Padric’s Mother’s Day Movie Picks

Photos to come…

In the years since Anna Jarvis stepped forward in West Virginia to honor her mother, there have been countless portrayals of mothers in the movies. There have been tragic mothers in movies like Bambi, Sophie’s Choice, and Terms of Endearment; and there have been self-sacrificing mothers in films like Stella Dallas, Imitation of Life, and Places in the Heart. Billie Burke and Myrna Loy have played zany and lovable mothers and Mary Tyler Moore and Gladys Cooper have played cold and withholding mothers. Ms Cooper could be said to have made a career of it. There have been stepmothers wicked and wonderful in movies like Ever After and The Sound of Music and there have been magnificent surrogates in films like Auntie Mame and Tea with Mussolini. Angela Lansbury and Julianne Moore played mothers who were a little too close to their sons, and Naomi Watts and Robin Penn recently were a little too close to their sons’ best friend, respectively, though I haven’t seen that film. The following five movies all feature mothers in pivotal, if not central, roles, and are my choice for Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis would most likely be horrified.

Aliens (1986, 1992 Special Edition)

“Get away from her, you bitch!”

Aliens is that rare breed of animal: a sequel that is as good as the original movie. While Ridley Scott’s film focuses on the claustrophobic “old, dark house” genre of horror, Mr Cameron’s is decidedly action-adventure: as he-no stranger to hyperbole-puts it “two-and-a-half miles of bad road.” The cast, full of such Cameronians as Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, and Jenette Goldstein, are uniformly strong, but the movie is ruled by its Ellen Ripley: Sigourney Weaver. Tough mothers are no strangers to James Cameron’s movies, but in the hands of Ms Weaver, Ripley has onion peel layers of character absent in his other films.

Aliens begins 57 years after Alien, when Ripley is discovered drifting in a cryogenic sleep by a salvage team, who are notably less concerned about her well-being than they are the fact that they have missed the opportunity at a payload because she is alive. This conflict between humanity and commerce (often as the front man for the military) is an important theme in the Alien franchise. Demoted and degraded by The Company because she detonated their inter-space oil rig, Ripley is severely traumatized by her experience on the Nostromo-“I’m not going back, and I wouldn’t be of any use to you if I did”-and grief stricken by the death of her daughter: “I told her I’d be home for her birthday…her eleventh birthday.” The down-on-her-luck Ripley is given an offer she can’t refuse: The Company offers to reinstate her, if she returns to the planet where she encountered the Alien: the colony there has broken communication with them.

Naturally, Ripley returns, and naturally, things get fucked up pretty quickly, but before the aliens reappear en masse, she grudgingly  earns the respect of male dominated Marine environment of the mission, becoming its defacto leader. Ripley meets Newt, the orphaned, sole survivor of the colony. Ripley’s relationship with Newt is the heart of the film: Carrie Henn-far less annoying than the average child actor-as Newt, is initially skeptical of the adults’ ability to protect her, but Ripley wins her over. Weaver truly plays the mother here, protecting Newt as she can from the horror of the place, washing her face, comforting her in her sleep. Ripley fights like a tiger to save them both from the face huggers in the movie’s most terrifying, smothering scene, and risks her life to save Newt from the Alien Queen.

Speaking of the Alien Queen, Ripley is not the only mother in the movie. The climax commences when Ripley emoliates the dozens of eggs lain by the Queen. The Queen is a mother herself, and while we will probably side with humanity when Ripley is Artemis to her Niobe, the Queen is more Medea than Niobe, a stowaway on the shuttle to the Sulaco, seeking her own vengeance for her brood. But the heart still sides with Ripley bellowing the above epigram that was so brilliantly paraphrased by JK Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when (another mother) Molly Weasley cries “not my daughter, you bitch!” before downing Bellatrix LaStrange. And yet, it was passion, not logic, that did not stay Ripley’s hand. The Queen would have let her leave with Newt, one mother on behalf of another. It was only Ripley’s need for vengeance that realized the “kill or be killed” denouement.

Those who have continued their sojourn through the Alien franchise will realize the irony of motherhood in the latter films, but Weaver’s performance in Aliens is heartfelt and honorable: the film academy itself honored her, with an Oscar nomination in a genre normally bereft. A truly magnificent film, Aliens shows that a woman can be strong, vulnerable, and maternal at the same time. A mother to be celebrated, indeed.

Psycho (1960)

“Mother…what is the expression? She isn’t feeling herself today.”

The most infamous mother in the history of cinema was never seen onscreen: not really, or, if at all, only as a desiccated, taxidermied skeleton. One can only see Psycho for the first time once, it’s like Citizen Kane and The Empire Strikes Back that way. Mother is Rosebud, Mother is Father. But, unlike the aforementioned films, the great reveal is only a small but significant part of the film, not the movie’s great gasp.

The great horror, the great gasp of Psycho begins a third through the movie, when Mother stabs Marion Crane to death in the shower. For me, at ten, it was horrifying: not the violence, in the age of Jaws, The Godfather, Halloween, and Taxi Driver, but the fact that the star of the movie was killed. And, whether or not you ever saw the knife hit the body, it was pretty terrifying. Janet Leigh never took another shower. But I liked Marion Crane, thief that she was, and then she was a bloody mess at the bottom of a bathtub. And the mother did it. That was a change. That was a shocker. And then she killed the detective. From Archie’s Place. And it turned out to be Tony Perkins, all along. In his mother’s dress, because, why not?

There’s a lot of psychiatric mumbo jumbo about why Norman did what he did, spouted by the racist cop from West Side Story, but it’s pretty much filler until you see a blanketed Perkins sitting in holding, and that voice spouting on about hurting a fly, and a skull superimposed upon his face, and it’s pretty damn unsettling.

Mommie Dearest (1981)

“If she doesn’t like you…she can make you disappear.”

I have no idea to what extent Christina Crawford was truthful in her depiction of her childhood, but I can say that I never cared for Joan Crawford before seeing Mommie Dearest. The film is best served by viewing it as drama: at its best, it is Hollywood grand Guignol, at its worst, it is camp not worthy of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

From its opening moments, it should be clear that the germaphobic, Silkwood scrubbing Crawford had no business adopting a child. Better she should have chosen Howard Hughes. Loofah on the face followed by alcohol thawed ice at 5am doesn’t spell luck in parenthood. But then, as now, babies make a grand accessory, if you’re allergic to Chihuahuas.

