Saturday, October 09, 2004

Salad the Silent Killer

What a great title, it comes from a chapter in Jeffrey Steingarten's collection of essays about food, The Man Who Ate Everything. The guy is a complete food geek, one with an apparent distaste for salads and other greens, very much a meat eater. Being a long standing food editor of Vogue (he is, in fact, seeking an assistant I see), you might think he's a bit of a snob, only ranting on about where you might get the latest poncey food. That would be a long way from the truth - there were many more food topics with which I was comfortable than I found to be outside my realm of interest. I really loved the way he'd get so intense about things and yet be just that little bit stupid: he was making a coconut layer cake, when his eggs separated from the batter. This provoked a complete ransack of all his food books and the use of several foodie helplines, to try to work out what to do. On the way through, he finds all sorts of other problems and their alleged remedies, putting many to the test (not, I hope, in the few hours he was purporting to make the cake). Nothing gives him the precise answer, but he did find some partial remedies.

So, that's the intense aspect. The stupid aspect is that he was randomly talking to some person, no expert or anything, and they said that when their eggs separated, they just ignored it and carried on. Somehow, after thinking he might be the first person in the 100,000 years of cooking, Steingarten thought he was the first to hit this problem yet, within a matter of weeks, it happens again. He tries just ignoring it, and the cake came out perfect!

I didn't read everything, the salad chapter for example, as it was a semi scientific account of the lurking evils within our lettuces, and skimmed others but some chapters I found completely absorbing. I mentioned his efforts with "primal" bread last week - he had similar attempts to get the perfect french fry, tomato ketchup, mashed potato, kobe beef (this one actually saw him take a journey to Japan, so he could find it at its source) etc. Chips, apparently, are best cooked in horse fat: at least one Michelin 3 star chef swears by it, another by goose fat. This provoked some nostalgia for the days when McDonalds actually had excellent fries, by using beef fat - very much anathema to today's health conscious version of Maccas.

Other tales I liked were about his attempt to find the cheapest diet that was still edible, his month of living on meals made from recipes on the backs of boxes (the oldest being from 1802, for Macaroni Cheese), his incredible feat of pig eating when he was the rib Judge in some Memphis Barbecue competition (he claims to have eaten 400 ribs in a week!) and his various voyages to find out about the local cuisines in places as diverse as Tunisia, Japan, Alsace and the Pacific Northwest.


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