Peanuts and bombs

(by Michael Ruhlman, guest blogger)

I’m 43 today and while I say this with neither joy nor sadness, more just a general sigh at the nature of time, or rather of the way we perceive it–an acceleration, a rush, like falling, rather than a metronomic procession of days–the day occasioned an unexpected delivery from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Not a fresh foie gras, but rather two excellent cuts from the bird that gives us the foie gras and are every bit as excellent. Wonderful duck legs and duck breasts, called magret, from the moulard duck–it’s not just about the foie gras. The card inside read happy birthday, from my mom. Is that a great mom, or what? I’ll confit the legs and save them for fall; I’ll dry cure two of the duck breasts with salt and thyme for duck prosciutto, and grill the other two (they’re as fat and rich as strip steak and even more flavorful).

–In another package, also from my saintly mum, a can of Whitely’s Peanuts. These peanuts I tell anyone who will listen are arguably the best in the United States. They’re large, very crunchy, and the driest fried peanuts I’ve encountered. One of the company’s owners told me why: they soak the peanuts in water before cooking them; when they’re fried by hand in 130 pound batches, the steam they release apparently prevents them from absorbing tons of oil. They’re fantastic.

–A final more somber note. Bourdain has written a complete account of his Lebanon trip at salon.com. You may have to watch a quick ad for the travel channel for the whole story, but the commercial is brief. I emailed Tony to ask if writing it had been cathartic. He replied “I wish that were true.” And this is a guy who is not easily rattled.

Dissatisfied with the Coca-Cola Company's…

Dissatisfied with the Coca-Cola Company's business and environmental practices, a pair of bar managers from the UK decided to whip up a Coke taste-alike for sale at their establishment. After some initial missteps, they ended up with something possessing "satisfying, complex flavour, subtly different from the brand leader, but easily as good." Scroll to the end for the recipe to make your own Coke at home.

Do oysters have souls?

Nobody knows. But we DO know they have digestive systems. Meg's oyster posts over at epicurious.com got me thinking about Penn Cove oysters and that company's sensible practice of storing harvested oysters in the water. "Some distributors often treat shellfish like fish, and this is the problem," Ian Jeffords, gm of the company, once explained to me. "When you take them out of the water and hold them in a cooler, they're still alive. You think about it, all the things that make shellfish taste good, fats and sugars, theyre living off those in the cooler, they're metabolizing those fats and sugars, so by the time you eat them everything that makes them taste good is gone."

What do those tasty fats and sugars become in that oyster you're slurping down? I'm not sure I want to know.

"How long have these oysters been out of the water?" is a good question to ask the chef who purchases them at your favorite raw bar.

You can buy Penn Cove oysters via company called farm 2 market.

Foie love: A level field

Amidst the righteous PETA bluster attending foie gras legislation and the earnest journalists trying their balanced best to cover the issue and the misslonelyhearts marching outside Union Square Café (a business that's an emblem of quality and excellence in the culture of American restaurants), indignant foodies railing, committed gourmands wailing, and the food terrorists harassing chefs–well, it's actually relatively quiet now, so I thought it a perfect opportunity to cut right to the core of the issue. The fat liver itself. Which no one seems to talk about anymore.

Foie gras is a marvel and a wonder. If I'd had some left over fresh a few moments ago, I'd have diced it and sprinkled it over my gently scrambling eggs (or should I call them unborn chickens?). That would be a treat on a Wednesday morning! Foie in farm fresh eggs. Almost reason enough to open a bottle of Schramsberg blanc de blanc to go with it (but that would kill the day, wouldn't it ((not necessarily a bad thing!))?).

What's the great fact about foie gras for American home cooks? It's this: that what's available to you is the exact same thing that's available to the country's best chefs. This is a rare circumstance. The caviar that Eric Ripert gets you and I can't get, don't even think about it (and he sends half his back at the delivery door, and you couldn't even get that). Not available to you and me, wouldn't be even if we were rich as Bloomberg. The truffles and fingerling potatoes Joel Robuchon can send to his Vegas outpost–you and I can't have it. Gotta head to Vegas and pay through the nose (entirely worth it, surely, but a nose is a nose). The lamb Grant Achatz lovingly heats sous vide, fragrant with the smells of the carefully grown alfalfa raised and cut and stored by Keith Martin in Pennsylvania–gotta go to Chicago for that.

But foie gras, here the playing field between the chef and the home cook is leveled. There are four growers in the United States, and you can buy from the same one most chefs do, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Daniel Boulud's A foie is going to be of the same quality as the A foie you order. Yes, he's going to pay a little less because his volume is greater, but even so, and even though it's considered a luxury item at restaurants, it's not really more expensive for the home cook having a dinner party, say, than a beef tenderloin. An A foie, will serve ten healthy portions and it will cost about a hundred bucks with shipping. Ten bucks a head, which, if you're one to go all out for your guests or you're having a special party, is not out of control. And it's a very cool thing to offer your guests, if you run with that kind of crowd.

Moreover, foie gras is one of the easiest things in the world to cook, one of those the-less-done-to-it-the-better food items. Salt the whole thing, put it in a hot pan to give the top a beautiful golden brown, flip it, drop some thyme and garlic in the pan and pop it in a hot oven for ten minutes, basting once or twice with the copious fat that renders. Slice at the table. Or slice it an inch thick, pluck out any large dark veins, salt it, and briefly cook in a really hot pan on either side till you have a nice crust (you'll need a good exhaust system for saute, not a method for the unventilated fifth floor studio walk up).

Or for something truly amazing, the foie-iest foie of all, spread out the lobes, remove the veins, give it a healthy sprinkle of salt and some white pepper and some pink salt if you have some, pour some milk on it to help leach out any residual blood and refrigerate overnight. Then rinse it roll it into a cylinder in cheesecloth and poach it for a couple minutes, just so it all melts together inside. Chill, unroll, slice an inch thick and serve with something sweet and acidic and some good bread and Champagne. That is a luxury beyond luxuries, and available to you, home cook. (This preparation has the fancy name torchon with the unfancy translation dish towel–really all you need for this preparation: a dishtowel to roll it in.)

Foie gras can be roasted first, then pressed into a terrine mold and chilled, maybe layered somehow with a fruit that goes well with it, mango or quince. Slice and serve it cold. Poach it in wine. There are so many wonderful thing you can do with foie gras, so easily, there's so much fun to be done, so much pleasure to give to your closest friends, it saddens me that we've lost sight of the foie itself amidst all the noise.

There's nothing else like it in the culinary world. It's a gift. We need to protect it or we'll lose it.