While it’s certainly horrible to be beaten with wire hangers (ever) and forced to clean your bathroom in the middle of the night by a mother costumed like a Kubuki Lion, I have to say that I sympathize with Joan during much of the film. As commentator John Waters points out, Christina wouldn’t have had a better rearing by the nuns in a Catholic orphanage, and Joan certainly had an awful time of things careerwise during Christina’s formative years. Hollywood was harder in the 40’s on its actresses than it is today, and in the years of the studio contract, “box office poison” (“Tina, bring me the axe!”) trumped “Hollywood Royalty” any day of the week.

Joan Crawford should probably have never been a parent. Whether she was motivated by love or publicity is unimportant, the character of “Joan” went beyond the pale in domestic discipline. No child should face their mother spinning around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist as she tries to strangle her, simply because she doesn’t treat her mother with respect she’d get “from a stranger on the street.”

That said, “Don’t fuck with me, fellas. This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.”

Now, Voyager (1942)

“I think you’d be ashamed to be… Miss Charlotte Vale.”

I stated before that Gladys Cooper made a career of playing the bad mother, but never did she do so with such vim and vigor as she did in Now Voyager, where she treats her youngest, ugly duckling daughter, Charlotte, as an unpaid servant. Bette Davis, as Charlotte elevates the film from a potboiler, turning the lighting of two cigarettes in her costar Paul Heinreid’s mouth from a pedestrian act to a moment of oral sex.

Charlotte has a breakdown and is sent by her psychiatrist (the foxy Claude Raines) on a South American cruise, where she meets and has a brief affair with married architect Jerry (Paul Heinreid). When she blames her independence for her mother’s death, she becomes acquainted with Jerry’s ugly duckling daughter, only to be rebuffed when Jerry is made aware of their relationship. charlotte convinces Jerry that she can parent his child; when he questions what will become of their love, she replies “Let’s not ask for the moon, Jerry, we have the stars!” and smokes another connubial cigarette.

I don’t know what to say about this movie, but the actors make it work. Gladys (my grandmother’s name, but she was the nicest Gladys imaginable and in no way a wall flower: she made bathtub gin) Cooper plays the worst of all possible mothers. Claude Raines makes his sardonic gravitas seem reasonable: really, what psychiatrist could keep his license when he allows his patient to essentially adopt her lover’s daughter (who also happens to be his patient)? Paul Heinreid plays on his nobility in  Casablanca in the part of kind of a heel, who maybe will, maybe won’t commit to the woman he loves.

But, Bette Davis, Bette Davis, Bette Davis!!! She runs the gamut of human emotions; not like a star, as in All about Eve; nor as a grotesque, as in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but as a human being. And she triumphs in motherhood, as ill advised as it is, a role to which she has no good experience. Where Joan Crawford is the consummate Hollywood star, Bette Davis, was, is, and always will be the greatest actress of the Golden Age.

Serial Mom (1994)

“Don’t say hate, dear. Hate is a very serious word. Scrambled eggs, anyone?”

Beverly Sutfin takes being a mother seriously.

Don’t cross her.

Dottie Finkel receives obscene phone calls because she steals a parking place. “Pussywillows, Dottie?”

The math teacher dies because he questions her parenting capabilities: “You’re doing something wrong, Mrs Sutfin.” Run down with gum in his mouth. Twice.

Misty’s boyfriend dies because he was fucking Tracy Lords: Don’t forget to flush! His liver is harvested at the urinal.

The Sterners are stabbed by scissors and crushed by an air conditioner because they abuse dental hygiene.

Mrs Jensen wouldn’t rewind. “Lick momma’s feet, make ’em all wet!”

Scottie wouldn’t fasten his seatbelt. And Camel Toes.

Beverly Sutfin celebrates motherhood. Muhammed Ali is wrong. He is not the greatest of all time. Beverly is the G.OAT. Do not cross her.

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Uppercrust forever

“We’ll behave, Mary Poppins, we promise.”

“That’s a pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken.”

Tuppence a bag

Tuppence a bag

As usual, the practically perfect Mary Poppins is right. Pie crusts are like the martini of the pastry world: their very simplicity belies a complexity of manufacture that has broken many a chef.

A basic pie crust contains 4 ingredients: flour, shortening, salt, and a binding liquid. A sweet crust may include sugar, and a tart crust–or pate sable–generally includes an egg yolk, as well. Other crust recipes may include ingredients as varied as ground almonds, vanilla, baking powder, or even vinegar. The type of flour, shortening, and liquid may change as well, depending upon your interest or the recipe, but generally, pie crust can be made with ingredients you probably  have in your pantry, barring an intolerance for gluten or dairy.

Shortening is any fat rendered solid. As a shortening element for pie crust, lard is the traditional ingredient, but today, pie crust is more commonly made from vegetable (hydrogenated) shortening or butter, or a combination thereof.

The ingredients listed below will make a double crust pie:

2 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, vegetable shortening, or lard-diced into tablespoon sized pieces and chilled
3 T COLD crème fraiche, heavy cream, sour cream, buttermilk, or iced water-plus more, as needed
1 tsp salt (or a pinch, if you’re making a sweet crust)
1 tsp sugar (if you’re making a sweet crust)

Before the machine age, pastry was mixed by hand. This is why Mrs Patmore is always in a bad mood. If you choose to blend your pie dough by hand, sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the shortening and mix until blended into coarsely shaped pea sized lumps. To do this, you may use 2 knives held scissor fashion, a fork, a pastry blender, or even your hands, if your circulation isn’t what it should be. What you want to avoid is warming the butter as you blend it: this will toughen your crust. Or, you may behave as any civilised person would, and blend the flour and butter in your food processor.

Add COLD butter cut into tablespoons

Add COLD butter cut into tablespoons

If you do not have a food processor, buy one. It will slice 8 cups of onions for you, if you’re making French Onion Soup; it will grate Gruyère, if you’re making a Quiche (or French Onion Soup Gratinee); and it can be used to chop meat, if you refuse to buy food grinder. There are many brands on the market now, but Cuisinart is a pioneer in the field; I have had mine for over 20 years, and it is as strong today as the day I bought it.

