The Food Almanac: Wednesday, September 3, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Baked Oysters Day!
David Veksler

Fancy restaurants all over America once had dishes like oysters Rockefeller as a menu mainstay. They went out of fashion in the 1980s, largely because restaurants started getting careless with their preparation.

Today's Flavor
This is National Baked Oysters Day. Fancy restaurants all over America once had dishes like oysters Rockefeller as a menu mainstay. They went out of fashion in the 1980s, largely because restaurants started getting careless with their preparation. At the same time, cooks developed the habit of piling too much sauce atop the oysters, making it impossible for a diner to eat the standard half-dozen then go on to eat anything else. 

The current vogue is to add lighter sauces and garnishes than what had been used in the past. Say a bit of prosciutto, a few leaves of spinach, and enough butter to pull it together. Another interesting innovation has been to leave the oyster out when the sauce is baked on the shell, then frying it before installing it on top of the sauce--perhaps with a spoonful of something like mornay sauce. 

Now that oysters are back in season (although perhaps still too flaccid for most uses just now), this is the perfect time of year for a grand platter of baked oysters on a bed of rock salt. By the way, the rock salt is there to keep the shells from rocking. In case you wondered. (They certainly don't need to be kept any hotter than they are.)

Annals Of Food Writing
Craig Claiborne was born today in 1920. A Mississippi native, he was a food writer for the New York Times for decades. In the 1960s, he inaugurated the restaurant review column in the Times, setting the standard for everyone else since who pursued that vocation. Nobody ever questioned Claiborne's reviews, because his depth of knowledge as a cook was very well known. I tested that when he appeared on my radio show in 1988. Very nice man and a first-class writer. If you want to know all about him, read his book A Feast Made For Laughter. He left us in 2000.

Namesakes Of Great Dishes 
This is the birthday, in 1768, of François-René de Chateaubriand, French writer and political figure throughout the years before and after the French Revolution. His name is best known as the common term for a double (or larger) filet mignon, roasted or grilled in one piece and then carved at the table. There's some dispute as to which cut of beef should be used for Chateaubriand.Some authorities say that it refers to the butt end of the tenderloin, and others the sirloin. If you order a Chateaubriand in most restaurants, however, you will be served a five- or six-inch piece of tenderloin cut from its center. The standard preparation gives it a different, juicier texture than it would have were it cooked as individual steaks. Bearnaise sauce is the classic accompaniment, but Perigourdine sauce is also favored.

Eating Around America
Today is the anniversary, in 1781 of the founding of Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of the Little Portion. It Spanish name was shortened to Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles is one of the best restaurant cities in the country, although that is a relatively recent development. The proximity of the California produce and wine growing areas is a big plus. The wealthy customer base, which places great emphasis on socializing and the trappings of uniqueness, support a broad array of restaurants, with lots of financial lubrication for the most ambitious and expensive restaurants. The trend there now is in the direction of locally-raised ingredients and rustic cooking styles.

Edible Dictionary
clarified butter, n.--Another name for drawn butter. It's the clear liquid fat left over after butter sits in a saucepan over a low heat. After a time, all the water in the butter boils off, and the milk solids that make butter opaque precipitate. The latter both rises to the top and sinks to the bottom of the pan. The floating milk solids are spooned out. Then the clear butter is poured--"drawn"--away from the solids at the bottom. Clarified/drawn butter has many uses, the most familiar of them being the accompaniment for boiled lobster or other big shellfish. The stuff is shelf-stable. In India, it's called "ghee," and is used in a host of dishes. Clarified butter can be made much hotter than unclarified melted butter, and is terrific for cooking.

History Of The Restaurant Biz
Today in 1885 in New York City, the first recorded self-service restaurant anywhere opened. It was the Exchange Buffet, at 928 Broadway. For some reason, it was open only to men.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Boeuf--French for "beef," and therefore a common word in cookbooks and on menus--is in extreme south central Louisiana, out among the swamps, bayous, oil and gas fields, and Cajuns. It's on Bayou Boeuf, an ancient route of the Mississippi River. The bayou is now entangled with the growing Atchafalaya River, which is destined to take over the flow of the Mississippi at some time in the future. Three generations of highways cross the bayou at Boeuf: the Southern Pacific (now BNSF) railroad, the old US 90, and the new US 90, destined to become I-49. Boeuf is much more industrial than residential; most people around there live in Amelia, across the bayou. The place to eat is Sandi's Bar and Grill.

Food Namesakes
William Colby was sworn in as director of the CIA today in 1973, by Richard Nixon. . . Smashing Pumpkins won seven MTV Video Music Awards today in 1996. . . Actor Leonard Frey was born today in 1938. . . Actress Jennifer Salt was born today in 1944. . . The now-infamous Anthony Weiner, former Congressman from New York, was born today in 1964. (Yes, I know a hot dog is spelled "wiener.")

Words To Eat By
"Cooking is at once one of the simplest and most gratifying of the arts, but to cook well one must love and respect food."--Craig Claiborne, born today in 1920.

"I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we're talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime 'associates,' food, for me, has always been an adventure."--Anthony Bourdain.

 
Related Links
Everything You Need to Know About Oysters