Archive for the ‘Gathering Ingredients’ Category

Offal, Aptly Named

January 16, 2011 3 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Fuck you, man. Fuck you for putting “Tripes Les Halles” in your book. It wasn’t that the dish itself is nasty – which it kinda was, and kinda wasn’t. I mean, it’s a big stew of bits and bobs and cracklin’s and gurglings, so some of those …bits… aren’t half bad. But god dammit, chef, the odor of stewing tripe! That is…wow. And it just pervades the entire house.

And I thought they smelled bad on the outside...

My lovely fiancee was at first pretty enthusiastic, especially when we were shopping for the more esoteric chunks at Super King. But when I started on the first night of three nights of horror, she sort of blanched, and did her best to keep the smell out of the bedroom. It didn’t work.

It smells a lot worse than it looks.

I’ve tried to come up with the words to express the smell of simmering tripe – both kinds, feathered and honeycomb – but’s tough. “Boiled ass?” “Hot fuckall?” “Stewed garbage?” I just don’t know. But it’s not good, and it’s relentless. The pig’s ears and calves’ hooves weren’t so bad – really sort of typical porky smell, which is not half  bad at all.

Porky goodness

But that tripe? Good lord. You hinted obliquely that it would smell better after the first awful step. What you didn’t mention was how it would seep into every crack and corner of the house. It wasn’t that it smelled super awful, but it did smell pretty bad, and you just couldn’t shake it. Anyway, I simmered the tripe and an unpeeled, halved onion for three hours and drained it. I also simmered the pork belly, pig’s ears and hooves for two and a half hours.

I reserved the pig juice for the rest of the recipe, and called it a night. It was pretty late  by the time I was done, because there’s pretty much no weekend day that you can cook for three days before and still not be on a work night. That was a complicated sentiment, but what I basically mean was, I got a short night’s sleep in a house redolent with the scent of boiled cow stomach. It wasn’t good chef. Not good at all.

Fortunately the rest of the ordeal wasn’t as bad as that first night. But yeah, I’m seriously glad there’s no more tripe recipes in the book.

I’ll fill you in on the feast, later.


French Fish Fries

January 14, 2011 4 comments


Dear Chef Bourdain;

You describe friture as “ethereal” which was not my experience of them at all.  Preparing them was disgusting, and when complete they were … well, sort of good but sort of fishy-in-the-bad-way. Curiously, my Asian guests were pretty crazy about them, especially when they stole some rice from some spam musubi that another friend brought to the party.

Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little. They were kind of hard to find, and despite your exhortation to get fresh and tiny smelts, I could only get previously-frozen smelts from the always wonderful Super King Market. When I brought them up to the checkout, the girls manning the register had a lot of questions, with that look in the eye that says, “You are a crazy white person.” (I get that look a lot.) Anyway, I brought them home and got to the gross part, squeezing their guts out.

I just don't love guts. Sorry Chef.

I’ve cleaned my fair share of fish. But something about squeezing the guts right out their butts is extra gross. Actually, most of these smelts were bigger than the ones you recommended, and already had a little hole in the ventral side. So even the gentlest squeeze results in all the innards boiling out of that hole, rather than the “whazoo” as you recommend, Chef. It’s pretty laborious, too, there’s no fast way to do it. So after about 45 minutes or so, I had a bowl full.

I thought they smelled bad on the outside...

That actually was the hardest part, to be honest. The rest was just getting my meez straight and then fryin’ ’em up.

The ever important meez

I minced some garlic and flat parsley, and then seasoned some flour with salt, pepper, and a bunch of other stuff. Your recipe says “to taste” so I just kept adding dashes of interesting things I found until it tasted nice and savory. After that, I heated the oil. I didn’t have a thermometer, so I got it shimmering but not smoking.

Suddenly more appetizing!

While they were frying, I threw together the garlic, parsley, and some olive oil. Once they were sort of golden brown and floating, I pulled them out with a slotted spoon, and tossed them in the garlic mix.

Honestly, everything is better with garlic.

And that’s all there is to it, really. You’re right, once you know the method, you don’t really need a recipe. You just season some flour, and fry some de-gutted tiny fish. Then roll ’em in something for flavor. I mean, other than fish flavor.

