Adam Gopnik's piece in the April 1st New Yorker about the great chef André Soltner. For 34 years he owned the spectacular French restaurant, Lutèce, in NYC. Mr. Soltner lived above his restaurant, as chefs typically did in earlier days, and he spent every night of those nearly three-and-and-half decades in his dining room welcoming his guests, overseeing service, making sure things were right. I twice had the pleasure of cooking with him at Chez Panisse (accompanying him were Alain Sailhac and Jacques Pépin) for a fund raising dinner for the French Culinary Institute, now called the International Culinary Center, in Manhattan. He's an elegant, gracious, unpretentious man who, sensing our intimidation, said to us gently, "I chop onions for a living, just like you do." I met him again last year at a dinner in NYC, and he remembered what we'd cooked nearly years before. Few are like him. He's a god to us cooks, a chef who knows everything from Garde-manger (in the proper sense) to Pâtisserie, and can explain and cook any of it on a moment's notice. He comes from the Old School of apprenticeship and endless practice that defines the 10,000 hour paradigm and marks the road to his towering mastery. That's why he can make a Sauce Béarnaise without seemingly giving it a thought. That's not quite true, we know, but it sure seems like it. If only there were more like him for us learn from, to hold onto that tradition, so young cooks didn't have improvise without a net, as they often do nowadays.
17 March 2013
Cooking Boudin Blanc
Boudin blanc means “white pudding” in French. To the French, it is the most esteemed of all sausages. They are made with pork, chicken, onions, breadcrumbs, cream, and spices. They’re already fully cooked but need to be gently browned and heated through. Kept in a cold refrigerator (below 40ºF) they will last 8-10 days, and frozen, up to three months.
Cook boudin blanc in a mixture of half light oil and half butter, or in all clarified butter, if you have it. Use a cast iron pan or heavy fry skillet. Heat the pan well, then turn the heat down low. Add a thin coating of the fat to the pan. Cook the sausages for 7 minutes each side, turning once, 15 minutes total. Do not brown them too darkly, as this will make the sausage skin bitter, and you will risk bursting the sausage. Do not cover them, which will definitely cause them to burst.
Serve boudin blanc with good Dijon and little parslied potatoes. Or with and sauerkraut. I like a cru Beaujolais – a Morgon or Brouilly -- a Bourgogne Rouge of character, or a delicious Chinon. Then there’s always Minervois and Anjou…
Along the French coast, crépinettes are often eaten alongside local, flat-shelled oysters with sauce mignonette, the sharp-edged, perfectly delicious combination of shallot, crushed black peppercorns, and white wine. Purists argue that it’s a Parisian affectation, and many aficionados eat their oysters “au nature,” with no condiments at all. But, as the French say, “à chacun, son goût.” Kept the in your refrigerator, crépinettes will last 5-6 days, no longer. They will freeze well up to three months.
Cook crépinettes in a half-half mixture light-bodied oil and half butter, or in just clarified butter, if you have it. Use a heavy fry pan or, preferably, a cast iron skillet. Warm the pan to a gentle sizzle, and then turn the heat down low. Add a thin coating of fat and cook the sausages for seven minutes on each side, turning once, until firm all the way through, about 15 minutes. They are wonderful on the grill, too, cooked for the same amount of time.
Serve crépinettes with buttered baguette and roquette (arugula) salad, or if you’re living large, with your favorite oysters. Some sacrilegiously serve Dijon mustard along side; it’s good but not correct. I like to drink a lovely Savennières from Château d’Epiré with crépinettes – it’s a stunning combination! Failing that, try a good Pic St. Loup blanc or fill-bodied Entre-Deux-Mers. And there’s always Chinon.
Cooking Spicy Calabrian Fennel Sausages
Italian fennel sausages typically come in either sweet or spicy hot. These traditional all-pork Italian sausages are made with fennel seed, Calabrian chili, paprika, and garlic, and are on the hot side, though not blisteringly hot. These Calabrian chilis are pickled and preserved in olive oil. Their brilliant red color tints the sausage brightly.
Cook the sausages over medium heat in a cast iron skillet or on the grill, about 7 minutes on each side, until browned nicely and cooked through, about 14-15 minutes altogether. They are delicious with arugula and pickled onions; uncased, they’re perfect in pasta with rapini and white beans (squeeze them out of the casing, crumble and fry the sausage meat before adding to the pasta); or, my favorite way, on toasted ciabatta with vinegary grilled green peppers and onions. Kept in your refrigerator, they will last perfectly for 5 or 6 days, and can be frozen for up to three months.
26 November 2012
Beyond our excellent and definitive Southern hams, in the U.S. we don't yet have long and varied traditions of curing like we see in Europe. Here, François is our link to the European tradition we emulate and which is the foundation of our craft. The artisan cheese industry to burgeoning, and the interest in meat curing is simply exploding, among both chefs and home-curers. It will be interesting to see who is curing ten years hence, and what the quality is. I'm very excited about all the activity, because twenty years ago you couldn't give away this much pork fat.
