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Hooray, fat!

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is “Malcolm in the Middle.” Shot on film, no audience, no laugh track, fantastic writing and cast, and had us laughing to the point of weeping and gasping on a weekly basis.

Reese, in trouble againIf you remember the show, you’ll remember Reese (portrayed by Justin Berfield), the second-oldest brother. He was a ne’er-do-well and schoolyard bully who never missed an opportunity to torture his younger brothers Malcolm and Dewey, and was for the most part thick as a plank. Between the two of them, the brainpower seesaw tipped entirely to Malcolm, not leaving Reese with very much — his nefarious schemes had a way of blowing up in his face, as the picture indicates. As the show progressed, though, we saw that Reese had some unexpected gifts and talents — for one, as we learned during the latter part of the show’s run, he was a very skilled and accomplished cook.

In one episode — I can’t remember which one — he was cooking a lavish meal, and another character criticized the fat content. Reese turned around and authoritatively said,

“Fat is the medium by which flavor travels. Fat is what makes food taste good. This is why a wise and loving God gave us fat in the first place.”

We gaped, and kept rewinding the DVR so that we could write it down. We quote this line frequently, and practically had it carved into a stone monument. Reese, who knew you were such a genius?! (Well, whichever writer put the words in his mouth, of course.)

Genius, that is, except for one recent development … as of this week he’s not quite right. Turns out that fat isn’t just the medium by which flavor travels … it’s an essential taste all on its own.

Aussie researchers have discovered that fat is the sixth human taste, along with sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Now … I don’t ever want to see another fat-free processed product ever again!


Eating in Shropshire

There’s a persistent myth that the food in England is bad.

Well … years ago, such assertions might have had a basis in truth, such as the joke my friend Peter told me upon returning from having spent his junior year of college in London: “How does every English recipe begin? ‘First you bring the water to a rolling boil …’” Boiled meats, yeah, not so much.

A lot has changed since then. Over the past few decades many British cooks and chefs have been training in Europe and learning how to better use the wealth of wonderful ingredients that they’ve always had — beef, lamb, cheese and more. Sure, it’s possible to get bad food in England, but it’s possible to get bad food in Paris (and New Orleans, for that matter).

The myth reared its head quite frequently upon our return from Europe last month when I told friends how wonderful all the food was, not only in Paris and Barcelona but in England as well. I’m happy to continue to dispel that myth today.

A while back we went over the fab food we had in London, and it only got better when we left after a day and a half in London to drive out to the rural west with John and Fiona to their home in Shropshire near the Welsh border.

Shropshire arrival

At breakfast time Fiona didn’t mess around. She knew who she had in their house.

Three kinds of Welsh bacon!

Not one, not two but THREE kinds of Welsh bacon! Dry cured back bacon and streaky bacon from Llandinham, and smoked streaky bacon from Neuadd Fach Baconry in Hyssington, about 20 minutes up the road into Wales. (I just want to keep saying the word “baconry.” In fact, I want a baconry for my birthday.) The back bacon was some of the best I’d ever had, meaty and tender, and the streaky was very much like some of the artisanal bacons we get over here. Wonderful stuff.

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My Dinner with Ludo

So, a little while back my new friend Noelle said some of my favorite words:  “Hey, I’m going to a fabulous dinner in a couple of weeks!  You must come with me!”  The tragedy was that Chuck would be out of town at the time, and would have to miss out.  I decided to man up and have a good time anyway.  As it happens, he ended up drinking all that same evening at Anvil in Houston, under the most excellent attentions of barmaster Bobby Heugel.  I’m sure Chuck will be writing about this in short order, so we’ll all be able to see just how much he was not, in fact, suffering.

What Noelle had in mind was a Ludo Bites dinner, a kind of guerrilla-style dining experience orchestrated by Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  The December incarnations of Ludo Bites are taking place at the Royal/T Café in Culver City, which bills itself as “LA’s first Japanese style cosplay café.”  What this means for civilians is a fascinating fusion of café, shopping and art space in an open, relaxing environment.  Which, I might add, happened to be whimsically decorated for Christmas.

Noelle arrived first, saw me drive by, called my mobile and said, “Park anywhere, it’s Sunday, the meters don’t matter!”  Yay for Sunday!  We were joined in short order by Noelle’s friends Kara and Mei-Lan, which made our party three girls to one boy, which made me the evening’s official Chick Magnet.  I’m just sayin’.

We perused the evening’s menu with high anticipation and growing fascination.  It’s a menu of small plates, larger than tapas but still ideal for sharing, which after all is the whole point, isn’t it?  (I told the story of a good friend who for a metaphorical few minutes dated a girl we ultimately never met, because at a dinner out one evening it was discovered that She Did Not Share Her Food.  It sounds like a sad story, but the ending is the best kind of happy, believe me.)  Within moments, I heard more of my favorite words, again I believe from Noelle:  “Let’s just order the whole menu, share everything and then see how we feel.  ‘Kay?”  It was perfectly ‘Kay by me–after all, it was only ten small plates plus dessert–and Kara and Mei-Lan raised no objections.  Let the games begin!

