The Food Almanac: Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Coq au Vin Day!
Ewan Munro

Celebrity Chefs Today
Happy birthday to Mary Sonnier, who with husband Greg operated the terrific Gabrielle restaurant in Esplanade Ridge for many years until Katrina messed the place up. They tried to open in a long-running reception call Uptown, but ran into vexing political issues. Greg has moved on to the new Kingfish.

Today's Flavor
It is National Coq au Vin Day. A coq is a rooster with a lot of experience. Its toughness makes for a very flavorful sauce after it's been cooked for a long time. First it's browned in bacon or pork fat then braised with wine. The sauce is made from the reduced, defatted braising liquid, with chunks of pork belly and pearl onions. These days, you rarely see a rooster being used for this purpose; the dish is usually made with a hen, or just a regular frying chicken.

Coq au vin is a delicious dish, but one that was so badly rendered back in the days where all food in restaurants was a little bit French that a lot of people learned to avoid it. These days, if you find coq au vin anywhere in New Orleans, it's likely to be very good. The late Chef Gerard Crozier set the standard at his bistros in New Orleans East and Metairie. I'd say that the version currently at The Flaming Torch on Magazine at Octavia is even better. Chef Jacques at Chateau du Lac also makes a fine coq au vin as a special once in awhile.

Gourmet Gazetteer
High in the mountains along the western backbone of Idaho, eighty miles southeast the point of where that state meets Washington and Oregon, there's a sort of topological poultry yard. Let's start with Chicken Peak, which rises to 8483 feet. On its southern slope, a half-mile below the summit, is Chicken Spring, where a campsite on a primitive trail hosts backpackers. On the western slope at 6800 feet, Chicken Creek becomes defined. It flows five miles west, dropping almost 5000 feet in the process, until it joins some stunning rapids on the Salmon River. A mile and a half up the Salmon is the point where Rooster Creek--behaving much as the Chicken did--joins the flow to the Pacific. All of this is in the wilderness of the Salmon River Mountains. Four miles further up is a landing strip you could use to get closer without days of hiking. The nearest town is Grangeville, asbout sixty-miles northwest the crow flies. Eat at Oscar's there.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
There is a direct relationship among the age of a chicken, and the length of time it must be cooked, and the flavor in the resulting dish. As one increases, so do the others.

Edible Dictionary
poussin, [poo-SANH}, French, n.--A very young chicken, weighing around about a pound and a half. It's the size of a Cornish game hen, which is often served in restaurants as a poussin. Most of them are males; those are also known as coquelets, although that word isn't often seen in American menus. A poussin is usually served whole, or cut in half from end to end. Its flavor is very subtle. Larousse Gastronomique goes so far as to call it "nearly flavorless." This means that the sauce and garnishes are essential. They often include bacon or black pepper. These small chickens are also commonly stuffed with a rich paté.

Deft Dining Rule #104 
Because it's conceived as inexpensive and unglamorous, chicken gets a disproportionate amount of attention from creative chefs, and is quite often one of the best dishes on the menu.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Bona of Pisa. She is the patron saint of airline stewardesses. (Pope John XXIII made that designation, before stewardesses became attendants.) I wonder of a prayer to her would include a plea that the supplicant might never have to eat airline food?

A New Cuisine Is Born
Today in 1453 was one of the great turning points in history.Constantinople, the last vestige of the Roman Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks after a two-day siege that proved the superiority of cannons to even the best-walled cities. The event is often noted as the end of the Middle Ages. I like to think of it as the birthday of Middle Eastern cuisine, which is almost entirely Turkish in origin. The Turks co-opted the grandeur of Constantinople, and before long a court cuisine emerged that influenced the food of their entire empire, from Northern Africa to the Middle East to Persia to Greece. You see that influence even now.

Worst Flavor Of 2004
Today in 2004, a recall of almonds began in California because of worries about salmonella contamination. Paramount Farms there recalled thirteen million pounds of the raw nuts. It was something new: nobody had ever heard of salmonella in almonds before. Since most almonds sold in the U.S. are pasteurized, the problem didn't remove all almonds from the stream. What would we have done for trout amandine? First the trout go, then the almonds too?

Food And The Environment 
Today in 2001, the US National Marine Fisheries Service declared the white abalone on the California coast an endangered species. Am I the only one for whom the appeal of abalone is totally lost? It's expensive, and eating it is like chewing on a piece of rubber, but not as tasty.

Food Namesakes
Movie actor Helmut Berger was born today in 1944. . . Melanie Janine Brown, known as Scary Spice--one of the Spice Girls pop singing group--was born today in 1975. . . Brown Sugar, one of the Rolling Stones' biggest hits, made it to Number One today in 1971.

Words To Eat By
"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."--G. K. Chesterton, British writer born today in 1874.

"Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with. . . Give us pasta with a hundred fillings."--Robert Farrar Capon, American author and Episcopal priest.