"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Haschich Not Included

In my Cookbook A Week project I was a little frightened to discover that The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook was up this week. If you've never read it, you're probably under the misapprehension that it's all crazy hippie recipes for pot brownies. It's true that Miss Toklas did include a friend's recipe for "Haschich Fudge" in her (terrifying*) section on friends' recipes, but the book is devoted to wonderful stories of life with Gertrude Stein and their circle of artist friends in France during and after war rationing, and amazing, classic French cooking, with Miss Toklas's often brilliant asides.** Recipes are interleaved with stories, and it's just a terrific read.

But I'd never though to try to cook from it, and now I was going to have to brave it. It's not just the rich and sometimes unavailable ingredients that threw me (endless butter, truffles, frogs' legs, hare's blood) but the recipes often call for outdated cuts of meat and kitchen equipment, and measurements are often vague, such as having you add a soupspoon or glassful of something.

It came down to two recipes, really -- one for rolled slices of beef filled with a paste of anchovies, garlic, onion, and parsely, browned in butter, and cooked in veal stock and then cream (to be served with "Gourmet's Potatoes" which called for tons of butter and truffles) or "Godmother's Chicken" which required not just one but two whole sticks of butter. I went with the latter, but did not make "Potatoes Smothered in Butter" to go with it. That was a good call, because even the one stick of butter was over the top. This butter is mashed with chopped tarragon and chicken bouillon, then stuffed in the chicken, which is sewn up and skewered and then simmered in stock. Once removed from the pot and drained of its cavity juices and butter, all of that and the cooking liquid is reduced and then ANOTHER stick of butter is added, plus Madeira, nutmeg, cayenne, and lemon juice. This is a lush, juicy, delicious chicken dish, not that exciting to look at, but easy to make and delicious.

*The friends section is terrifying in that various posh friends submit recipes for things like Aspic Salad, made with a can of Campbell's tomato soup, a package of Philadelphia cream cheese, gelatine, Miracle Whip, and chopped vegetables, all suspended in a ring mould.

**The book contains the second-greatest footnote in literary history (the first being Freud's footnote about men pissing on fires in Civilization and its Discontents). In a recipe entitled "Gigot de la Clinque," a leg of mutton is marinated for days and injected at regular intervals with a mixture of orange juice and cognac, delivered by syringe. For the uninitiated, Miss Toklas drops the following footnote:
Note. A marinade is a bath of wine, herbs, oil, vegetables, vinegars and so on, in which fish or meat destined for particular dishes repose for specified periods of time and acquire virtue.

1 comment:

Casey said...

My favorite Alice B. T. anecdote:
A writer (whose name has long since departed my memory bank) was visiting and offered to help alice in the kitchen. Alice gave her some celery to de-string. Writer, not aware that one even needed to de-string celery, set about the task with devotion. After 10 minutes or so of work, writer haded Alice the celery stalks. The Mustached One looked at them for a long moment and then handed them back to her guest, saying: "I said to de-string them."