Coarse, pea sized

Coarse, pea sized lumps

To make pie crust in a food processor, add the dry ingredients to the bowl and pulse 3-5 times to blend. Add the shortening–I favour an all butter crust, some say that shortening will provide the flakiest one, and Julia generally made a crust that combined butter and vegetable shortening–and pulse up to 20 times, until the butter and shortening are blended into coarsely shaped, pea sized lumps.

At this time, you may add the liquid. I favour crème fraiche or heavy cream. Whatever you use, it must be COLD.  Stir to mix, if you are a Luddite, or pulse 6-9 times to blend. If the dough is too dry, add cold liquid, a teaspoon at a time, until it just binds. If it is too sticky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Don’t overblend, though, as this will toughen the crust.

Pulse until just combined

Pulse until just combined

It should just stick together when you pinch it!

It should just stick together when you pinch it!

Remove the dough to a floured pastry board or silicone rolling mat, and gently knead 2-3 times with the heel of your hand to ensure it is fully combined. Separate it into 2 parts, 1 twice the size of the other, and gather each into a ball. Flatten each ball into a disc, and tightly wrap in cellophane.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, our you'll be sorry...

Refrigerate for at least an hour, our you’ll be sorry…

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as two days. Or you may wrap it in 2 layers of aluminum foil and freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator before using. If you refrigerate it longer than 2 hours, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling it out.

Using your floured silicone baking mat (by now, you will have purchased one, along with your Cuisinart) roll the larger disc out to a 12 inch diameter, gently rotating it on the mat to ensure that it doesn’t stick. You may need to dust your rolling-pin, and/or the dough, with more flour. To move it to your pie plate, you may either roll it around your pin and gently reroll it into your pie plate or fold it into quarters and gently unfold it into your pie plate. While it’s settling into the pie plate, roll out the smaller disc.* Fill the pie plate, and cover the filling with the top crust. Crimp it rustically or elegantly, depending upon what type of pie you are making. It’s lovely to brush the top crust with an egg wash. Cut air vents into the top crust. If you like, dust it with sea salt or sanding sugar before baking. Bake the pie until done.

Don't forget the vents, or use a pie bird. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!

Don’t forget the vents, or use a pie bird. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!

With practice, your pie crust will be better than Mary Poppins: it will be perfectly perfect in every way!

Mary says, "Don't overblend, our your crust will be tough."

Mary says, “Don’t overblend, our your crust will be tough.”

*Pre-baking a single crust pie crust will be addressed at another time.

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Samosas: Pied, Not Fried

While a samosa is more properly a dumpling than it is a pie, these traditionally triangular puffs of golden goodness filled with vegetables and the spices of the east can conceivably be compared to a fried pie or empanadas. Though originally of Middle Eastern origin and still popular throughout the Middle East and South East Asia, samosas are most commonly associated with India. The samosa is most commonly fried, but in the false economy of the 20th century’s paean to “healthy eating,” they are sometimes now served baked. Thinking of them in these terms, I thought samosas to be entirely suitable for a pie.

IMG_2041

While their filling might be composed of lamb, chicken, or even beef, samosas are most popularly vegetarian, and as such, the pie I propose has the versatility to serve either as a delightful center to a meatless meal or as an accompaniment to a delightful meat entrée. As with any pie, there will be a crust and a filling. My samosa pie uses a basic short crust filling, although I substitute yoghurt for sour cream in the liquid of the dough. Of course, water may be added as needed. Make enough for a 2 crust pie, using the food processor method, separate into 2 discs of varying sizes, and chill for a minimum of two hours, or up to overnight. Or, it can be frozen, and completely thawed in the refrigerator before rolling.

Cook it until it's done.

Cook it until it’s done.

The ingredients of your filling can be whatsoever you choose, a vegetarian samosa usually is composed of potatoes, carrots, and peas, and such are used in this dish, along with onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Dice a green chile into the mix if you choose. Coarsely chop a potato and a carrot, and boil until soft. Mash thoroughly. Dice  a few potatoes, a few carrots, and an onion or two, and sauté in a little neutral oil fortified with ghee until crisp tender. Toss in some minced garlic and all the other herbs and spices, and sauté until soft. Stir in the mashed potato and carrots and add some fresh or frozen peas. Cook for a few minutes and taste for seasoning. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Bake to a golden brown.

Bake to a golden brown.

Roll out the dough and line a standard pie plate. Roll out the top crust. Fill the pie, and cover, sealing the two layers. Brush with an egg wash, and bake in a 375° oven until it is fully cooked, around 40 minutes.

This pie is a delightful accompaniment to tandoori chicken, which requires a tandoor oven to cook, and that is equipment that may not be held in every household. A good charcoal grill and a well seasoned baking stone offer a well informed substitution.

The first turning

The first turning

I used skinless and boneless chicken breasts, marinating them overnight in a concoction taken from Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World, 1st edition, 3rd printing, pg 291; including yoghurt, curry, paprika, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, salt, and cayenne to taste.

Heat your charcoal grill until hot, add more charcoal, and top with your baking stone. Heat it until it’s HOT, HOT, HOT. While heating the grill, you will have brought your breasts to room temperature. When you can’t stand to hold your hand above the stone, oil it and hurl the breasts upon it. After 3-4 minutes, turn them and grill them until they reach an internal temperature of 165°, turning as needed. to evenly cook.

The fires of Hephaestus

The fires of Hephaestus

Plunge them immediately upon a bed of spinach. This will nicely wilt the spinach beneath.

The grill can then be used to cook na’an, if you added sufficient fuel at the beginning.

Standing over a hot grill as you create your tandoorish chicken is thirsty work, and I find that my Mumbai Fizz is a delightful thirst quencher. The Mumbai Fizz is an utter bastardization of the French 75. The French 75 dates back to the Great War, and is named for the large French cannon. It is a drink that shares the commonality of the French and the British, combining gin and champagne, tempered with lemon juice and simple syrup. Essentially, it’s a Tom Collins made with sparkling wine instead of sparkling water. To give the drink the taste of the subcontinent, I substituted lime for lemon and added ginger syrup to the mix. Garnish the drink with a slice of lime and a piece of candied ginger, and it’s a Mumbai Fizz. Most satisfactory.

