The Food Almanac: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Staff Writer
It's Paprika Day!
Wikimedia Commons

Before the new era of gourmandise dawned in the late 1970s, paprika was widely overused to add color to wan-looking dishes.

Today's Flavor
Today in 1989, Hungary became a fully independent republic again, ditching the Communist government supported by the former Soviet Union. Hungary. Home of Tokai, one of the world's great (and underappreciated) sweet wines. And the homeland (and best sources of) paprika. Paprika looms large in Hungarian cuisine, one we have been able to enjoy here in New Orleans very rarely in restaurants. And that's why today is Paprika Day. Paprika is a simple enough substance: it's simply dried, powdered red pepper. The species is capsicum annuum, the familiar bell pepper. However, in Hungary they've hybridized a variety that's long and narrow, with a bit more heat. Hungarian paprika ranges from sweet (not spicy, in other words) to very hot. Often the hot varieties get that was from having cayenne added to them--not a big deal, since cayenne is closely related to this pepper, anyway. Before the new era of gourmandise dawned in the late 1970s, paprika was widely overused to add color to wan-looking dishes. That use, and paprika in general, fell out of favor. But it has other contributions to make. I like it particularly as an ingredient in cold sauces, notably remoulade. The version at Arnaud's has a lot of paprika in it. Also, the old (and apparently departed) house salad dressing at Ruth's Chris was a vinaigrette with a lot of paprika and Parmesan cheese. Paprika is also a big ingredient in my version of barbecue shrimp. Think about paprika again, especially the spicy kind.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pepper, Delaware is in the southern part of the state. It's a farming area, and at Pepper are rows of sheds for bringing the crops and the horses in. It looks like the kind of place where lots of good country farm cooking goes on. But, if not, you can drive five miles into Laurel and dine at the Oasis.

Edible Dictionary
sauce piquant [sose pee-KAHNT], n., Cajun--Not so much a sauce as it is a dish, a sauce piquant is a spicy stew that can be made with a variety of meats, poultry, and seafood. The classics are chicken, alligator, and turtle sauce piquant. The sauce is very similar to Creole sauce, with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and celery. It's all held together with a roux (different cooks make that in different shades), and fired up with varying amounts of cayenne (again, depending on the palate of the cook). Despite the name, most versions are less than fiery. Like gumbos, no two sauce piquant dishes are alike.

Food Inventors
Nicholas Appert was born today in 1749, in Chalons-Sur-Marne, France. Appert changed the world of food by finding that if you fill a container with food, heat it to the boiling point of water, and seal the container in an airtight way, it will preserve the food in something like a natural state for extended periods of time. In other words, Appert invented canning, now the most widely-used method of preserving food in the world. Appert also invented the bouillon cube, a highly-reduced stock with salt and a bit of starch added to keep it from spoiling. It's an easy, if not particularly good, way of obtaining a quick stock.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Have a spray bottle full of water handy when you're grilling fish on a charcoal grill. Get the heat way up there, and every now and then shoot a few stream of water into the hot coals. Billows of steam will come up, adding a blast of moist heat to the fish and keeping it tender. (The spray bottle should not be one that used to have some chemical in it previously, of course.)

Food In Crime
Today in 1935, The Chophouse Massacre took place in Newark, New Jersey. Dutch Schultz, the leader of the Jewish branch of organized crime around New York, was murdered in the men's room of the Palace Chop House and Tavern, along with several of his henchmen.

Annals Of Dessert
Today is the birthday, in 1845, of French actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the most celebrated performer of her time. A widely-sold pastry in New Orleans bakeries was named for her. The bakery most famous for it was the now-extinct Dixiana Bakery on North Broad Street, which claimed to have invented it. No bakery makes it anymore, but it is remembered by enough people that any food writer here is often asked for a source, or at least a recipe. It's complicated, to say the least. It involved making a yellow layer cake and then topping it with a sweetened yeast dough, of the kind used for doughnuts. It's covered with a red glaze made with rum and currant jelly. It sounds very difficult, and not very good--but the nostalgia eaters wish for it fervently.

Deft Dining Rule #139
The best place to dine alone in a restaurant, even if you're not drinking, is at the bar. Restaurateurs take special care of people dining at the bar, because they add value to a restaurant's space. Expect a free glass of wine.

Food Namesakes 
New Orleans R&B girl singing group The Dixie Cups has a birthday today: Barbara Ann Hawkins, one of its members, was born today in 1943. . . Gummo Marx, the least-known of the Marx Brothers (he acted with them for awhile, then became their business manager), was born today in 1893. . . Nobel Prize in Physics winner Ilya Frank was born today in Russia in 1908.

Words To Eat By 
"If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners."--Johnny Carson, the most entertaining personality in the history of television, born today in 1925.

Words To Drink By 
"Happiness is finding three olives in your martini when you're hungry."--Johnny Carson.