Dem Bones

Roasted Marrow Bones and Parsley Salad, courtesy of British chef Fergus Henderson, via The New York Times.

Some days I feel a bit like a Georgian squire, a fantasy helpfully fueled when (a) you have a Federal Style farmhouse, as we do; (b) a fire is blazing in the wood stove, which is nearly always the case at this time of year, and (c) there’s a bottle of port nearby, resting in an antique glass decanter. To make the most of this picturesque reverie recently I went in search of an historic recipe for roasted marrow bones, a dish I associate with England in the eighteenth century and which I haven’t eaten in years and years. Unfortunately my search for authenticity went awry.

Most of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century recipes I came across seemed utterly wrong, directing one to seal up the ends of the bones with pastry dough and then to roast them for upwards of a hour. The fatty, inner lining of bones, marrow is a delicate, jelly-like substance, and prolonged cooking turns it to little more than hot liquid, or what former Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl accurately describes as “bright yellow crankcase oil” in the book Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet (Random House, 2003). In the end, she boiled marrow bones, wrapped in a dishcloth, for about ten minutes in boiling water, and found them to be perfect softened and ready to spread onto toasted bread.

I went to The New York Times website and found a 2007 recipe for roasted marrow bones that was adapted from one created by Fergus Henderson, chef and founder of St John Bar and Restaurant in London. (The eatery is happily housed, to me, in a modest Georgian former smokehouse near Smithfield Market, which upped the squire fantasy to my mind.) If you like marrow bones, look no further. The dish, which includes a delightful topping made of chopped parsley, sliced shallots, and capers is wholesome, hearty, fresh, and, yes, delicious enough to include a nine-year-old among its fans. Our young daughter raised her eyebrows when she sat before a plate of beef bones and was told that it was dinner, but she enjoyed the rich taste. As for the parsley salad? She hated it.

ROASTED MARROW BONES

SOURCE: The New York Times, 31 October 2007

SERVES 4

TIME: 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS

8 to 12 center-cut beef or veal marrow bones, 3 inches long, 3 to 4 pounds total

1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

2 shallots, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons capers

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Coarse sea salt to taste

At least 4 1/2-inch-thick slices of crusty bread, toasted

DIRECTIONS

1. 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.)

The parsley salad in preparation.

2. 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.

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Shrimp in Cream with Hominy (1958)

Joseph B. Platt pondering a glass vase he designed, 1940. Image by Luís Lemus for House & Garden.

Joseph B. Platt and his wife, June, were one of the American design world’s golden couples for a good portion of the mid-twentieth century, though their names are barely recalled today. An interior designer and art director who decorated sets for Broadway plays and Hollywood films — among them Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, and Portrait of Jennie — Platt (1895-1968) also was responsible for outstanding public and private interiors, including a chic 1950s Chinese restaurant called Gold Coin and a wonderful pair of trompe l’oeil painted chests of drawers he created for a house in Jamaica decorated by Ruby Ross Wood. He served as style director for Marshall Field’s too. The artist he married in 1919, and with whom he had two sons, was a daughter of prominent sculptor Rudulph Evans, famous for the 10,000-pound bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.

Golden glow aside, Mr and Mrs Platt were testy people with what outsiders might consider a complicated marriage, an artist who knew the couple well told me a few weeks ago. “Mean-spirited” Joseph was an enthusiastic social climber with an appreciative eye for manly good looks, while the fragile-looking, well-connected June was a “snob of the first order.” In the 1920s, the couple relocated to the highly social French commune of Senlis, north of Paris, where Platt worked as a correspondent for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and House & Garden. They also hoped to become leaders of the vibrant expat community, but that plan didn’t take, it seems — nobody much liked them, it seems — so the Platts returned to New York City and took up where they left off.

June Platt, circa 1958, in a photograph by Wilbur Pippin.