Ethereal? Nahhh.

Some people liked ’em and some people wouldn’t touch them. I gave a few of them a try, but they weren’t quite perfectly crisp – they were a little chewy. And the chewiness sort of enhanced the fishy flavor, which wasn’t really the way to go.  I’m not sure I’d make these again, Chef. Mostly because squeezing the guts out of the fishies was not only kinda gross, but really tedious. Maybe I needed hotter oil, maybe I needed to cook them a little longer, but these weren’t really like ethereal french fries.

Sorry Chef, I have to call this one a miss. But maybe I just did it wrong – so I don’t have a firm feeling about that.

Fishily Yours;


Blood and Guts Extravaganza

January 10, 2011 2 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Just as your recipe in the book says, I got some funny looks while gathering the ingredients for “Tripes Les Halles”. There’s a Mexican grocery in Pasadena called “Super King” where they sell pretty much every part of the animal imaginable, and some far closer to unimaginable.  One of the butchers there actually argued with me, “No, you don’t want to eat that.” But I do!

I didn’t convince them to give me a pig’s heart – and I had to pantomime a beating heart to convince them I really meant it, even though “corazon de puerco” was, I thought,  close enough to correct to be understandable. When they realized what I wanted, they said, “No, no no, we don’t sell that. No.” So yeah, no pig’s heart for me. But when I convinced them I really did want the ears, both kinds of tripe, and some calves feet, I figured I was ready.

So this is also an invitation to any L.A. area culinary adventurers who are ready to really try something unusual – I’m starting the three day process on Thursday, and I’ll be serving up Tripes Les Halles on Saturday night. If you’ve got the stomach and the palate for it – drop me a line, and you’re welcome to join us. Take some comfort in this, bold eaters, at least there’s no snout.

More pictures to come soon;


Foie is not your foe

December 27, 2010 1 comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know you’re a pretty avid supporter of pate de foie gras and, to put it slightly diplomatically, irked by folks who are lobbying to get it banned.  So I’m sure you’d be happy to read the following post about the physiology of duck-feeding, de-bunking some of the worst misconceptions about how foie gras is produced.

Certainly from the point of view of this writer, responsible producers maintain a facility that’s as humane as any farm where animals are raised for slaughter. The ducks aren’t crowded, they’re in good health, they have room to roam, and they’re basically unruffled (get it? See what I did there?) by the gavage process.  In fact, ducks swallow their food whole, store it in their crop,  and grind it up in their gizzards like many birds. So giving them more food than they can digest at once just mirrors what they do when they’re storing food for a migratory journey, albeit to a greater extent.

The one thing that blew my mind? Ducks have a trachea completely separate from their esophagus – and it runs from their lungs out through their tongues! So ducks breathe through their tongues.  That’s just weird, man. It’s so weird, I think we should eat them.

So there you go, chef – if ever you want to do something other than spit bile and mock anti-foie gras activists, you can give them as a rational rejoinder. Anyone who eats chicken – which are fattened in their pens like any domestic animal – should feel ethically okay about eating foie gras.

I still can’t find any locally though. What a pain in the liver!




Ah, the Gallic Shrug

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Dear Chef  Bourdain;

Based on my extensive research – and by that I mean I read “Kitchen Confidential” and “Medium Raw“; you spent time in France in your youth, but not as an adult. Too busy scoring smack and grilling meat, I gather. But no doubt recently you have, given all your “No Reservations” episodes in France. Some of my favorites, by the way, and I’m by no means a Fraco-phile. So you’ll know what I mean when I say Gallic indifference to someone else’s inconvenience can be infuriating.

There’s a place near my house in Venice that when I refer to it I call “The French”. Though in fact it’s really The French Market and Cafe. But whatever, the point is they serve good breakfasts and have a little market with French imports in it. I checked there for some of the weirder stuff I need for this project and basically struck out – what they’ve got is either pre-prepared, or the kind of stuff I can find at any market around here.