The Waters of Thirst

The Waters of Thirst

Samosas are generally served with chutney, and a hot cool mint chile chutney is really the best. Puree fresh mint, green chile, sugar, salt and lime juice in the processor. Drizzle around your slice of pie at serving.

Bon Apetit!

Bon Apetit!

Raita is a part of any Indian meal, and is yoghurt, garlic, cumin, and what you choose, be it tomato, shredded carrot, or–the most common ingredient–cucumber. Mint is always a nice addition. It’s lovely on top of the tandoori chicken. A dry peanut chutney adds a cunning crunch to the dish. Toss some roasted peanuts, cumin, coriander, and chile into a processor with a little garlic, and grind it coarse-fine. Layer it on top of the raita.

If you choose to serve wine with this meal, make it a bold red, or continue down the road with the Mumbai Fizz. Beer is always a good choice with Indian food. Be sure to have extra raita on hand for dipping your naan. My final judgment on the pie: an authentic, fried samosa is better, but if you’re in a hurry or suffering delusions of “healthy cooking” the samosa pie is a judicious substitution.

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My Year in Pie

°It has been some time since I have posted on this blog, having been stuck with the latest list friend Thistle (who may now be followed, should you choose, at http://baineofmyexistence.BlogSpot.com) and I have compiled. Though I know I will eventually complete our assessment (to wit, the top 10 movies about the theatre), I find that when I open my draft, I simply cannot put pen to paper, as it were. Six months, however, is more than sufficient silence for anyone, and I feel that it is time for me to post again.

I HAVE RESOLVED that I shall make a weekly post about pie. “Why would you post about pie?” you may well ask, but a far better question is “Why wouldn’t I post about pie?” The Oxford English Dictionary defines pie as:

“a baked dish of fruit, or meat and vegetables, typically with a top and base of pastry.”

Its middle English etymology may stem from the hoarding magpie, which was probably baked into a pie at some time,  and nearly every country has something that could be called a “pie” within its cuisine. People can be as sweet as it, tasks can be as easy as it, and most people are yearning for a bigger piece of one. Pies can be simple or fancy, they can be sweet or savoury, and they can be baked or fried, eaten hot or cold, by fork or by hand,  and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. I intend to take a broad definition of pie in this blog–no thin end of the wedge for me–posts may be about pies I’ve made, or tarts, or pizza, or even about the presence of pie in popular culture. So welcome, welcome to a wonderful journey around the world of pie.

Our inaugural pie has the humblest of origins, it was a popular lunch for the working class of Britain, particularly the tin miners of Cornwall, where the dish got its name: the Cornish Pasty. Pasties are dishless pies, not to be confused with the dancing gear of a New Jersey stripper, generally savoury, and were sturdy and easy to transport down the mine. Oblong in shape, they can be eaten from one end to the other, and historically, some have had meat and vegetables at the beginning and jam at the end.

Cornish pasties have achieved Protected Geographical Indication as of 2011, and as such, a true Cornish pasty must include beef, onion, potato and turnip. One can really make a pasty, however, with what such ingredients as please the baker and the eater, with little harm done to either. Here is how I made my pasties…

Any pie begins with the dough and every dough begins with flour (either unbleached white or a combination of white and whole wheat or other flour), shortening (either butter, or vegetable shortening, or even lard, or a combination therein), and salt. These ingredients are blended by hand, fork, pastry blender, or food processor until they resemble coarse crumbs. To this mixture you add a cold liquid, such as iced water, milk, or cream. I generally use crème fraiche or sour cream, and supplement this with water as needed. Blend it just until it comes together–it should not be too liquidy, nor should it be overblended, as this will make the dough tough. If you are making a sweet pie, use less salt and add some sugar with the dry ingredients. Omit the sugar for a savoury pie. Pat the dough into a flat disc and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

While the dough is cooling, make your filling. Dice an onion or two, a few carrots, and a few stalks of celery. Add to this some diced potato, either baking or boiling will do. While you are doing this you will have warmed a tablespoon or two of neutral oil over medium heat. Saute the vegetables until soft, then remove from the pan.

Saute until soft and tender

Saute until soft and tender

Next, it’s time for the meat. Freshly ground beef is best for this recipe, as it allows you to control the fat and the flavour.

"Two times through the grinder, smoothly, smoothly..."

“Two times through the grinder, smoothly, smoothly…”

Rib eye is, of course, delicious, but chuck is also quite good. If you do not have a meat grinder, an attachment to your KitchenAid Stand Mixer is readily purchasable.  If you do not have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, buy one. Crate&Barrel sells a variety of colours at reasonable prices. Grind meat coarsely, and, in the same pan,brown in either a small amount of neutral oil or clarified butter until fat is rendered. Add two tablespoons of flour, and stir until cooked. Return the vegetables to the pan and stir to blend. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream (or beef stock for a low calorie version of the dish) and cook for a few minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool completely.

Use your hands to firm the mound on the dough.

Use your hands to firm the mound on the dough.

To assemble the pasties, make an egg wash. Divide your disk of chilled dough into as many sections as you will make pasties (bearing in mind that you may reassemble scraps within reason.) Roll them into balls and then roll out into circles 7 inches in diameter (trim as needed.) Place a mound on 1 side of the dough, brush egg wash around the edge, and fold the other side over it, sealing and crimping daintily. Repeat until you have used all of your dough.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Arrange your pasties on a baking sheet covered in either parchment or silpat. Prick them to allow for the escape of steam, and varnish them with the remaining egg wash. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for a minimum of 40 minutes until crust is golden and delicious.

Humble perfection

Humble perfection

Should you desire, you may deglaze the plan you used to make the filling and make an onion gravy. Once the pasties are done baking, allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve. The King’s Head Pub & Restaurant in Santa Monica serves their pasties with chips and peas, which are delightful (well, maybe not the peas) if a little indulgent. Other steamed vegetables may be served with the pasties; onion gravy, if made may be passed over them, or make HP Sauce available.

The onion gravy is a lovely addition

The onion gravy is a lovely addition

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The Bronx and Staten Island, too…

In previous posts, I have waxed upon such cocktails as the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned–these two are similar enough to be almost interchangeable, and both argue the place of the “original” cocktail, the Sazerac being a more localized choice until recent years–and the Martini. I would like to speak of another cocktail, a classic, one that forms a cornerstone of the compendium.