For June Platt (1898-1977), this meant designing home furnishings under her husband’s name, from wallpaper to rugs, as well as collaborating with him on murals. A particularly grand example, depicting the history of the region, wraps the dining room at the Country Club of Detroit, in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan. She also wrote about food and entertaining for House & Garden and produced several cookery books, including The June Platt Cook Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1959). The copy on my shelf belonged to James Beard and bears his bookplate. I have never used it, to be honest. I bought the volume solely for the graphic yellow-and-blue jacket and the charming photograph of June Platt by Wilbur T. Pippin, who deserves to be studied more closely. (His distinctive portraits of Beat writer Jack Kerouac and decorator-dealer Rose Cumming are justifiably admired.) On Sunday morning, however, I decided to make a late lunch from its pages. After all, didn’t Beard praise June Platt as “a great authority on food” and “an incomparable and creative cook,” compliments echoed by industrial designer Raymond Loewy (her recipes, he wrote, “combine subtlety with lightness”) and actress Ilka Chase (the daughter of Vogue editor in chief Edna Woolman Chase called Platt “not only the prettiest cook I have ever known, but one of the most expert”)?

Our daughter requested a meal centered on her favorite crustacean, so June Platt’s Shrimp in Cream with Hominy (page 105) was the recipe we all agreed upon. Flavor-wise it is related to a dish we feasted upon several months ago at a friend’s house in Cooperstown, New York. Prepared by an amazing cook named Liz, who hails from Alabama, that particular main course was rib-sticking comfort food from the American South, delicate pink shrimp and pale yellow grits swirled together with melted cheese and kept warm in a chafing dish on the sideboard. Platt’s version has no cheese, however, while the shrimp — cooked first in homemade boullion and then in butter and cream spiked with black pepper — is spooned over steaming hominy grits. Even with the proportions reduced for a family of three and some minor adjustments (noted below), Platt’s recipe is as tasty as its Cooperstown cousin. Just don’t tell Liz.

A hearty serving of June Platt's Shrimp in Cream with Hominy, with slight recipe revisions, ready to be transported to the table. The china is Gien's Crème de Riz creamware.

SHRIMP IN CREAM WITH HOMINY

SOURCE: The June Platt Cook Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1958)

SERVES 6-8

INGREDIENTS

2 quarts water

1 onion [peeled and cut in half]

1 clove garlic [peeled]

1 bay leaf

Pinch of thyme [NOTE: I used dried thyme]

1/2 red-pepper pod [NOTE: I used a whole dried habañero, plus one dried chile guajillo]

2 stalks celery [snapped in half]

2 tablespoons salt [NOTE: I used Reese’s coarse sea salt]

3 to 4 pounds shrimp [NOTE: I used shelled frozen, thawed in warm water, tails removed]

3 to 4 tablespoons [unsalted] butter

2 to 3 cups heavy cream

Salt [to taste]

Freshly ground black pepper

2 strips lemon peel

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Hominy grits [NOTE: I reheated leftover polenta]

DIRECTIONS

1. Make a boullion by simmering together for 15 minutes the water, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, red-pepper pod, celery, and 2 tablespoons salt.

2. Add the well-washed shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes. Let the shrimp cool in the boullion, then shell them, and remove the black veins. [NOTE: Thawed frozen shrimp, already shelled, allows you to skip most of this direction. Also be sure to strain and save the boullion, freezing it to use later as a restorative broth to sip during cold weather or incorporated into risotto or as a base for soup.]

3. Put the shrimp in a saucepan with 3 to 4 tablespoons butter. Heat until the butter has melted; add 2 to 3 cups heavy cream, a little salt, and plenty of fresh, coarsely ground black pepper. Add lemon peel. Simmer for 4 minutes and add lemon juice.

4. When the mixture boils up once, [remove from the heat and] serve in a hot dish [or tureen]. Serve in [warm] soup plates over a bed of steaming hominy grits.

Veal Stew, Venetian Style

Today's family luncheon: Veal stew with peas and polenta from "Venetian Cooking" (Macmillan, 1973).

It is a sunny but snowy day in our obscure corner of upstate New York. The ground is blanketed with the white stuff, though these freezing conditions do not seem to inconvenience our chickens, guinea fowl, or turkeys, all of whom are strutting around and scratching, seemingly with enthusiasm. Our 1801 Federal house, alas uninsulated, is a bit chilly, however, so a warm, filling lunch seemed in order, namely spezatino de vedeo in tecia coi bisi, or veal stew with peas, from the pages of Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973).