12 September 2012
Everyone in New York is from Polizzi Generosa
Some time ago, I blogged about my friend, Vincent Schiavelli, actor and cookbook author, who loved food, loved wine, loved cigarettes and cigars way too much, and for too long. He passed away from lung cancer in 2005.
While I was chef at Chez Panisse Restaurant, I had the good fortune of being asked to cook for the book signings of his first and third books. Many Beautiful Things, told in a poetic, wistful tone, is my favorite of the three. Its cover is beautiful. From that book I learned to make wild fennel liqueur, or finucchiedda. Wild fennel is ubiquitous in northern California, as it is in Sicily, and a gracious distiller friend provided me with the spirits.
Amid great confusion and with endless re-calculating of formulae, I produced my first batch of finucchiedda and surprised Vincent with it at the dinner. Miraculously, the liqueur had come out absolutely correct and Vincent was delighted by it, saying it captured the exact flavor and smell of Sicilia. Vincent and I remained in contact until his death. Since that first attempt I’ve made finucchiedda every year, and have given it away to friends.
Last year, while living in Lower Manhattan, I met the
butcher Moe Albanese, whose shop was just a few doors from my funky Elizabeth
Street railroad flat. I wrote about him
in an earlier posting, too.
|Elizabeth Street in 1912|
Moe’s father, Vicenzo, had emigrated to the U.S. in 1911; his mother, Mariannina, had been born and grew up on Elizabeth Street, then the heart of New York City’s Little Italy. One block west on Mott Street Vicenzo operated a little restaurant that closed in 1923 under Prohibition laws. Vicenzo needed to find a new livelihood. He and Mariannina were newly married when they opened their little shop at 239 Elizabeth Street, across the street from where Moe's is now located. Mariannina spoke English but Vicenzo did not, so she helped the customers in the front and he butchered the meats behind the counter.
Moe came up in the shop, and became a butcher instead of a physician. After his father passed away in the 1950’s, Moe ran the shop along side his mother for over 50 years. Mariannina died in 2002 at age 97, the year Many Beautiful Things was published.
by models, artists, and tourists from everywhere. It seems as though there’s always a movie being shot on the block. But if you can, drop by his shop and chat with him. Though Moe shows no signs of selling up or retiring – I asked him both questions – who knows how much longer he’ll cut steaks and pound veal scallopini?
I’d occasionally lurk in the shop, hoping to politely engage him in conversation about his life as a butcher, or about the neighborhood as it once was. Lurking wasn’t easy since it there’s no place to hide in the tiny shop, and not infrequently I find no one there but Moe. Sometimes it was awkward, and I’d buy a steak or an oxtail, say goodbye, and quietly leave. Other times, under the guise of browsing, I was able to observe the conversations between him and his guests. It was hard to distinguish who was family and who were friends. Once, eager to bond with Moe and show him that we shared a profession, I gave him my business card, which reads, “Old Fashioned Butcher.” When I presented it to him, he muttered, with wry humor, that I’d stolen his name. I was shamed by his comment and embarrassed that I’d used the name “butcher.” I felt I’d disrespected him. After that, I stopped in a little less often, and when I did I tried not to make too much eye contact. I’d meant only to show him respect but it backfired nastily. Who are we to call ourselves butchers, in comparison to him?
Recently, I watched – almost out of obligation – what turned out to be a terrifically engaging film: Martin Scorsese’s, “My Voyage to Italy” (1999). Describing his childhood, Scorcese mentions that he’d grown up on Elizabeth Street, where his family lived in the 1940’s. I jolted to attention at his mention of this. He explained how as a child on Friday and Saturday nights he’d sit with his family and a few neighbors, glued to the television set, watching the Italian films that had come to America. This was their big night out. Like many others with a similar immigrant experience, he and his family were transported back to their homeland by the bittersweet films they studiously watched.
Scorsese’s subdued narrative is a quiet history of Italian filmmaking. He recounts being drawn into that world by the masterpieces of Italian Neo-Realism, and includes clips from 38 of the seminal films of the genre; Vittorio di Sica, Lucchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni are all represented – it was they who seduced him into filmaking. Roberto Rossellini’s films comprise more than half of those referenced, and Scorsese’s title reflects that of Rossellini’s own Viaggio in Italia (1954).
|"Riso Amaro" by Giuseppe De Santis (1949)|
You may have guessed by now that Scorsese’s family were also from Polizzi Generosa, who, like any others left their beloved homeland for a new life in America. But what was this place that so many left behind? How small is the world that these three men were delivered into the world by families from that same distant place? I later understood that they all left Polizzi for a life none of them could imagine but one they knew held the promise of a better life for them and their families. That I found all of them in a tiny circle within New York City by incredible accident was astonishing to me.