A town so nice, they named it twice

A town so nice, they named it twice

Although the Manhattan had its genesis in the 19th century, it reached its zenith during the time of Prohibition, as did most cocktails, their very illegality perhaps being an inspiration.

Start with a dash of bitters and a generous dollop of vermouth. I prefer shaken to stirred

Start with a dash of bitters and a generous dollop of vermouth. I prefer shaken to stirred

It has always had an American whiskey as its origin, most commonly Rye (the whiskey of the American northeast, composed of over 50% rye grain, as opposed to bourbon, which is composed of over 50% corn (the xenophobe inherent in us all would like me to declare that ALL bourbon must be made within the boundaries of the state of Kentucky–just as all Champagne is made within its own particular regions of France, but I have sampled utterly delightful Bourbons made in California and Texas, and so must admit to a newfound embracement of geography as far as that particular whiskey is concerned, though I stick to my guns as far as Champagne is concerned. Cavas, proseccos, and American sparkling wines can be magnificent–and even a better choice than a common Champagne as an everyday beverage–but if the wine isn’t bottled and fermented within a specific region of northeast France, it just ain’t Champagne.) But I’ve managed to get off topic.

A Manhattan is named for the most famous borough of New York City, arguably the most famous island in America, if not the world. (Maybe Britain’s better known, and I’m sure the Australians would argue in their favour. As a California native, I favour Catalina as far from the California coast as Manhattan is long.) But Manhattan, a bargain bought for a bundle of beads, will forever hold, apocryphally, the world’s heart as the island that is the heart of America.

How ironic, then, that the height of the Manhattan’s popularity occurred during Prohibition, when the cocktail was made from Canadian Whisky (note the absence of the e) which is a close cousin to rye; when Manhattans were made from illegally sourced whiskeys, such palliatives as sweet vermouth (also smuggled) and bitters became an ever more important component to the cocktail.

Bulleit Rye is a mellow flavoured, delightul addition to the Bulleit family of Bourbon.

Bulleit Rye is a mellow flavoured, delightful addition to the Bulleit family of Bourbon.

Cocktails reached their nadir during the late 60s and 70s, as Julia’s Gallic influence reached the nation (though she was always a fan of a not particularly dry Martini) and the rise of the American wine market, California wines outjudging French in the ME decade.

Today, an authentic Manhattan is composed of Rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a Maraschino cherry. My own particular recipe is composed of 3 oz whiskey, 1 oz sweet vermouth (I prefer Martini & Rossi Rosso–whenever I called out that name, it made Myrtle crazy)

If you're making a Martini go for Noilly Prat or other small house made Vermouth, but Martini is marvellous for a Manhattan

If you’re making a Martini go for Noilly Prat or other small house made Vermouth, but Martini is marvellous for a Manhattan

and a generous dash of bitters. I can’t even with the bitters tonight: Angostura or Peychaud’s are easiest to find, but specialty stores will give you a rainbow assortment that will subtly (or gaudishly) affect the flavour of the Manhattan. I prefer Luxardo cherries to the traditional Maraschino–they are pre Red 40,  and flavoured with Maraschino liqueur–and taste less like plastic. They don’t come with stems, though, so you can’t enjoy the tongue tying experience Audrey Horne had in Twin Peaks.

Absent the artificial colours and flavours, the Luxardo is the patient zero of the maraschino cherry.

Absent the artificial colours and flavours, the Luxardo is the patient zero of the maraschino cherry.

Today Manhattans are made with Bourbon as often as they are Rye Whiskey (note the “e”) or Canadian Whisky. I have to admit that I prefer Bourbon to Rye in a Manhattan. There’s something about Rye in a Manhattan that reminds me of Ruth Gordon’s Academy Award winning performance of Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (set in the iconic and infamous Dakota Building on Manhattan Island) in that it’s what I’d imagine Tannis root would taste like with its chalky aftertaste, a sensation absent in a Sazerac or an Old Fashioned. I know that many cocktail enthusiasts would recoil at these words, but I must remain true to who I am. (I also think that ABBA is the world’s best rock band, by the way. I may have said that before.)

Whether you choose to use Rye or Bourbon as your source whiskey for a Manhattan, it can be varied with other liquors. (There is, in fact, a cocktail known as a Dry Manhattan, which is made with dry vermouth instead of sweet, and is garnished with a twist–or in the most extreme of homes, a Pimento Stuffed Olive!!) There is also the Rob Roy, where Scotch is substituted for American whiskey, and bitters are usually eliminated. One of my favourite variations (which I may have invented–I’ve never seen it in a recipe or bothered to research it) is what I’d like to call a Dublin: substitute Jameson’s for the American Whiskey and use Lavender Bitters (no other kind is acceptable) instead of Angostura/Creole.

The Manhattan, shaken into submission

The Manhattan, shaken into submission

Isn’t it fun to speak of cocktails? Whether it’s how you choose to begin the morning or end the day, cocktails are a quintessential and imperative part of the American day. Wine and beer can be made anywhere in the world, and we Americans have learned from the origin of the beverage, and often improved upon it.

Sometimes you stir, so it retains the clarity of one of John Hammond's amber in Jurassic Park

Sometimes you stir, so it retains the clarity of one of John Hammond’s amber in Jurassic Park

What do you think, Dear Reader? Do you agree with my assessment of the cocktail? Are you offended by my opinions? Please respond… I will reply…

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Reigning Men

Back during the holidays (see The First Annual Las Vegas Gourmet Holiday Dinner), Thistle and I took it upon ourselves to tabulate the great actors and actresses of the cinema. After great anguish and debate, rending of garments and tearing of hair, we calculated the top 10 actresses (see The AFI Can Suck It). In a later post, I published the long list of feminine talent (see Below the Cream Line.) In my recent visit to The Vegas (see All the Noise and the Hurry Seems to Help), we finalized our archive of the top 10 actors in film.

