Saturday, August 01, 2009

I am faithful to Marguerite Patten

"Where's the angelica? I can't see the angelica." I am in an aisle in a supermarket in rural Quebec.

"What's angelica?", asks the French-Canadian veterinary research histopathologist. "It's...angelique". "Yes, minky, but what is it?".

I do not know what angelica is. "It is a sort of preserved leaf. I think. Maybe." "What sort of leaf?". "Don't know. A leafy leaf."

I subsequently discover that angelica is almost impossible to find, as well as being a sort of root thing preserved in sugar, but that is of no use to me; I need it if I am to accurately recreate Marguerite Patten's Délice Aux Mandarines. I give up and buy some of those awful green maraschino cherries instead - the closest thing I can find, both in colour (neon green), and spirit.

Time passes. Other ingredients are acquired with little trouble: turnips, carrots, leeks, onions, red wine, bacon, beef; eggs, sugar, tinned mandarin oranges and short grain rice (we buy arborio and hope for the best). But the recipe for Boeuf Braisé asks for something called 'shortening'.

I do not ever want to have buy shortening again. It is a big block of fat (that you do not need to refrigerate and which lasts for at least a year), and if you look at the ingredients label, the ingredients are not things that you would normally want to put in your mouth.

I stand in the aisle of the supermarket and look at it, and look at the pathologist. "I am not using this. I can't." The pathologist sighs the sigh of a man who has realised he is destined to spend the rest of his life with someone who just leaves things lying around and doesn't pick them up. "You have to, minky. This is the whole point. You have to ... reach your limits and ... go beyond them. Face your fears. That sort of thing." "What, like sort of extreme cooking, but 1967 style?". "Yes, something like that." I put the shortening the basket.

Time passes. I am in the kitchen and the shortening is melting. It is big, and there is a quarter of a cupful of it (non-North American readers, if you need a conversion go here; no, I can't do it in my head). It melts and it is clear and it seems to be able to take a very high heat without burning or smelling weird. (Further proof, if we needed it, that is is made of recycled shopping bags and donkey's ears). I do what I am told to by Marguerite and feel the lack of certain things (more wine; garlic), but it passes uneventfully and when the thing is cool, I soak up the shortening from the surface with cunning use of doubled-over paper towels. What I end up with is a nice-enough beef stew the colour of baby poo.

The Délice Aux Mandarines is quite the thing. You make rice pudding (I had forgotten how very nice a plain rice pudding is) that you like until you have to add sugar and egg yolks (egg yolks?). You then pour the rice pudding over tinned mandarins (this is not a joke), and then - as if this isn't quite enough - you make one of those boring meringues that never does anything (just egg white and sugar), whack it on top, and bake it. Rice pudding and meringue makes no sense to me now, and I very much doubt it made sense then.

But enough from me, for now it is time for the first of two reviews, brought to you live by none other than the French-Canadian veterinary research pathologist who - as you will see - is perfectly bilingual.

The Boeuf Braisé

Browness. Browness incarnate, the Idea of Brown, Brown Immemorial – in the immortal words of Mallarmé, “le Brun Infini”. This is what this dish is about, Brownitude.

Oh yes, sure, it’s braised beef – note, not braised beef shoulder or beef shank or whatever - just beef. That is precisely what the recipe ingredients called for: ‘un morceau de boeuf’, i.e. a piece of beef. None of today’s usual bollocks, which undoubtedly would have read ‘ask your favorite butcher to select the nicest portion of the upper-middle interior loin of a first-generation Angus-Simmental steer that has been raised entirely on locally-grown organic swedish ryegrass while listening to Beethoven’ s Pastoral symphony’.

Screw that shit, Marguerite Patten says – you just get you some beef, I’ll tell you how to treat it right. And right she does, by turning it brown, and surrounding it with brown. Which is exactly what it tastes like: brown. Homey, comforting, down-home brown, like that sofa in the basement whose covers you really should wash but will never bother to. Sure, you can gussy it up if you want – add some fresh garlic, or some chili, or wine – but then you’ll lose its true nature: the beefiness of Beef, the browniness of Brown.

Grade: B+
Recommended for: Long winter nights



















Coming soon: The pathologist reviews the freakish rice pudding/meringue/mandarin combo.

14 comments:

miss v said...

I love this. LOVE. Brunement brilliant!

monkeymother said...

Is it too late to send angelica? It is a local speciality a bit north of here. They boil up a stalk with sugar ('candy it' is, I believe, the correct expression). Those neon cherries will have had marginally more flavour.

P.S. Have you had provision made in your nuptial outfits so that they can be let out when the inevitable happens to your waistlines?

P.P.S. I am a little shocked you were not entirely faithful to MP - did I spy a little healthy parsley garnish?

The Gripes of Wrath said...

I can almost taste the zeitgeist, it is so heavily suffused with 1960s. Hurrah for brown food!

PurestGreen said...

From leafy leaf to baby poo and the browniness of brown, this was as deeply entertaining and wonderful as I had hoped it would be. That meringue sounds almost dangerous - can't wait.

Mrs Jones said...

OoooOOOOooohhhh - French-Canadian veterinary research pathologist, he write GOOD!

Also how absolutely perfect that you took a photo of your final offering that almost matches MP's original card - the lighting, the setting, the whole 'serving suggestion' scenario - genius!! I look forward to more....

K said...

My mother has those recipe cards! Scary tasteless brown food aplenty! :)

NON-WORKINGMONKEY said...

MM- if you look closely, you will see that Mrs Patten also has a parsley garnish. Our outfits are made of Lycra and spangles, so we are not concerned.

As to the rest, the pathologist do write good, as well as also being able to dissect an entire pig in under 2 minutes and chop down trees.

Buggles Balham High Road said...

Excellent. Thank you.

NON-WORKINGMONKEY said...

Greetings, Buggles. Our pleasure. We think.

NON-WORKINGMONKEY said...

Hello Miss V and welcome. Mrs Jones, Gripes of Wrath, PurestGreen: thank you for your kind words - and please continue in your encouragements, for the pathologist, although strong like an ox - must be tempted from his lair like you would tempt a shy gazelle from the winter woods. Or something.

punxxi said...

Mssr vetpathist did a wonderful job of critiquing the brownness of brown meat...

Scrumpot666 said...

I was in the grocery store today. Saw the cans of Crisco. Could help but giggle...............

Miss P said...

Your experiment leaves me breathless with not only its fabulousness, but with the pathologist's input. There is a fly in the ointment however: 'minky' was the ex-boyfriend's name for my most esteemed ladyparts. I like to think this was something to do with silkiness and elitism, but was probably a reference to ratty vermin.

Anonymous said...

Last night I dreamt I ate a whole casserole of Marguerite's brown monstrosity. I am vegetarian. I have been vegetarian since 1983. You and your histopathologist have a lot to answer for...

Long time since I've read anything so knicker-wettingly funny. Thank you both -- and keep up the good work! Don't suppose Marguerite ever cooked anything non-carniverous, did she?

e

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