I’ll apologize right up front for my food photography, which is nowhere near Chuck’s in quality.  The lighting out our table was very dim and very warm, although we did have the benefit of the glow from more than one Christmas tree, and as you shall see there were mishaps along the way.  And I was too lazy to get up from the table to use the thoughtfully provided lightbox.

The first plate was described as “Tuna Sashimi, Sushi Rice Ice Cream, Yuzu Soy Sauce Gelée, Smoked Ginger Oil.”  (The word “Yuzu” had been scratched out and replaced with “Soy Sauce” written by hand.)  I’m not sure how different the yuzu gelée would have been, but I love me some sashimi, tuna in particular, and this dish was remarkable.  The tuna was a nice little slab, enough for four good bites (and a good thing, too).  The ginger oil and soy gelée made interesting flavor counterpoints to the rich, velvety tuna, and that alone would have been wonderful, but for me the sushi rice ice cream was what put it over the top.  It was heavy, but in a good rather than a bad way, like the luxurious weight of a goose-down duvet on a chilly Saturday morning, when you don’t have to get up, not just yet.  It was just sweet enough, with only enough sugar to register and not enough to overwhelm the subtle flavor of rice.  I think I said something like, “I’ll be needing several pints of that, to take home.”

The second plate to arrive:  Egg “Meurette”, with Red Cabbage and Lardo Toast.  That’s right, lardo toast.  Sauce meurette always fascinates me because the dark flavors of its constituent red wine and stock seem like they would be well paired with meat, but traditionally it accompanies eggs or fish.  Here the egg was perfectly, perfectly soft-poached.  The slivered red cabbage added some crunch for good textural contrast, although without adding much actual flavor to the concentrated essences of the sauce.  The lardo toasts — oh, the toasts!  More great crunch against the softness of the egg, and spread with pork fat … what’s not to love?  I would gladly have stolen this whole plate for myself, but I couldn’t come up with a good enough distraction on such short order.

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Eating in London

Yes, we took a trip to Europe last month! Yes, we’re procrastinating when it comes to writing about it. I’m going to start today; you can needle Wesly for his contributions as appropriate.

I do love nonstop flights, especially when they’re affordable. When they get us directly from L.A. to Heathrow with a relative minimum of discomfort for steerage coach class, all the better. Our dear friends John and Fiona Hoskins picked us up at the airport after a quick trip through immigration and Customs, and off we went to Hampton Court!

That’s Hampton Court Palace, in fact, where King Henry VIII used to live with his various wives back in the 16th Century, and where we were staying at the Georgian House, a guesthouse converted from kitchen staff housing right on the palace grounds.

Georgian House's private garden

That’s the private garden outside the house. Not bad.

When we arrived we were greeted by a tantalising aroma, which was Fiona’s 24-hour slow roasted pork:

24-hour slow-roasted pork

… served along with cracklings (the crispy skin) and a side of pasta with tomatoes and roasted red peppers … oh my. We spent the entire first evening in London at the Georgian House, catching up with John and Fiona, drinking Plymouth gin & tonics, presenting them with bottles of Torani Amer so that they can continue to make their namesake Hoskins Cocktail at home, stuffing ourselves with pork and generally having a grand time, jet lag be damned.

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This is my new favorite word.

Oddly enough, I’d never come across it until today, considering that I’ve been cooking for so long. (I love this about life, though … I love learning new stuff every day.)

Spatchcocking is the process of removing the backbone from a turkey, chicken or other bird and flattening it out so that it cooks evenly and in far less time than roasting a whole bird. From Grace Yang in Serious Eats:

The breast meat turns out very tender, the drumsticks are juicy and flavorful, and the entire thing is done in half the time.

While the typical turkey-roasting (for a 10- to 12-pound bird) can last about three hours, this shaves off at least half of that. Last weekend, I tested this approach and the turkey came out beautifully. [...]

The first step to a perfect spatchcocked turkey is brining. Letting the bird sit in a salt-and-herb mixture overnight allows the wonderful flavors to distribute evenly. [...]

Everyone at our party loved the spatchcocked turkey. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the entire thing was done in half the time a traditional roasting method takes.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the key concept here is that it takes half the time. This is crucial when you’ve got a dozen things going at once on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The bird also lies flatter in the oven, leaving more room for you to stick side dishes in while the turkey’s cooking.

I’m going to try this this year. We’re guests at Wes’ sister’s house for Thanksgiving, but we’re hosting Christmas Day dinner at our place this year, The carol I’ll be singing in the kitchen will be “We Wish You A Juicy Spatchcock.”

The San Francisco Chronicle also offers instructions on spatchcocking a chicken.

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