But! Oh joy! I stopped in the other morning for coffee and a croissant on the way to work and discovered they had boudin noir, which previously they didn’t.  I didn’t want to take what’s basically congealed blood with me to work, though, so I didn’t get it on the spot. For whatever damn French socialist reason though, they were closed at 5PM when I stopped by on the way home. So today – I went back. Fuck it, I’ll just throw it in the fridge at work to thaw, and serve boudin noir aux pommes for dinner tonight.

Nope. Frozen packet of congealed blood in hand, I went to the register. A gaggle of people stood around it, confused. There’s a sign that says “NO CREDIT CARDS”. The lady behind the register was utterly unruffled – no doubt due to her utter lack of concern. There was mad buzzing from the circle of people though – they were stymied. They had already got their coffee and pastries from the self-serve, but had no means to pay.

“Will you take a check?” asked one lady.

The woman behind the counter did it, then. The Gallic Shrug. The “sounds like you’ve got a problem” shrug. The shrug that causes all responsibility to bounce off like low caliber rounds off the front glacis of an Abrams battle tank. So invulnerable to responsibility are French merchants, that it’s well known that Tony Stark keeps a “Hulkbuster” Frenchman handy to shrug if the Hulk goes on another rampage. BOOM. Stopped cold.

So she shrugs and says, “No no no.” As if taking a check was some sort of mad request, like, “I’ve got a handful of Africanized bees. I’ll give them to you in exchange for coffee?”

Chef, I wish I was capable of not giving a shit like French shopkeepers are. It’s amazing. It would be so handy in business meetings, or when my girlfriend asks me to take out the trash. Just shrug. “No no no.”  And that’s the end of it.

So no blood sausage for me, until I go and get some cash first or something.

Guess I’ve got a problem, non?


Stock Day

October 21, 2010 4 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know, I said my next post would be some sweet, sweet knife-porn. Which isn’t anywhere as dirty as you’d think. In fact, somebody somewhere just googled their way into something a *lot* different than what they were looking for. Anyway, this isn’t about knives, it’s about stock.

I’ve always used the stuff that comes in those flimsy waxed boxes, but the once or twice I’ve made my own stock,  it was palpably better; and that was just chicken. So I’m …somewhat excited that this coming Sunday is going to be stock and demi-glace day. I’m going to make some chicken stock, and dark veal stock. I’ve only got one stock pot big enough, so for one day that’s enough. Oh, and some demi-glace, too.

Unusually for Los Angeles, it’s been cool and rainy this week. This is what we’d call Winter weather, but anywhere would be like…early Fall. But that’s pretty much perfect for making a good soup. My woman will be off at a baby shower for her sister-in-law, so it’ll just be me and Assistant Chef  Bourdain (my dog) in the house making stock and drinking the left over wine. I’m going to start the day at the Venice farmer’s market to look for some good, locally sourced veggies in season, too. Maybe they’ll have some veal bones, too – but if not, the local Whole Foods does. I have mixed feelings about Whole Foods – they do have some good ingredients, but they’re heavily priced and owned by a deep Right Wing Libertarian who stands for almost everything I’m against.

But hey, any business is owned, by definition, by either a corporation or a business-owner, almost all of whom have a vested interest in making a profit and relatively few in being responsible community partners. So I’m just going to get the best stuff I can get wherever I can get it, and try my best to get it local and in-season. Fortunately California has an awful lot of really amazing stuff locally. In your book you sneer at Californian strawberries, but I have to say, we grow a mean berry out here, and they only have to come from Ventura, which is the next county over. Local enough for me!

I’m also going to grow my own thyme and parsley. Well, I say “I” but what I really mean fiancee, who unlike me is capable of growing more than just a cactus or succulent, unlike me. Her parents have a bay tree in their yard, too, so we have all the fresh bay leaves we might ever need. And that’s what I need to make “bouqet garni” which is in, I might point out, every damn recipe in your book. What’s up with that? I mean, if there’s going to be one thing in everything I make, it would probably be garlic.

But you, sir, are the chef. So I’ll do it your way and see how it turns out. Especially the parts where it says “and drink excessive amounts of good burgundy”. I’ll have to just brace myself, and do as you instruct.

Into your hands, I commend myself, Chef – now let’s fuckin’ cook!


(again, obligatory f-bomb.)

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