Initially, we thought that unlike with the actresses before them, picking the top men would be a comparatively easy task, but given the volume of really fine actors around, we were proven quickly wrong. That said, picking the actors, while difficult for us, did not evoke the same passion as the actresses. While we appreciate the talent of these men, while we have relished their indelible performances over the years, and while we understand their iconic status, they do not evoke the heartfelt and soul-rending adoration we feel for such performers as Judy Garland, Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith. Nonetheless, our task was before us. We began by dividing our list of 92 actors by halves independent of one another. If neither of us picked an actor, he was off the list; if we both picked him, he continued to the next round, and if only one of us picked him, we argued the point over Hendrick’s martinis. Those actors remaining were divided in half, and then in half again. We debated those left on the shortlist and condensed them,enjoying our final martinis, to the final 10.

I will not put words into Thistle’s mouth, but I found our top 10 to be a bit of a puzzlement, not for who is on it–they are all fine and fantastic actors, many of whom have stood the test of time to be immortalized on film–but for who is not on it. Read on, and see whether or not you agree. The list is presented in alphabetical order; any errors of fact are my own.

1. Marlon Brando

The 2 time Oscar winner was always more than a contender, appearing in some of the 20th centuries most iconic and controversial films. While he made some missteps, notably playing Asian at the height of his career in Teahouse of the August Moon, and lamentably at its end, playing who knows what in The Island of Dr Moreau, such performances as Vito Corleone in The Godfather and Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront sealed his place in the Hollywood firmament. But for more than any other role–at least for this blogger–Brando immortalized himself as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, that “survivor of the stone age.” His very personification of brutal sexuality that made one yearn and cringe at the same time, and while with each generation, one yearns to see a new actress of a certain age tear one’s heart apart as Blanche, it is very difficult to think of anyone but Brando as Stanley.Marlon-Brando-marlon-brando-32351388-499-750

2. Jeff Bridges

The youngest acting member of a Hollywood dynasty, Mr Bridges’ breakthrough role was that of Cybil Shepard’s star-crossed beau in The Last Picture Show, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination. One of Hollywood’s great natural actors, he has played in such diverse genres as science fiction (Tron, Starman–for which he received his third Oscar nod), action-adventure (Against All Odds, White Squall), thriller (Jagged Edge, The Door in the Floor), political thriller (The Contender, another Oscar nomination) historical drama (Tucker: The Man and His Dreams, Seabiscuit), and drama (among others, Crazy Heart, for which he received an Academy Award for Best Actor). Mr Bridges is possibly most beloved, though, for his hazy portrayal of mistaken identity as “The Duke” in the Coen brothers’ comedy, The Big Lebowski.

jeff bridges

3. Johnny Depp

After gaining mild fame as an undercover cop masquerading as a teen rebel on television’s 21 Jump Street, Mr Depp chose to bid farewell to his teenybop image by working with outlaw director John Waters in Crybaby (in which he played a good mannered teen rebel.) This film brought him under the gaze of director Tim Burton, who cast him as the eponymous Edward Scissorhands. Mr Depp and Mr Burton have become as inseparable as Jack Lemmon to Billy Wilder or John Wayne to John Ford: he is clearly the director’s muse, performing in such films as Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet St, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows. While Mr Depp has embraced popular franchises such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series (4 to date, and currently still counting), he is equally at home in  independent films like Dead Man and Arizona Dream, and in “serious roles” in films such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donny Brasco, and Finding Neverland. The only actor on this list to be molded into an animatronic figure, Mr Depp, more than anything, is a character actor in the guise of a leading man, a part played by such actors before him as Lionel Barrymore, Humphrey Bogart, and Alec Guinness. So perennially youthful that he begs the question of where he hides his portrait, a performance by Johnny Depp will always surprise and delight.

johnny dpp

4. Cary Grant

Were the reader to look up the definition of “charm” in the Oxford English Dictionary, s/he would come upon a picture of this actor. That’s not true, actually, though it should be. Cary Grant starred in some of the most important comedies of the 30s: Bringing up Baby, Holiday, The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story, and His Girl Friday. He brought his early experience with an acrobatic troupe to bear in such films as the aforementioned “Baby” and Arsenic and Old Lace. Equally at home in other genres, he headlined in Gunga Din, Penny Serenade, and Only Angels Have Wings. Grant explored his dark side in 4 Hitchcock films: Suspicion, Notorious (in which he treated Ingrid Bergman most shabbily), To Catch a Thief (another opportunity to exhibit his physical prowess), and North by Northwest (possibly the wittiest script of any Hitchcock film.) Mr Grant’s personal life has also been rife with interest, from his 13 year “marriage” to Randolph Scott, to his “Cash and Cary” wedding to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, to his LSD laced relationship with Diane Cannon. Many have argued that his refusal to join the Academy got him blackballed from the Oscars, but he received a tearful honorary award in 1970. Mr Grant–how do I not think of Mary Tyler Moore whenever I type this–has one of the best lines in cinema history, when, dressed in a negligee in Bringing up Baby, he declaims “I JUST WENT GAY–ALL OF A SUDDEN!!!”

CaryGrant

5. William Holden

In this blogger’s opinion, William Holden is the quintessential natural actor. He is handsome–you really do wonder who Sabrina is going to choose between Holden and Bogart–but not a classic beauty like Robert Taylor or Tyrone Power. He is masculine, boxing in Golden Boy and blowing up bridges in River Kwai (why on earth did he wax his chest?)–but not as ruggedly butch as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, or John Wayne. He is romantic: Sabrina, again, The Moon is Blue, Paris When it Sizzles, but without the lushness of Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights or that of Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun. He eschewed the homespunnedness of Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart for the blatant cynicism of Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd and Sefton in Stalag 17. He made you understand why Faye Dunaway was attracted to him in Network, and he made you like him in SOB. William Holden was simply one of the greats.

