Posts Tagged ‘Tamar Adler’

Luxury Dances With Penury

Tonight I ate one of the most extravagant meals I’ve had for a while, and somehow it led me to meditate upon thrift. The main ingredient, two legs of the highest quality Alaskan king crab I’ve come across in years, cost a bomb. But careful orchestration of other ingredients made this all come together in (reasonably) economical style.

Let’s start with the broth. I have written obsessively about the value of good broth, but that won’t stop me from doing it again. When it comes to seafood, it’s essential to remember a few basic things:

1. Seafood broth should be made from seafood, maybe with the addition of some white fish scraps but no salmon or other oily fish and no commercial clam broth. Any avid seafood eater can smell those spurious additions from a long way away.

2. You’re looking for the waste bits of otherwise excellent seafood; shrimp shells, crab shells, shrimp heads, etc. For the clean but intense broth above, I lucked into some lobster carcasses by trading Louisiana seafood stories with the proprietor of a luxury seafood shop. Accept what you are offered with glad thanksgiving.

3. Fish and seafood broth should be boiled at a furious boil for 20 minutes, not simmered for longer times. Then cool, drain, and use or freeze.

4. Build up intensity in layers. Boil, drain, cover new ingredients with the broth, and boil and drain again. You can freeze between boiling episodes. The lobster carcasses came my way over a year ago, and made a quart of rich stock. Then I thawed it and used it to boil shrimp shells, cooled it, and froze it again. Finally, it was thawed and used to boil the shells of the king crab. It was loaded with seafood flavor, but had a clean fresh taste because it was never overcooked.

Given a potent base like this, you don’t need much else. The meat of the two crab legs was cut into good-sized chunks. I used four large stout scallions from my garden, sliced crosswise at 1/4″ intervals and  whites kept separate from greens. My garden scallions are huge, and a dozen store-bought scallions would be needed to approximate them.   Other ingredients were butter, a cup of heavy cream, and three egg yolks from my backyard hens.

Sauté the white parts of the scallions in a quarter cup of butter over medium heat with a hefty pinch of salt until they are softened and translucent. Add the green parts, sauté another minute or two, and add a quart of rich seafood broth. Boil hard until reduced by about half, then add the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Taste and check for salt. Reduce heat and lay the chunks of crabmeat in the saucepan and heat through. Lift the crabmeat and some of the scallions in two soup bowls, leaving most of the broth and cream behind.

To make the egg yolk liaison, beat up the three egg yolks in a bowl, add about half a cup of the hot seafood broth from the saucepan slowly to the bowl while whisking rapidly, then pour the yolk mixture slowly into the saucepan while whisking rapidly. Let heat, whisking, just until the broth is steaming and lightly thickened. Taste. Any distinct “egg” flavor should have cooked away, and it should taste of the sea in the creamiest way.  Pour over the crab and scallions in the soup bowls, and finish each bowl with a generous pat of butter. Serve, eat, and marvel at the goodness to be found in the cosmos.

There are ways to make this even more economical. If you are a carb-eater, put a hunk of sourdough baguette in each bowl before spooning in the crab. The bread will be soaked with seafood essence and will provide elevation, so that one crab leg will serve two generously. Boiled salted fingerling potatoes or good cooked rice can be used the same way.

But in the final analysis this is a dish to make when you feel a bit flush and want to serve your love the best. It goes well with a buttery Chardonnay and a brief discussion of how lucky we are to be on the planet.

The best modern book on thrift and grace in cooking is Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. Read it, and cook on in good heart.

Leftovers Wraps for One

image
After I ate last night’s broccoli side shoots for one, I had several shoots left over, and tonight I pulled them out of the refrigerator for another veggie dinner. I also had last night’s Semi-Korean dipping sauce chilled, a couple of leftover hard-boiled eggs, a handful of roasted peanuts in my snack bag, and a head of romaine lettuce in the garden begging to be used. With the addition of a green onion from the onion row, my meal came together.
First I rinsed the biggest outer leaves of the lettuce quickly and set them in the dish rack to drain. Next, I thinly sliced the white part of the green onion while a small heavy saucepan heated up. I sliced the green parts separately, and chopped the cooked broccoli and eggs roughly. By this time the pot was hot, and I put in 2 tablespoons or so of oil and threw in the onion whites. They sizzled furiously as I stirred for about one minute, then the peanuts went in. After another minute, I added the chopped broccoli and about a quarter cup of the sauce, plus a glug of good soy sauce from the bottle that hangs out by my stove. After about one more minute of stir-frying, I turned the heat to medium, cooked just until the broccoli was hot, and stirred in the green onions. The chopped eggs were tossed in after the pot was removed from the stove. It was plated, wrapped in the romaine leaves a spoonful at a time, drizzled with more of the sauce, and eaten. Prep time and cook time together totaled twenty minutes.
Cooking for yourself is a great time to go improvisational because if something goes wrong you can shrug and, in a worst-case scenario, eat something else. That’s not so bad. And odds are that you will make some delightful discoveries along the way. The more you think through your available ingredients, putting them together on your mental palate, the less likely you are to make awkward combinations. And I want to put in a plug for prepping vegetables and possibly cooking at least some of them as soon as they hit your kitchen, so that you have fodder for really fast, really good meals. I recommend that any aspiring improvisational cook, or for that matter any cook, read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. It’s a delightful read and a quick education in skilled use of leftovers.
Incidentally, when you find a sauce that suits you like my sort-of-Korean sauce suits me, make it in larger batches, keep it in the refrigerator, and see how many different ways you can use and enjoy it.

