I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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Europe’s the mayonnaise, but America supplies the good old lobster.
~D.H. Lawrence

The sequence goes something like this.  First, lobsters often live in muddy and murky crevices on the sea floor. Then, clawed lobsters (Homarus americanus + Homarus gammarus) are lured into traps offshore ofttimes on the bottom of the chilly northern Atlantic. They frequently stay in the traps baited with dead fish for a couple of days. Once the rancid cages are brought aboard, they are often placed in chilled holding tanks, so when trapped and pulled onto the deck the lobsters will be cold enough to make the return trip.  They are brought into the bay and distributed to trucks, still alive, for transport to local and distant restaurants and stores.  Once bought, they soon meet their maker in the steamer or boiling water.

At first in this country, lobsters were so copious and abundant they were only fed to slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, paupers, lower caste folks, and poor children — much to their chagrin. In contracts, employers went so far as to bar impoverished employees and laws were even passed, from eating this demeaned crustacean more than twice per week. Other than that, these “bugs” were deemed worthy of only being used as fodder, fertilizer, fish bait and fed to goats and pigs.

No longer.  Now, these omnivorous and sometimes cannibalistic sea scavengers which eat bottom food are the grub of the genteel. Moreover, the leggy lobster population is sorely depleted due in large part to the warming and acidification of the oceans which degrades their hard exoskeleton, giving them a form of osteoporosis.  They, along with other shelled animals, are unable to extract calcium carbonate from the water.

A lobster fishermen’s job is quite demanding and rife with risk, darkness, sea swells, fierce body slamming wet sprays and for those unfortunate enough to find themselves overboard, the frigid drink.  As big pharma loves to tout, sometimes this seemingly serene drug can result in death.

LOBSTER WITH FETTUCINE, TAGLIATELLE, OR PAPPARDELLE, GARLIC & CREAM

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 lbs each

2 T butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
bay leaves
A few thyme sprigs
3 C water

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
4-6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 C white wine
1 1/2 T tomato paste

3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 lb linguini or pappardelle pasta, fresh or dry (if dry, follow the instructions on the box)
3-4 T chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
2-3 t lemon zest

Steam or boil lobsters for 5-6 minutes. Cool to room temperature under somewhat cool water. Separate claws and tails from lobster heads and remove tail meat from shell. Pull away black vein and discard, then cut meat into 1/2″ slices and set aside. Firmly yet gently hit claws with a wooden or metal mallet, without removing meat, and set aside.

With a heavy blade, split lobster heads in half lengthwise. Remove and discard stomach sacks and tomalley, if wanted, and roughly chop tail shell. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan or skillet over medium high. Add heads and shells, with juices, and sauté for about 1 minute. Add carrot, celery, bay leaves and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add 3 cups water and simmer rapidly for about 10 minutes to reduce by half. Strain, discarding shells, herbs and vegetables. You should yield 1 1/2 cups rich lobster stock.

Wipe pan with a towel or paper towel and return to stove over medium high heat. Warm the extra virgin olive oil in the saucepan or skillet, then add diced onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onions are completely soft, about 12-15 minutes.

Add wine and simmer rapidly for 2 minutes, then add tomato paste and lobster broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add cream and simmer until sauce has thickened somewhat, about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Once roiling add pasta and cook until al dente. Reheat sauce, add cracked lobster claws and simmer for 2 minutes. Add sliced lobster meat and cook for a minute or less, until just heated through. Drain pasta and add to sauce, tossing to coat noodles with lobster, then transfer to serving bowls. Arrange one claw on top of each serving and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and lemon zest.

LOBSTER SALAD

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pound each

1/2 C homemade mayonnaise (see below)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
2 t thinly sliced chives
1/2 C basil leaves, chiffonaded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring amply salted water to a boil in a large, heavy pot and cook the lobsters for around 6-7 minutes. Remove the lobsters from the water and allow them to reach room temperature by running them under water. Once cooled, remove the claws and knuckles from the lobster, cut the lobsters in half lengthwise and trim off the smaller legs. Remove the lobster meat from the shells, reserving the bodies and cut the meat into 1/2″ pieces.

Accoutre the lobster meat with mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on small salad plates.

Mayonnaise

4 large local egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water.

Stored in the refrigerator, the mayonnaise should last 4-5 days.

Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

An aromatic South Indian bend on a lemon rice recipe posted earlier. (Rice with Lemon & Pine Nuts, June 12, 2009).

Lemons are small evergreen trees (Citrus limon) native to Asia, which also bear the name of the trees’ sunny oval fruits. Although the specific regional origin is debated, it is believed to be somewhere in China or India, where lemons have been cultivated for some 2,500 years. They were supposedly introduced into southern Italy during ancient Roman times and were cultivated in the Mideast and North Africa by the 7th century. Prized for their medicinal value, Arabs scattered these tart orbs throughout the Mediterranean basin during their European conquests. The first European lemon cultivation began in Genoa during the mid-fifteenth century. Christopher Columbus introduced lemons to the New World when he brought seeds to Hispaniola along his voyages.

Not an atypical etymological path for the actual word. The Middle English word limon likely derived the Old French limon, which in turn probably came from the Italian limone—which reverts back to the Arabic word laymūn or līmūn, which comes from the Persian word līmūn.

LEMON RICE

1 1/2 C basmati rice
3 C water
1/2 t salt

2 T canola oil
1/3 C unsalted roasted peanuts

1/2 t cumin seeds, roasted and finely ground
1/2 t mustard seed
1 t turmeric
2 red whole dried red chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/2 T curry powder
Pinch of garam masala
1/4 C lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste

Freshly grated coconut, for garnish (optional)

Wash rice gently changing water several times until the water appears clear. Drain the rice and put it into the saucepan. Add water and salt, and bring to a gentle boil, then promptly reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook until the rice is tender and “fish eyes” appear on the surface, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork. Set aside, covered.

Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan on medium heat. Sauté the peanuts until the change color to light brown, about 2 minutes. Remove the peanuts and place in a bowl.

Add ground cumin and mustard seeds and once the seeds crackle add red chili, curry, garam masala, turmeric, and stir briefly. Mix in the already cooked rice, peanuts and lemon juice, then season with salt to taste. Toss the rice in the pan so that the spices mix evenly in the rice, ensuring that the rice is evenly yellow. Much like paella, if the rice at the bottom hardens, do not scrape the bottom of the pan.

If desired, garnish each serving with grated coconut.

Pourboire: if locally available, add a few sprigs of curry leaves in lieu of the curry powder. The curry tree (Murraya koenigii), in the citrus family, has small, oval leaves with a pleasing aroma that hints of tangerine and anise.

Fried Bird

April 8, 2009

The light delectable tapas behind us, I felt the urge to offer some heartier fare.

Frying food, including chicken, is both an antiquated and timeless cooking method…going back to ancient cultures such as Egypt, Rome and Asia, even medieval Europe. For instance, Apicius mentions sweet and savory fritters in his classic Roman cooking text even though he does not detail the cooking methodology. This widespread early birth of fried food is no surprise, as dredging foods with flour and spices then frying tenderizes and enhances flavor.

In the 19th century, fried chicken emerged as a deeply rooted staple in the American South with many claiming that Scottish immigrants brought their tradition of deep fat frying chicken to these states. At the same time, the efficient cooking process was well adapted to the plantation life of African-American slaves, who were sometimes allowed to raise chickens…introducing seasonings and spices that were earlier absent in Scottish cuisine.

Whatever the origin, fried chicken often provokes strong emotions and opinions about technique.

Although not crucial, this recipe entails soaking the fowl in a brining solution before beginning the actual cooking process. Briefly (and inadequately), brining alters cellular structure so that more water than usual is retained while the meat is denatured. As the meat cooks, the heated proteins will begin to reduce tightly and exude juice at a lower rate, producing a more tender piece of meat. We hope.

When brining, be sure to use the appropriate container, such as glass or plastic. Aluminum is not a good choice because the salted water and enzymes in the meat combine, creating a chemical reaction with the aluminum which adversely affects flavor.

FRIED CHICKEN

1 free range, organic fryer chicken

Brine solution:
3/4 C honey
12 whole peppercorns
6 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs rosemary
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3/4 C lemon juice
1 part sea salt to 8 parts cold water, enough to cover chicken

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 C all purpose flour
2 T garlic powder
2 T onion powder
2 T sweet paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper

1 quart buttermilk
2 T hot chili sauce (Sriracha)

Peanut oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh sage
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Prepare the brine solution by combining all ingredients and stirring well in a large heavy pot; bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then cool completely. In a large bowl or container, cover the chicken entirely with the cooled brine solution. Refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 8 hours. Rinse and pat dry. Cut into eight pieces and season with salt and pepper.

In a large shallow platter, mix the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne until well blended and then season with pepper. In another platter, combine the buttermilk and hot sauce with a small whisk.

Drain the chicken and pat it dry. Dredge the pieces, a few at a time, in the flour mixture, then dip them into the buttermilk; dredge them again in the seasoned flour. Set aside and let the chicken rest while you prepare the oil. If possible, let stand 1 hour on parchement paper.

Add about 3 inches of peanut oil to a large deep heavy pot. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and garlic to the cool oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil registers 340 to 350 F. The herbs and garlic will perfume the oil with their flavor as the oil comes up to temperature. Skim the fried herbs out of the oil and set aside. Remove garlic and discard. Do not allow the garlic to burn.

Working in batches, carefully add the chicken pieces 3 or 4 at a time. Fry, turning the pieces once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 12 minutes for dark meat and 8 minutes for breasts. When the chicken is done, remove from pan and allow to drain on paper towels. Season some with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. When serving scatter the reserved fried herbs over the top. Serve hot or room temperature.

Serve with mashed potatoes (see Smashed Potatoes post) and green beans with finely diced garlic.

Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips…
~Charles Dickens

An ultimate comfort food.

Potatoes are starchy, tuberous herbaceous perennials from the Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. Peru has been recognized as the birthplace of this highly nutritious culinary staple which has been cultivated for as many as 10,000 years. The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and spread by sailors throughout the world’s ports, eventually finding its place in fields across the continents.

The English “potato” derives from the Spanish “patata.”

Smashed potatoes, a rustic version of mashed potatoes, are ample proof that lumps are not evil—rather they impart an intensely rich potato flavor. This does not imply that the satiny, silky version of mashed potatoes are in any way inferior, just different. It just presents a sweet dilemna and depends on the evening’s mood whether they are mashed buttery smooth or left with a luscious, lumpy texture. Leaving skins on (at least in part) gives the potatoes a deep earthiness, and if you love that soil soul shun the peeler and leave them fully clothed.

SMASHED POTATOES WITH TRUFFLE OIL

3 lbs russet or yukon gold potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 t dried thyme, crumbled by fingers
3/4 C heavy cream
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature
1/2 C milk

Truffle oil

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages (not all at once) add cream, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and thyme. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding milk to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will morph into glue or library paste. Add a few drops of truffle oil and continue to beat some. Salt and pepper to taste…I prefer them somewhat peppery. Tasting throughout the process is crucial to attaining the preferred flavors and textures.