SunsetBoulevardWilliamHolden

6. Ian McKellan

The reader might argue that Ian McKellan is better known as a stage actor than a cinematic one, had he not embraced central roles in 2 of Hollywood’s most popular franchises: X Men and The Lord of the Rings. His presence in both adds gravitas and class to those films, but he has had a marvelous cinematic career apart from Magneto and Gandalf. He portrayed one of drama’s greatest villains in Richard III, and one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated geniuses in Gods and Monsters. He’s generally played in supporting roles, in films such as Six Degrees of Separation, Bent, and The DaVinci Code, and has added a touch of class to every film he’s done. Sir Ian McKellan was one of the first “out” gay men to receive a nod from Liz, and he has been active in gay rights for decades.

ian mckellan

7. Paul Newman

This blogger can certainly add little to the story of Paul Newman, one of the great people of the twentieth century. He shone as an actor, as a race car driver, and as a humanitarian. Who else has embodied a character from Tennessee Willliams and created a delightful salad dressing? Mr Newman embodied the qualities of a daytime soap opera: “The Bold and the Beautiful” in such films as Somebody Up There Likes Me, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus, The Hustler (until he got beaten up), Sweet Bird of Youth (until they cut his dick off–or that might have just been the play), and pretty much everything else he ever did. But he was a brilliant and natural actor in all the aforementioned films, and in movies like Cool Hand Luke, Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Absence of Malice, and his Oscar-winning reprisal of “Fast Eddie” Felson in The Color of Money. Later roles included Richard Russo written characters in Nobody’s Fool, and the TV film Empire Falls, as well as the Disney Pixar film Cars, before he succumbed to cancer.

936full-paul-newman

8. Peter O’Toole

The great British playwright and raconteur Noel Coward declared that if Peter O’Toole had been any more beautiful, he could have been “Florence” of Arabia. Mr O’Toole was certainly lovely in David Lean’s biopic of TE Lawrence, but he also portrayed the character with subtlety and grace. Qualities he has brought to all his roles, from both young and old Henry Plantagenet in Becket and The Lion in Winter, to the Errol Flynn/Peter O’Toole amalgam in My Favorite Year. In between, he has played such diverse characters as Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote in The Man of La Mancha (far from the worst adaptations of Cervantes’ work) and Emperor Tiberius in Caligula (one of the worst adaptations of the Roman Empire.) In recent years, he voiced the character of restaurant critic Anton Ego in Disney Pixar’s Ratatoille, one of the few Pixar films this blogger can bear to watch. Peter O’Toole has been the most nominated-no win-actor in the history of the Academy Awards, from Lawrence, where he lost to Gregory Peck, to Venus, where he lost to Forest Whitaker. Peter O’Toole grudgingly accepted an Honorary Award in 2003.

Peter O'Toole in desert

9. Gregory Peck

It would be difficult for me to accept that any actor should receive an Oscar instead of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia had  it not been Gregory Peck for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. But Mockingbird was not a breakthrough for Peck, it was midway through is career, one that broke through as a priest in Keys to the Kingdom, moved on to an amnesia victim in Hitchcock’s  Spellbound, and continued onto the part of an oversexed baddie in David O Selznick’s Duel in the Sun. Mr Peck played in such socially responsible films as the groundbreaking Gentleman’s Agreement, and in romantic comedies like Roman Holiday which defined his co-star’s (Audrey Hepburn’s) careers. Mr Peck’s career ranged from Captain Ahab to Josef Mengele to Douglas MacArthur. He added a touch of humanity to each. Except maybe Mengele, but you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Atticus Finch has been one of the most inspirational, quasi-messianic characters of the 20th century: people have named their children for him, people have become lawyers because of him, people have changed their world views because of Atticus Finch.

gregory-peck-as-atticus-finch

10. Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy won 2 Academy Awards early in his career, for Capatains Courageous and Boystown. (Not about West Hollywood.) He is one of 5 performers who’ve won an Academy Award consecutively, points to anyone who can name the other 4. That said, his best performances occured later in his career, in this blogger’s opinion: movies such as Adam’s Rib, Father of the Bride, Pat and Mike, The Desk Set, The Old Man and the Sea, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremburg, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are among his–and any actor’s–best performances. He’s considered one of Hollywood’s natural actors, and he is one who’s certainly improved with age, like a fine whisky. On and off the screen, Mr Tracy was known as one half of one of the great acting duos of the century: in addition to the films mentioned above, he starred with Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, Keeper of the Flame, Without Love, The Sea of Grass, and State of the Union. Spencer Tracy was a staunch–if conflicted–catholic, and I think it is a great tragedy that Katherine Hepburn, the love of his life, could not participate in his final rites.

Spencer Tracy

So those are the top 10. Who’s there, and who’s not. It seems strange to me that I’d take more time to chronicle this list of actors than I was our list of actresses, but I have to wonder…

Where is Laurence Olivier, or Guilgud, or Ralph Richardson or Alec Guinness? Where are De Niro, Denzel Washington or Al Pacino? What happened to Sidney Poitier, Tom Hanks, or Sean Penn? Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda? Who can say? I must admit that considering the roles of the above 10 people, thinking of what they’ve done, thinking of the parts they’ve played that other actors would never consider, maybe we did pick the best. Maybe we did choose the actors who will be remembered in the years after Thistle and I have gone. Who can say?  I’m too timid and meek to decide, but then I think of Olivier in Wuthering Heights… Tell me what you think. That’s not a rhetorical question.

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The Simplest Roast Chicken

Julia was always fond of saying that a perfectly roasted chicken was the sign of a good chef, and this declaration is inarguable. One reason for this is that a whole chicken is like a blank canvas: all one needs to complete a masterpiece worthy of da Vinci, Seurat, or Kahlo is imagination, talent, taste, and time.

"It's the chicken sisters!"

“It’s the chicken sisters!”

There are many marvelous recipes for whole roasted chicken, but one of my favourites is also one of simplest, perfectly easy to make. It begins with a compound butter, a simple mixture of 4 T softened unsalted butter, 2 T finely minced shallots, 1.5 T minced fresh tarragon (try to find fresh tarragon, any reputable grocery store should stock it, but if it’s out of season, 2 t of dried tarragon are an acceptable substitute), kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Bunk all the above ingredients into a bowl and mix them together until they’re well blended and the butter is creamed.

Beat the butter mixture by hand until soft and fluffy.

Beat the butter mixture by hand until soft and fluffy.

The chicken you choose will affect the quality of your finished product. If you have a reputable butcher in the neighbourhood who can provide you with locally sourced  poultry, it’s worth the expense.  A chicken who lived a happy life, killed humanely, and quickly sent to market is an ideal source for roasting.