Some of my current favorite books


Winter in central New Mexico is a time of spectacular, and early, sunsets. Once I’ve enjoyed the light show, I’m ready for a long evening of cooking and reading. I don’t do any posts about “best books of the year” because many of the most useful and interesting books that I read are old, and some of the best are things that I’ve read before and have returned to this year because they are good and useful. So this list is personal, opinionated, and idiosyncratic. With that in mind, here are some of the books that I used most this year.

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler
I didn’t expect to like this book, based on preliminary information that it was a book of culinary essays. Over the years I’ve become dubious about culinary essays because there are too many of them, many of them sound just like one another, most of them elevate the obvious, and nearly all of them lust a little too obviously after M. F. K. Fisher. THis one, however, has a genuinely original voice and was one of the most interesting books on food that I read in 2011. Ms. Adler’s organizing principle is thrift, and her musings offer a system of thought in which every product created in the kitchen can lead to future, equally delicious, products of the kitchen. Follow the flow of her thoughts about avoiding waste of food or effort and, whether you are a beginning home cook or an old hand, you will learn things about how to make your efforts pay future interest. In addition, you’ll enjoy yourself a lot.

Simple French Food, by Richard Olney
This is a real oldie, but in my opinion everyone with a real interest in cooking should reread it every couple of years. At a time when Julia Child was laying down rules of French cooking for anxious Americans, Olney was capturing the spirit of day-to-day Provencal cuisine, where thoughtful improvisation is informed by classic principles, and rational frugality is made delicious. The chapter on improvisational cooking is a culinary classic, and should be read by all cooks who try to improvise without really thinking about their potential ingredients first. On second thought, it should be read by all cooks.

New Moroccan, by Mourad Lahlou.
This one is new this year, and may be my favorite of the current crop of new cookbooks. The “memoir with recipes” is a very overdone genre, but this one is the real deal, where memories and personal history genuinely inform the author’s thoughtful musings about food and cooking. It doesn’t really matter if you make the recipes or not; you will be a better, more thoughtful cook after exposing yourself to the way that Mourad thinks about food. I should add that, as would be expected, the recipes are very complex. You may never make a single one of them precisely as written, but they are lovely to read and give insight into a culture where many people spent a lot of time thinking about food. I have never been to Morocco, but my childhood in food-obsessed Louisiana wasn’t much different in spirit, so this volume was oddly nostalgic for me.

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, by Diana Henry
This one is subtitled “Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean, and North Africa” and this is certainly accurate, but like all my favorite cookbooks, there are gems of description here that help a cook use ingredients really well. Here is Ms. Henry on cumin: “A real workhorse, its coarse ridged seeds smell like earth and life: fresh sweat, sex, dust, maleness.” In one sentence, you have the germ of a mindset about how to use cumin intelligently in cooking, and a clear visceral sense of where it doesn’t belong. I have had this book for a few years, and come back to it regularly.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese.
Ms. Reese lost her job, a common story these days. She began to experiment with doing more food production at home, and wrote a book about which things are worth doing and which things are not. I disagree with her about many specifics; just for starters, she is vehement about not raising meat birds at home, while I think it’s one of the most valuable of my home food production systems. Nonetheless, her experiments and conclusions are always worth thinking about. I should point out that there was still an income in the family, and the financial freedom to spend $1600 on goats and goat necessities that she admits will never pencil out, so this is not a poverty-level view, but it contains valuable information for the frugal middle class and for people who like to do things for themselves, even if they cost a bit more that way. In one vignette that I especially like, she describes her husband saying about one of her proposed projects “it’s like we wanted to go for a drive, so you decided to build a car.” If you have self-sufficient leanings, keep it reasonable, for others in the household as well as for yourself. This book is a fun read with a good perspective, and while your own decisions about what’s worth doing may be different from the author’s, you are likely to have a good time.

The Weekend Homesteader, by Anna Hess
This one is not a book but a monthly newsletter available electronically. It’s based on the premise of doing one major homesteading task and a number of minor ones each weekend for a year. The projects are intelligent and well-described, the writing is good, the slant is practical rather than wild-eyed, and it is clearly the work of someone who has actually done the work. Highly recommended.

Mini Farming, by Brett Markham, and The New food Garden, by Frank Tozer
I have referred to both these books over and over since I bought them, and I wouldn’t want to be without either one of them. Right now, I’m thinking of incorporating more aesthetic elements into my back yard and so I’m consulting Tozer’s book more. When I’m on an efficiency kick, I use Markham’s volume more. Get them both, and skip the many pile-on-the-trend books out there by authors who clearly haven’t walked the walk.

The Vegetable Book and The Fruit Book, both by Jane Grigson
I can’t imagine being without these fine older books, and when I finally use my well-thumbed current copies to death I’ll buy new ones. You can’t do better for the products of your garden than to get these books, read them, and use them.

Happy holidays, and many happy winter evenings to you!