The Food Almanac: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
It's National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day. My wife is tuned into that big-time; that might be her favorite kind of chocolate.
It's also International Béarnaise Day. A strong case can be made that béarnaise is the world's most delicious sauce. Maybe that's because it's the first serious French sauce many of us encounter. If béarnaise shows up at the table, you'll consume every bit of it.
Béarnaise is a child of the mother sauce hollandaise, a rich emulsion of egg yolks and butter with a little lemon juice or vinegar. It becomes béarnaise when the aromatic herbs tarragon, chervil, and chives — usually simmered in a little wine or tarragon vinegar if dried herbs are used — are stirred in. What emerges is a magnificent mingling of richness, thickness, aroma, and mellow herbaceousness.
Restaurants serve either a lot of béarnaise or none at all. It's not a sauce that can be made in quantity and then refrigerated for later use. It has to be kept just warm and frequently stirred, or else it falls apart. The best béarnaise is made immediately before it's served, and that's tricky enough that most restaurants avoid the commitment.
The best place to look for bearnaise is a restaurant that specializes in steaks and lamb chops. While béarnaise goes well with many dishes (I actually think the ultimate partner for it is roast chicken), red-meat roasts really lend themselves to it. French or French-inspired restaurants also usually make it well, strictly as a point of honor.
Today in 1965, Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy, was born. He is still alive, despite the obituary that you've seen a few hundred times on the internet. I once heard someone at the Café du Monde in New Orleans remark that his dining partner— who'd just taken a bite from a well-powdered-sugared beignet — looked as if she'd just had a heavy necking session with the Doughboy. Woo-hoo!
Food Through History
Christopher Columbus returned to Spain today in 1504 after his fourth and last voyage to America. He still believed he'd encountered some unknown strand of Asia. That was wrong, but he was right about many other things — among them the potential of chocolate. He brought cocoa beans with him, along with the instructions for turning them into a drink — which is what chocolate exclusively was for a long time after its European introduction. It was a big hit among the wealthy, and the Era Of Chocolate began.
pannee, [pah-NAY, PAHN-ay, widely mispronounced PIE-nay] v., adj. — Also spelled panee, panne, and sometimes other ways. A thin slice or morsel of meat, poultry, or (less commonly) seafood, coated in bread crumbs and fried quickly in a shallow pan of hot oil. Although this idea is common in many cuisines, from Europe to the Japan, in New Orleans it is so often cooked in homes and restaurants that this unique name has come to be used for it. It is not usually found in culinary reference works, other than those from Louisiana. The usual usage is "pannee meat." Two etymologies exist for the word. The first and more credible is that it's a reference to the breading, from pain, in the French word for bread. The other is that it refers to the pan in which panneed dishes are cooked. Almost any meat can be panneed, but the most common are veal, pork, and chicken.
Deft Dining Rule #111
No food exists that is not at least pretty good when panneed.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The trick to keeping the crust on pannee meats is to pound the meat thin, dust it lightly with flour, pass it through an egg wash, and then dredge it in the bread crumbs. If the meat can sit in the refrigerator a little while before being fried, so much the better.
Booze in Broadcasting
Today in 1996, the American liquor industry decided to give its blessing to broadcast advertising of its products. Spirits had never been promoted that way; now, 10 years later, ads for whiskey, vodka, gin, rum and the rest of it are still rare. Wine advertising on radio and television has become common, however.
"The Ultimate Disaster Movie" (but not for the reason you're thinking) was the subtitle of Bean, released on this date in 1997. Brit humor . . . Joe Cobb was born today in 1916. He was in the Our Gang movies as Joe . . . Billy Graham, America's most famous preacher, was born today in 1918 . . . Jean Shrimpton, the sophisticated, beautiful British model who was Mick Jagger's girlfriend in the 1960s, was born today in 1942.
Words to Eat By
"Béarnaise sauce is simply an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect." — Fernand Point, influential French chef of the first half of the 1900s.
Words to Lose Your Lunch By
"It's all right, the white wine came up with the fish." — Herman J. Mankiewicz, Hollywood movie producer, born today in 1897. He said this after getting sick at a banquet.