particularly expensive, and it's a delicacy among poultry.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Crawdad Cove, Nevada is an arm of Lake Mead, the reservoir formed behind the Hoover Dam. Looking at satellite maps, it's hard to imagine that many crawdads (crawfish) live there. Las Vegas is nearby, but you don't have to drive all the way there to find something to eat. Bistro Zinc in Henderson catches our eye. It's seven miles away by copter. You might want to go that way, because Crawdad Cove Road is a long dirt drag.

Food On Broadway
A play called The Squab Farm opened on this date in 1918, at the Bijou Theater in New York. It is most celebrated as the debut of Tallulah Bankhead, but it was a failure, closing after only a month. Also in it was Julia Bruns, who was reputed to be the most beautiful girl in the world. I can't find any information on the plot of the play, but it was written by Fanny and Frederic Hatton. Frederic "Fritz" Hatton is the long-time auctioneer at the fabulous Napa Wine Auction every year, but he's too young to be the same guy. Isn't this the most boring piece you've ever read in this department?

Edible Dictionary
satay, n.--The kebabs of Southeast Asia, satays are among the most common dishes in Indonesia and Malaysia. They're made two ways. Chicken, beef, or pork is cut into long strips, marinated, and then threaded in a zig-zag way on a skewer. Or it can be made into a finely-ground meatball and packed around the skewer. (Shrimp satays are very often made in this latter style.) Either way, the skewers are then grilled and served with (most often) a peanut sauce. Satays usually turn up as appetizers in all kinds of Asian restaurants in this country, particularly Thai places.

Deft Dining Rule #441:
To avoid looking stupid, make sure the bird you're ordering has white meat before you ask why there's no white meat in your portion. Duck, squab, and quail do not.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Most bone-in birds take twice as long to cook as those that have had the bones removed. (This is because deboned birds have more exposed surface area.)

Beverages Through History
Today in 1764 was the birthday of Charles, the second Earl of Grey. He is the man for whom Earl Grey tea is named. That's a blend of black teas flavored with the citrus-like bergamot.

Annals Of American Restaurants
Lorenzo Delmonico was born today in 1813. He took over the management of the restaurant his uncles opened in New York, and turned it in the first restaurant phenomenon in America. Delmonico here in New Orleans was named for the New York restaurant, although there was no direct connection. "Delmonico" was synonymous with "restaurant," a new concept in those days.

Food In International Trade
On this day in 1989, all fruit imported into the United States from Chile was recalled, because one shipment of grapes was believed to have been poisoned with cyanide. That blew over quickly, however, and these days a tremendous amount of off-season (for us) fruit comes from Chile--notably blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and asparagus. A tremendous amount of this entered the country through the port of Gulfport, Mississippi, which may explain why so much of it wound up in New Orleans.

Preprandial Entertainments 
What did Orleanians do for fun before they had restaurants? They went to the theatre. The St. Charles Theater burned down on this date in 1842. New Orleans was the third-biggest city in America, and the St. Charles was the among the grandest theaters of its day. It boasted four thousand seats, forty-seven boxes, and a stage that was ninety feet wide and deep. It was on St. Charles between Gravier and Poydras, roughly where the Hotel Inter-Continental is now. The fire began in an adjacent coffin factory.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Gerald of Mayo, an Irish abbot who lived in the 700s.

Food Namesakes
Lianne Tooth, an Olympic hockey player from Australian in 1996, got his first slap today in 1962. . . Pro golfer Andy Bean teed up his life today in 1952. . . Actor Fred Berry stepped onto life's stage today in 1951. . . John "Home Run" Baker, a member of the Hall of Fame, took his first swing (at his mom) today in 1886. . . Television actress Gigi Rice came out steaming today in 1965. . . R&B singer Candi Staton was unwrapped today in 1940.

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Words To Eat By
"She has never come any closer to life than the dinner table."--Janet Flanner, long-time New Yorker Magazine France correspondent, writing about Elsa Maxwell. Today is Flanner's birthday, in 1892.