The Food Almanac: Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's National Fish Mousse Day!

Fish mousse is as delicious as it is impressive.


This is Ash Wednesday–the first day of Lent, and one of the days in which Catholics take Lent most seriously. The seafood restaurants of the city will be very busy today. That’s particularly true of well-known casual places like Drago’s, Bozo’s, Casamento’s, and Charlie’s. It might be a better idea to dine in a somewhat upscale seafood specialist like GW Fins, the Bourbon House, the Red Fish Grill, or Andrea’s. Play this game: it is possible to eat a different seafood in New Orleans for each of the forty days of Lent without repeating. First one to find triggerfish, report it to the messageboard, please.

Roots Of Creole Cuisine

Today in 1766, Spain officially took possession of the Louisiana Territory, including New Orleans, from France. The new Spanish governor was an accomplished scientist and explorer, Antonio de Ulloa. The French population of New Orleans was unimpressed, and Ulloa knew it. He kept the former French governor on as a figurehead and flak-catcher.

Spain ruled over New Orleans during an important time in the city’s history, especially for its architecture. The French Quarter is really more Spanish in design than French. Its Spanish street names are remembered with tiled plaques. Susan Spicer’s restaurant Bayona is named for the Spanish name for Dauphine Street, where it’s located. They also left an influence on Creole cooking, most notably on jambalaya. As for Ulloa, they named a short side street for him in Mid-City.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Brennan’s in Houston opened today in 1967. It was the first expansion of the Brennan’s restaurant name outside New Orleans, and was followed by others in Dallas and Atlanta. Those closed in the 1970s, but the Houston Brennan’s remains one of the most popular and most highly-regarded restaurants there–even after being closed for a year and a half after a fire in 2008. It occupies one of the oldest buildings in downtown Houston, handsome and comfortable. The menu combines Creole flavors with those of the Southwest: very interesting. Alex Brennan-Martin (Ella’s son and brother of Ti Martin, who co-runs Commander’s Palace) owns the majority share and operates it hands-on. It has no association with the closed Brennan’s on Royal Street.

Food In The Wild West

Inventor of the chuck wagon, Charles Goodnight was born today in 1836. He was a cattle rancher in the Texas Panhandle in the mid-1800s. His name lived on in the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail, outlined in 1866 by Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving. On it, the most legendary generation of cowboys drove thousands of head of cattle north to the railroads in Colorado and Wyoming.

Annals Of Clean Water

The original Culligan Man, Emmett J. Culligan, was born today in 1893. He founded a water treatment company that spread worldwide, and pioneered the widespread treatment of drinking water in the 1930s. Culligan thought that city water supplies, even when safe to drink, could use some improvement, particularly in the matter of removing treatment chemicals.

Gourmet Gazetteer

There are, incredibly, two places called Frogmore, Louisiana. The larger of the two is nineteen miles west of Natchez, in the flat fields of cotton on the Mississippi River’s historic floodplain. Here is Frogmore Plantation, where cotton has been grown since the early 1800s. It may be the only place where you can watch a working cotton plantation in action and see some historic displays, too. The place even has a website. They don’t have food, though. For that, you have to go east seven miles back to the river and Ferriday, where is a restaurant called simply Southern Cooking. The other Frogmore is a bit further south, in Pointe Coupee Parish. It’s also in the middle of farm fields, these devoted to corn and sugar cane. It’s on Bayou Maringouin, in the Atchafalaya Basin. Probably more frogs there, not to mention millions of crawfish.

Edible Dictionary

crawfish, n.–The preferred spelling and pronunciation for crayfish in Louisiana and the areas influenced by its cuisine. Also known as crawdads in other parts of America. It has been said that if you eat them, you call them crawfish; if you don’t, you use one of the other words. It’s a freshwater crustacean related to the saltwater lobster, and usually much smaller. Most edible crawfish live in or near wetlands. They’re capable of walking about on land, but only if the water table is just below the surface. In the Cajun country of Louisiana, an entire culture exists about the cooking and eating of crawfish. The crawfish season in a good year runs from Thanksgiving to the Fourth of July, with a peak in April and May. Crawfish boiled in a spicy, herb-riddledpot of water is the most elemental crawfish dish, but hundreds of other dishes are made with the tails of the mudbugs (yet another nickname for these much-appreciated animals). The word derives from ecrevisse, the French name for them.

Eating Around The World

Momofuku Ando was born in what it now Taiwan today in 1910. His nickname was Noodles Papa. He was the founder of the Nissin Food Products Company, whose great breakthrough was Ando’s invention: ramen noodles. Those are instant-cooking noodles in individual packages. Add hot water, and you’re ready to eat. Noodles are so popular throughout Asia that this became a huge product, there and all over the world.

Food Calendar

Today is National Fish Mousse Day. While this may not immediately ring a bell with you, or seem a bit too rarefied, I will attempt to persuade you that a) making a fish mousse is easy and b) it’s as delicious as it is impressive.

You make fish mousse by poaching fish (or shellfish–it also works with shrimp, crawfish, lobster, and other seafoods), then pureeing it in the food processor with some of the stock you poached it in. You blend this into beaten egg whites, and then fold in some whipped cream. (Some recipes call for gelatin; throw those out.) After it’s refrigerated, the mousse tightens up, and can be served as an appetizer. Or you can layer it between or atop a fish fillet and bake it. Or–well, there are a lot of uses.

We’re not far away from Passover, when a variant of fish mousse–gefilte fish–will be served in almost every Jewish home. But that’s really a different taste.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If a lighter sauce or mousse is what you’re after, beat the eggs until they’re really pale.

Deft Dining Rule #730:

Ask, “Is this [sauce, soup, dessert] made here?” If the server doesn’t know, ask him or her to find out. The answer will tell you a lot about the restaurant. If the answer is “No,” then its value to you should be discounted by twenty percent.

Food And Drink Namesakes

Canaan Banana, the first president of Zimbabwe, was elected to life today in 1936. . . British economist William Henry Beveridge was born today in 1879. . . Premier of Italy Francesco Crispi was forced to resign today in 1896, after making too many sensible reforms. . . John Coke, an early secretary of state in England, was born today in 1563. . .Whitney Port, who was on the MTV reality show The Hills, was launched today in 1985.

Words To Eat By

“If you don’t love life you can’t enjoy an oyster; there is a shock of freshness to it and intimations of the ages of man, some piercing intuition of the sea and all its weeds and breezes.”–Eleanor Clark, American writer.