Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Daube is a Fancy Name for Stew

After the usual Christmas victuals, the quiet, let's-hide-out home life kicks in without general family obligations. So it's a time for comfort food. A favorite cookbook over this season is Paula Wolfert's, The Cooking of Southwest France, a book that you need if you cook and expect cold weather. I made a Daube of Oxtail to Wolfert's recipe. I have to say that this is one of The sublime dishes. It's clarity, depth and sheer richness are unbeatable. A little goes a very long way when paired with fat buttered flat egg noodles and a braised lettuce salad on the side. Unusually, I didn't mess with the recipe much except to substitute veal stock for the pig's foot which I couldn't easily find. You might ask, why? Living in a town full of carnicerias and ethnic markets that you mention frequently, why couldn't you find the ingredients? The answer is simple: Los Angeles is a hard place to navigate quickly even when you know it well due to the distances involved in this vast city and also the abundance of hidden sources that really always need to be personally indexed. So far I haven't been able to devote time to this pursuit. Fun thing is that "stew" is an umbrella name for a multitude of dishes usually thought of as some nondescript wet mass, often with the inaccurate adjective "Irish" attached. This stew, a daube, was one of the greatest I have ever cooked. There was very little extra liquid but that fully flavorful and a knockabout to the meaty bones. Truth is, as I shared the dish with others, in thanks, they put me on track to sainthood as a result!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Feasting Aplenty

In recent weeks I've cooked many a feast and partaken of a couple, too. Before I get all medieval like, I should say that two of those I cooked were no-brainers: A huge rib roast where timing, temperature and the look of the roast toward the end were the most important factors, and a pork loin with prunes, likewise a dish I cook with little mental effort as the creaminess of the wine soaked reconstituted prunes braised with the meat and its rich juices provide so much of the action to those who taste it for the first time. These two dishes were made for Christmas Day and were accompanied by Erin's delicious Roast Turkey up in Old Bakersfield.

I was given a great book for Christmas, Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman who co-authors all of Thomas Keller's (French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se) cookbooks. It will become a favorite of mine because it is complete and thorough and highly lucid, with recipes both simple and complex and every section yields a goldmine of tricks. It includes a good source guide for those hard to find curing salts and more exotic ingredients. Charcuterie is the preservation of meats and offal, mainly from pork and fowl, which the French particularly have elevated to high art. Way beyond sausage and salami, bacon or rilettes, there are a myriad of very elaborate and complex delicacies that simultaneously appear to hide and reveal the character of the host meats. Like all art, charcuterie aims to distil the essence of its subject's parts into something new and then reminding us continually of the original. The Romans probably invented charcuterie, pork being their most prized meat and its production and sale was governed under law. This book travels the world with such favorites as lemon confit from North Africa, and duck prosciutto from who knows where? At the same time, rather punningly, I received the new huge Bacon book (Francis, that is) , which I had been jonesing for, and which contains plenty of flesh including a hog or two. It accompanied the Palazzo Reale retrospective recently which will hit New York's Metropolitan Museum pretty soon on its way from London. Anyone want to fly me out? 

One last bookish comment: I also received Molecular Gastronomy, by Hervé This which approaches cooking from a mainly scientific viewpoint and contains fascinating illuminations on the whys and wherefores of how a dish works. I am also amazed at the economy with which Monsieur This writes, since every essay seems to be the same short length, like so many molecules making up a burst of flavor.