It is a dish the authors calls “quite substantial but with excellent flavor that invites one to drink a good glass of red wine. After eating, however, it is advisable to take a long walk.” That dispiriting caveat taken under consideration — honestly, such brown-cloud observations make one wonder if Messrs. Bruning and Bullo secretly loathe Venetian cuisine — I turned on Radio Deluxe, one of our nine-year-old daughter’s favorite radio programs, broke out an ancient cast-iron pot, and got busy in the kitchen.

Few recipes could be easier than this. Or more welcome on a cold day or so economical. The veal cost $10.13, while the remainder of the ingredients was only a couple of dollars more, and despite my husband taking seconds, we have leftovers for dinner tomorrow. The completed stew was spooned into pink-rimmed white-ironstone plates over beds of buttery golden polenta made from Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits. The recipe went beautifully with a couple of glasses of Rex-Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, a rather hearty red.

So what was the verdict of the pint-size member of our family? Our somewhat precocious daughter said, the stew “made me think of Italy, where we went when I was five. The veal was chewy, delicious, and moist. The sauce was comme ci comme ça. And you know I hate peas. But I would have it again.”

Yes, she actually said “comme ci comme ça.”

SPEZATINO DE VEDEO IN TECIA COI BISI

(Veal Stew with Peas)

SOURCE: Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973)

INGREDIENTS

1-1/3 pounds lean veal, suitable for stewing

1.5 pounds fresh peas in the pod or 1/2-pound frozen peas

1/3 cup olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

2 ribs celery, finely diced

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

6 tablespoons tomato sauce

1 cup veal or chicken broth or good dry white wine, or a mixture

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1.  Cut the meat into 1.5-inch cubes. Trim off any fat.

2.   Shell or defrost the peas. Do not use canned peas.

3.  Place a pot containing the olive oil, butter, celery, onion, carrot, and parsley over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the veal and turn it until lightly browned. [NOTE: I browned the veal before adding it at this point, to ensure the veal truly was browned the way my husband and child prefer. Once I added the browned veal to the pot, I let it cook for a minute or two then proceeded to Step 5.]

5. Add the peas, tomato sauce, broth, or wine, and some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently. At the end of cooking the sauce should be very thick, so cook uncovered, being careful that the sauce does not stick. If it becomes too thick add a little water, broth, or wine. Simmer the meat until tender, 1 to 1.25 hours for the better cuts of veal, as long as 1.75 hours or perhaps slightly longer for more economical cuts. [NOTE: I simmered the stew for a full hour and a half, and could probably have continued for another 15 minutes to further reduce the sauce.] The meat should be very tender when tested with a fork, but it should not be completely falling apart.

6.  Serve on warmed plates, accompanied by lots of polenta.

Grant Achatz: Culinary Daredevil

A 1903 August Escoffier recipe, Suprême de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, as fantastically interpreted as a baroque tartlet by the awardwinning chef Grant Achatz. His next restaurant, called Next, will open in February 2011 and will have a century-spanning menu. Image by Martha Camarillo from the 20 December 2010 Time article "The Miracle Worker."

The Aesthete Cooks isn’t the only foodie fascinated by historical cuisine. As Joel Stein explains in the 20 December 2010 issue of Time magazine, daredevil young chef Grant Achatz — whose career nearly derailed when he developed tongue cancer — is launching a new restaurant with a past-perfect attitude. Read the terrific article here.

As Time explains, Next, which will be located in Chicago, where Achatz already runs Alinea, “will have a different menu every three months, pegged to a particular place and time. He’s starting with Paris in 1906 and then moving on to such pairing as Sicily in 1949, Thailand in the future and so on.” My dream would be for Achatz to conjure a menu based on London in the 1920s, with inspired adaptations of the influential recipes of chef-restaurateur Marcel Boulestin.

Make reservations ASAP if you can because Next is sure to be the hottest ticket in the Windy City: It opens on 1 February 2011.

Grant Achatz’s memoir, Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Gotham Books) is being published in March 2011. Pre-order a copy from Amazon right now.

If you’re interested, the dish shown in the photograph is Achatz’s spirited take on a 1903 recipe by the great Auguste Escoffier (1846 — 1935): Suprêmes de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, or Breasts of Squab Saint Clair. Escoffier’s directions are printed below. His classic cookery book did not offer lists of ingredients or detailed instructions, so have fun. Whether you want to add a cooked bird claw as a panache, as Achatz does, is up to you. Squab can be ordered online from D’Artagnan; click here.