If you’re resigned to the supermarket, purchase a fresh, not frozen, bird, preferably one that is free range and organically raised. Select a roasting chicken of no more than 4.5-6 pounds. Remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting, and pick it over for any pin-feathers missed when the bird was slaughtered. You will probably need to remove the offal; sometimes it is kept in a bag, at other times it is left loose in the cavity. If you favour the organs, they freeze well and can be saved for sauteing or to be used in stock, or if you have pets, you may boil or roast them and mince them for a special treat. Once you have completed these tasks, rinse the chicken inside and out in cold water. Jacques Pepin scoffs at this extra step, citing that any bacteria surviving the intense heat of the roasting process deserve to live, but I think a nice shower will remove any detritus remaining on the bird. Dry it thoroughly, and rub the cavity with 1 tsp of the compound butter. Sprinkle it with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. If you choose, you may stuff the cavity with an onion, leafy celery and a washed, but unpeeled carrot. With your impeccably clean hands, gently run your fingers between the flesh and skin of the breast, loosening the skin up to and around the thighs. Use 1/2 of the remaining compound butter to massage it under the skin.

Relax the bird with a nice massage.

Relax the bird with a nice massage.

At this time, you will want to truss the bird: her legs should be demurely crossed like Jackie Kennedy, not spread open for anybody like the Wife of Bath.

Any reputable BDSM manual will give you tressing instructions, or take advantage of the handy silicone bands now available.

Any reputable BDSM manual will give you trussing instructions, or take advantage of the handy silicone bands now available.

Place the chicken breast down into a 450 degree preheated oven, and roast for 15 minutes. At this time turn her onto her side, she should recline, like Livia in Rome, or Miriam at the first Passover. Baste her with any drippings that have accumulated in the pan.DSC00259 Allow the bird to roast another 15 minutes, then turn her onto her other side, baste her with pan drippings, and return her to the oven to roast another 15 minutes. It is a good idea to toss in some dry white wine or stock to the pan somewhere around in here, to help prevent scorching from the fat dripping into the pan. At this time, the chicken will begin to brown.

Beginning to brown nicely. Note the fonde beginning to develop in the pan.

Beginning to brown nicely. Note the fond beginning to develop in the pan.

Now, reduce the heat of the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and rest the chicken on her breast once more. Turning the bird in this manner replicates the motions of a rotisserie, and ensures that the juices are distributed as the chicken roasts. It is little enough trouble to ensure a succulent breast upon your tongue. Baste her with pan drippings. She will thank you for a mild sprinkling of Kosher salt. Once again into the oven.

Remember to baste with pan drippings each time you rotate the bird.

Remember to baste with pan drippings each time you rotate the bird.

After 15 minutes, turn the chicken breast up, and baste her with the pan drippings and anoint her with another light sprinkling of salt. Return her to the oven.

DSC00256You will roast the chicken breast up for the rest of her time in the oven. Continue to baste her with pan drippings every 15 minutes, and occasionally sprinkle her with Kosher salt. Add fresh ground pepper to the final 2 sprinklings, as if you pepper the bird to early, she may acquire a bitter taste, akin to Elaine Stritch. You will want to roast the chicken until it is perfectly delicious. I recommend always using a thermometer to test for doneness. A chicken will be well roasted when a thermometer plunged into the meatiest part of her thigh (not touching the bone) reaches a temperature of 165-172 degrees Fahrenheit.

Boldly going where no bird has gone before.

Boldly going where no bird has gone before.

A digital, insta-read thermometer is easily purchased at any reputable housewares store (Crate&Barrel sells a marvelous one) or you may choose a leave-in thermometer, though I recommend the former. If you refuse to use a thermometer, a chicken is done roasting when its leg moves easily (sometimes a feat if you have bound it properly) or when you can pierce it and its juices run clear. A thermometer is best. Invest in one.

Perfectly roasted, but now it's time to wait.

Perfectly roasted, but now it’s time to wait.

Once the chicken is out of the oven, you may feel tempted to fall upon it like a jackal, but preserve your soul in patience, for you must rest the bird breast down, under a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil for twenty minutes, so that the juices may redistribute themselves. Take a moment for a cocktail, if you choose, but do not get too squiffy, because you must still create the sauce.

The Bronx, and Staten Island, too

The Bronx, and Staten Island, too

If you choose, you may make a simple pan sauce. Spoon the fat out of the roasting pan, leaving its juices, and deglaze the pan with the juices and some added wine, add more stock and reduce. You may leave it as simple as seasoning the sauce with salt and pepper, or you might choose to toss in some fresh tarragon. It’s always good to fortify the sauce with a little butter, beating it in until the sauce has a silky, smooth consistency.

Or, if you want gravy–and I usually do–you must begin with a roux. Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a fat separator, and deglaze the pan with wine and a roux whisk or wooden spoon. Deglazing will help to separate the bits left on the bottom of the pan–the aforementioned fond.

The position of the spout allows you to pour the juices from the pitcher, effectively separating the fat.

The position of the spout allows you to pour the juices from the pitcher, effectively separating the fat.

You are now ready to create the roux, which is perfectly simple, but does require attention and quickwittedness. If there is little fat left in the roasting pan after the deglazing, add some from the fat separator, along with a quarter cup of flour, over low heat.

Whisk it, with patience and fortitude, until it turns a colour somewhere between peanut butter and The Jersey Shore’s “Snookie” after a trip to the tanning salon. This will give you a good scald. At this time you will slowly pour the juices from the fat separator into the roasting pan, until the fat begins to merge in the spout, whisking all the while. The chicken will not provide enough juice to make sufficient gravy, so add stock until you are satisfied with the volume, and allow to simmer over lowest heat, adding stock and whisking as needed. At this time, you may finish any accompaniments to the dinner as you have chosen to create.

Perhaps you want to serve the chicken with a simple, verdant salad and thin cut, golden crisp pomme frites. (The fries soak up the pan juices effectively, and the chicken is best served halved with a pair of poultry shears, should you choose this method.) Or, carve the bird, and serve it with fresh vegetables of the season and mashed potatoes. Asparagus is marvelous in the spring, haricots vert are lovely year round, and you may choose to substitute the mashed potatoes with a puree of winter squash in the latter months of the year. Regardless of how you choose to serve it, roasted chicken must be a part of any home cook’s repertoire.

Tarragon Roasted Chicken with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, gravy, haricots vert a'l'anglaise, and butter braised carrots

Tarragon Roasted Chicken with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, gravy, haricots vert a’l’anglaise, and butter braised carrots

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