I was packing for my trip to Chicago the other day and turned on the television to keep me company. Anthony Bourdain’s show, ‘No Reservations’ was on and he was in–Chicago! I’d never watched the show before–just read, ‘A Cook’s Tour’, so I was curious to compare notes on the food from my hometown. Then he was in Los Angeles…so I continued to watch. Then New York and San Francisco…by the time I had finished packing (during the commercial breaks); I was feeling a certain unrequited yearning. It was like a peep show of food–you could look, remember the sensation of tasting it, recall the mouth feel…swallow hard, but when it comes to the happy ending, you are SOL.
Unlike other food shows, where people work to a obtain a finished food product, either through a competition or how-to; ‘No Reservations’ is all gratification, with Bourdain providing the sound track of pleasure. His ability to fall in love at first bite with everything astounded me–chortling his delight; oohing, aah-ing and gasping with every dish. And it was contagious. The succulent sushi was making my mouth water; the melting cheese oozing over the juicy meat was making me light headed. I’m imagining the pork belly sliding across my tongue and slipping down my throat; its fat lubricating my lips…setting me up for the foreplay that is foie gras–teasing me with its rich creamy goodness. I was hungry…and I was hot.
This food porn had awakened an appetite that had been dormant for years (well, at least months…). I began the year, taking a vow of conscious eating. That I wouldn’t mindlessly eat whatever was convenient or a quick fix for my hunger. That I would be more discriminating–reading labels, eliminating processed food and (gasp)…save the world by eating locally and sustainably.
Well, clearly something had to give, so I released the chastity belt of conscious eating and gave into my lust; lasciviously devouring my way through a greatest hits parade of decadent pleasures. Some items I made myself–maybe out of guilt, but mostly because my needs were immediate and I didn’t know of a reliable source; with others, I knew just where to find my fix.
All day I dream about bone marrow. An appropriate place to start, since Bourdain, himself declared the roasted marrow as his ‘death row meal’. I found a simple and easy recipe from the NY Times and remembered that obtaining the marrow would be a quick and inexpensive trip to the butcher.
Bones in hand, it would be all of 20 minutes before ecstasy. The roasted marrow was rich, but not heavy; awakening the senses upon the first bite. You feel satiated and energized without consuming much. But once the bone is dry, the toe-curling experience is worthy of sleep-inducing satisfaction. If virility had a taste, this would be it. It was like mainlining fat–the good kind of course.
4 center-cut beef marrow bones, approximately 3 inches long
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoons capers (optional)
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Coarse sea salt to taste
Thick slices of bread, toasted.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put bones, cut side up, on foil-lined baking sheet or in ovenproof skillet. Cook until marrow is soft and has begun to separate from the bone, about 15 minutes. (Stop before marrow begins to drizzle out.)
Meanwhile, combine parsley, shallots and capers in small bowl. Just before bones are ready, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle dressing over parsley mixture until leaves are just coated. Put roasted bones, parsley salad, salt and toast on a large plate. To serve, scoop out marrow, spread on toast, sprinkle with salt and top with parsley salad.
Yield: 2 servings.
I love sushi and could likely eat it every day. But today it wasn’t the raw fish I was craving, but the hamachi kama (yellowtail collar). Sashimi is like the quickie of Japanese food. Goes down easily, feels good and doesn’t require a lot of accoutrement or afterthought. The collar is complex in taste. Simply prepared with oil and salt and then broiled, it’s seductive crispy skin gives way to succulent and juicy meat. Though subtle, each bite has a different texture, and like finding the baby in a king cake, a lucky bite may yield the jackpot of a fatty piece of cheek.
While I didn’t prepare this myself, if you have a Japanese specialty store near you, ask for the hamachi kama. Take it home, wash it well and oil and salt it. Grill or Broil. Many sushi restaurants serve this–I assume it’s delicious wherever you can get it.
My next guilty pleasure was a toss-up between the pork belly buns and Peking Duck. I’ve only had the pork belly buns at Momofuku in New York, though I am told that Sunda in Chicago is pretty good too. My pork bun was served with both a sweet hoisin and the spicy sriracha–I suspect both freshly made, nicely done Chef Chang. While the pork buns offer slow-cooked tender meat, you can enjoy a similar melt in your mouth goodness with Peking Duck…along with the added bonus of a thin crispy layer of skin.
I haven’t seen Peking Duck on a menu other than Chinese restaurants, and I’ve known of this dish since I was a kid. But something happened to this dish in New York, LA and Chicago since the pork bun rage began…they have begun serving the duck on the Chinese mantou bun, a la Momofuku; rather than wrapped burrito style in a mushu (pancake) wrapper. Within walking distance from Momofuku, in New York’s Chinatown is an old school restaurant called, Oriental Garden, serving all sorts of delights including the Peking Duck, with which you’ve got the whole package–tender, juicy mouthwatering meat, a thin crispy flavorful skin layer, a fluffy steamed bun, a refreshing pickled cucumber/scallion salad, savory/sweet hoisin and spicy sriracha. It is a cacophony of flavors and textures bursting in your mouth at once.
I’m not all that interested in cooking the Peking Duck myself–it seems complicated and something left to the experts of Chinese kitchens. However, I may try to replicate the Momofuku pork buns one day, so to complement my home made sriracha, I created a hoisin sauce that isn’t as sweet as the jar at the store (and doesn’t contain any additives, colorings or modified corn starch).
2 teaspoons rice cooking wine
2 Tablespoons honey
1/8 cup dark (thick) sweet soy sauce (this is just thick soy with sugar and a little salt–See Eeuw)
If you don’t have this or can’t find it, use dark soy sauce and add another Tablespoon of honey
1/4 cup sweet bean sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
So what have we learned so far? That nothing is worth stuffing in your face unless it contains fat, cream or butter. Together, could this trifecta be the perfect storm of pleasure? To test this theory, I visit a place Bourdain has declared as ‘One of the 13 places to eat before you die’. It’s called Hot Doug’s The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium. The lines snaked around the block even before their national television debut. As luck would have it, on the way to the airport, we happened by and there was no line…then again, it was 10:30 in the morning. What better time to try the Foie Gras sauterne-infused duck dog with Truffle Mustard? But sadly, I have to admit, this was a dish that sadly did not live up to the hype. Even with all the brouhaha over banning foie gras in Chicago; this was not worth the fight or even the wait. The duck sausage was dry and flavorless and the truffle mustard was just greasy. The bun wasn’t even warm. Sadly, my gluttony may have caught up with me–too much of a good thing and all.
So while I fell off the wagon, I didn’t do too badly. At least the ingredients were not of the artificial variety–all fresh and without preservatives. There was just one more thing…dessert! I’ve said it before, I am not a sweets fan, but seeing this marvel of science larger than life on the television screen made me want to try it myself. The souffle is a dessert that you must order in advance of even having your dinner at a restaurant–it’s delivery perfectly timed to be served immediately upon clearing the entree dish. It is indulgent and delicious. And now, I know it’s pretty simple to make as well.
Souffles for 2
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chocolate
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter soufflé dish.
Melt butter in a pan, add flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns brown-ish in color.
Slowly add milk, continuing to whisk.
Reduce heat and stir in the egg yolks.
Slowly add chocolate and mix until it is melted into the sauce. (for a savory souffle, use cheese or replace the egg yolks with any kind of seafood, meat, vegetables in the bechamel sauce).
Beat the egg whites at high speed, along with lemon until they are white and fluffy.
FOLD the sauce into the egg whites.
Loosely stir the heated mixture into the egg whites.
Place mixture in 2 ramekins and bake for 30 minutes.