SUPREMES DE PIGEONNEAUX A LA SAINT-CLAIR

(Breasts of Squab Saint Clair)

SOURCE: Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier (1903)

DIRECTIONS

With the meat of the legs prepare a mousseline forcemeat, and, with the latter, make some quenelles the size of small olives, and set them to poach. Poële the breasts, without coloration, on a thick litter of sliced onions, and keep them underdone. Add a little velouté to the onions; rub them through a tammy, and put the quenelles in this sauce.

In the middle of a shallow croustade, set a pyramid of cèpes tossed in butter. Raise the fillets; skin them, and set them on the cèpes; coat them with the prepared sauce; surround with a thread of meat glaze, and place the quenelles all around.

 

 

Calf’s Liver, Venetian Style (1973)

Venetian-style liver with Brussels sprouts on the side.

Europeans tend to be more creative with organ meats than we Americans. Tripe, for instance, shows up frequently in old-guard European cookery books, ditto sweetbreads, tongue, kidneys, and, of course, brains. (My husband, Matthew, remembers being served a tongue sandwich on Sabena Airlines, Belgian’s national carrier, back in the 1980s; he disturbingly describes the meat as “bologna with tastebuds.”) As a child, however, only three organ meats passed my lips: liver (which I adored) and chicken hearts and chicken gizzards that had been breaded and fried by my paternal grandmother (neither of them made much of an impression on me).

I still love liver in its various forms, including pâté de fois gras, and was pleased to see a recipe for liver in the book currently distracting me in the kitchen: Venetian Cooking: 200 Authentic Recipes Adapted for American Cooks by H. F. Bruning Jr and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973). The recipe is not, however, the liver I remember from childhood, meaning great lobes of liver sauteéd with onions. Nor is it the impossibly good liver with parsley I devoured every Wednesday for several years at Bagatelle, a late, lamented French restaurant in Marrakech, Morocco. Instead this particular Venetian dish, figa à la veneziana, is calf’s liver sliced thinly into small pieces which are then gently and quickly cooked with olive oil and previously reduced onions.

My husband pronounced the figa à la veneziana delicious indeed, the onions making an unctuous sauce that went well with the richness of the meat, which we served with Brussels sprouts fresh from our garden. (The writers of the cookery book suggest polenta as a side dish but I wanted to make it from scratch and didn’t have sufficient time.) “I love liver and would be happy to eat it every couple of weeks,” he explained. “But at the grocer it’s so gross looking that I’m intimidated by it.” Then he added that when he was a foreign-exchange student in Turkey during high school, he often ate a similarly prepared liver dish — his host family used sheep’s liver — and wondered if there was a connection between the Venetian and Ottoman versions, given the cultural cross-currents between those two places at the time. Our daughter, on the other hand, took one bite of her dinner and shook her head in quiet disapproval. The musky flavor of the meat, she pointed out, was odd, which I have to admit is true; liver is an acquired taste for many people, and she wasn’t fond of looks of the noble organ when it was raw and waiting to be sliced on the cutting board. “You know me, Papa,” she said. “If it’s something unusual, don’t tell me what it really is. It’s better just to call it meat, and then I’ll probably eat it.”

FIGA A LA VENEZIANA

(Calf’s Liver Venetian Style)

4 Servings

INGREDIENTS

1 pound calf’s liver

6 ounces butter

3/4 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

One pound of calf's liver, sliced and ready to be turned into figa à la veneziana. Disgusting, no?

1. Cut the liver in to thin bite-size slices, 1/8-inch thick maximum.

Onions cooking in butter and olive oil.

2. Place the butter, olive oil, and onion in a frying pan over medium heat. Add some salt and pepper. Stir frequently while cooking until the smallest pieces of onion just begin to take on a golden color.

Sliced liver browning with the cooked onions.

3. Add the liver to the onions and brown it, turning constantly. This should take no more than 4 minutes, probably less, depending upon the thickness of the slices. Test a piece after 2 minutes. It should have just barely lost its red color and should be firm but not tough. Do not overcook the liver for it will quickly become too chewy and lose its flavor.

4. Serve the liver and onion and a goodly amount of the sauce onto warmed plates, with lots of polenta.