The Food Almanac: Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Food Calendar
This is National Remoulade Day. Remoulade is a sharply flavored sauce, usually served cold on cold things. It originated in France, where it evolved into a mayonnaise-based variation on tartar sauce, and became a culinary footnote. When the 1700s version of remoulade reached New Orleans, however, it became popular, and it embarked on a divergent evolution that turned it into a much more pungent, reddish-orange, mayonnaise-free concoction that came to be used as much as a marinade as a sauce. It's likely that the New Orleans version is more like the original French remoulade than the current French version. Remoulade started as a blend of nearly puréed savory vegetables, mustard, and pungent radishes. Remola is a regional French dialect word for a sharply flavored black radish that was part of the recipe back then (but no more, according to the Oxford Food Companion).

The mayo-heavy French remoulade returned to New Orleans, probably in the hands of a French chef who moved here. Now, the white remoulade is at least as common as the local red remoulade. Both have one important ingredient in common: a coarse brown mustard, known locally as Creole mustard. Green onions, Worcestershire, and lemon juice are also common to both. Instead of mayonnaise, the red remoulade has a base of either some form of tomato (ketchup or purée) or a great deal of paprika, emulsified with oil. The controversy over which style of remoulade is best is solved by making and serving both.

The most common food served with remoulade sauce in New Orleans is boiled shrimp. It's one of the two or three best cold appetizers in our cuisine, and incomparably better than the ketchupy cocktail sauce served with boiled shrimp in the rest of America. For that reason, remoulade sauce is spreading across the country, especially in chain restaurants. Recently a vogue has appeared for serving it with fried seafood, in lieu of tartar sauce. Back in France, remoulade almost always sauces celery root. A few inspired chefs serve shrimp and celery root remoulade together. It's a sauce that's rapidly gaining popularity.

We hear that it's National Bologna Day. Bologna isn't the very lowest form of cold cuts — that condemnation belongs to luncheon loaf — but it's pretty bad. It's sort of like the inside of a pork-and-beef hot dog on a large scale. The city of Bologna in Italy knows nothing of it, and should sue. I found a recipe for a baloney sandwich called the Bourbon Street Special at the Oscar Meyer web site. It's like a muffuletta made by someone who's never eaten one.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Saucier, Miss., is 19 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico beaches at Gulfport, up the US 49 artery. It's pronounced in the French way [SO-shay], but the look of the word conjures up a superabundance of delicious sauce. Or the person who makes sauce. Saucier has a population of 1,300, and is evolving from a rural railroad stop in the woods into an exurb of Biloxi and Gulfport. The countryside is rolling, pine-dominated woods. The place to eat is the Magnolia Diner, about three miles south of the center of town.

Edible Dictionary
emulsion, n. — A stable blend of an oil with an aqueous liquid, such that the oil breaks into microscopic globules that remain in suspension. The most familiar emulsions are vinaigrette salad dressings, wherein oil is emulsified into vinegar and water. Many thick sauces — hollandaise and mayonnaise, for example — are emulsions. The advantage of emulsions is that the oils — which are much more readily taken up by the taste buds — bring along the other ingredients, thereby enhancing flavors. A disadvantage is that emulsions can break, when the fats reunite in bigger globules. In recent years this word has spread from cooking technology textbooks to the pages of restaurant menus.

Deft Dining Rule #477
Beware of any restaurant menu that mentions emulsions more than twice. It means the chef is more caught up in his technique than in making you happy.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
If your hollandaise breaks, add a tablespoon of warm water and see if it re-emulsifies. If not, start over again with just one egg yolk, whisking over gentle heat until it gets thick, then whisk in the broken sauce a little at a time.

Music to Eat Sashimi By
Today in 1975, John Lennon released an album of his greatest hits. It was called "Shaved Fish." Yoko Ono really needs to open a sushi bar with that name.

Annals of Candy
Good and Plenty was introduced today in 1894. It's the oldest branded candy in America, and is still going strong under the Hershey umbrella. A single Good and Plenty is a little tube of licorice inside a thick candy shell.

Food in Music
Today in 1929 (which, incidentally, was the day the stock market crashed and triggered the Great Depression), Rudy Vallee began broadcasting his radio show, sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast. Vallee was a heartthrob for his looks and his singing. He had the boyish charm that makes girls swoon. Why that should translate into sales of yeast is hard to figure, but he did help Fleischmann's become the dominant brand of yeast in America — a position it still holds. Rudy Vallee's expiration date was July 3, 1986.

Food Inventions
Hippolyte Mège Mouriés, a major food chemist in the dawn of that science, was born in France today in 1817. In 1869, he won the prize offered by Emperor Louis Napoleon III to create an acceptable butter substitute: margarine. He used more or less the same process by which fat can be made into soap. He came up with many other ideas, including a process that greatly reduced the amount of wheat needed to make bread, and a method of canning meat.

Nathaniel Wyeth was born today in 1911. He invented polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic that can be made into thin-walled bottles strong enough to hold carbonated beverages under pressure. As in two-liter bottles of Big Shot pineapple drink.

Food Namesakes
George Crumb, a composer who won a Pulitzer Prize, was born on this date in — again! 1929! Black Monday! Here's another odd coincidence: Crumb was from West Virginia, and today is the day its citizens voted to form a new state, at the outset of the Civil War in 1861 . . . Motown Records founder Berry Gordy received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today in 1996 . . . Santo Farina, who played steel guitar with his brother Johnny on the classic 1950s tune "Sleepwalk," was born today in 1937. It was the last instrumental to hit Number One for five years . . . Jose Serrano, U.S. Congressman from New York, was born today in 1943 . . . Lazar Weiner, who composed dozens of Yiddish songs, was born today in 1897 . . . . Tila Tequila, Singapore-born, Vietnamese-heritage, American model, was born today in 1981 . . . Professional golfer Ian Baker-Finch teed off his life today in 1960.

Words to Eat By
"My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, baloney, Cheddar cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise on toasted bread with catsup on the side." — Hubert H. Humphrey.

No wonder we didn't elect him president.

Words to Drink By
"And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.'"
G.K. Chesterton, British writer of the 1800s.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.