Pass The Fat
Winter season is the time to bulk up on full-flavored foods.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
It’s time to dig in for winter. Time to rub our hands together, light candles, and generate warmth and light. It’s time to gather indoors, extend our glasses, and eat fat.
Let’s get rid of the notion that you have to have certain specific foods for the holidays. There is no reason why you shouldn’t serve baked salmon for your holiday dinner, or egg foo yong, for that matter. Don’t languish in the beaten path. Heed the wise words of
the poet Basho, who counseled “seek not what the ancients had, but what they sought.”
Metabolically speaking, little has changed since the ancient times.
During warmer seasons, we don’t need as much antifreeze in our pipes, and we can survive by grazing on leafy greens. But as the days cool, salad alone just won’t cut it (unless it’s smothered in cheese, bacon bits, ranch dressing, and olives). My friend Stewart says that the most important thing he learned at cooking school is that fat is flavor. I’ve never been to cooking school, but I believe the proper presentation of fat counts too.
Consider a nice bite of filet mignon drenched in salmoriglio. It tastes good, of course, due in no small part to the buttery oregano garlic sauce on top. But what really brings the flavor alive in your mouth is the sprinkle of pomegranate seeds on top, and the combination of that rich mouthful with a swig of fine cabernet. The fat coats the tongue; the acid cuts through it. The result is a flavor explosion.
One of the most important factors of all in the flavor equation is who you eat with. Besides being a social act, eating is an agricultural act, the final act in a drama that began in the fields. Did you freeze, can, dry, pickle or otherwise preserve it for later use? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you have something extra to taste.
Indeed, flavor is a function of what you know about your food, whether local or exotic in flavor. Learning the food rhythms of the place where you live earns you the right to truly call it your home, and celebrating your home ground is a great way to celebrate the holidays. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to take advantage of our global economy and eat something from far away, and celebrate the whole planet.
It’s a social act, it’s an agricultural act, it’s a physical act, and for some, eating is a spiritual act. For me, any food with mayonnaise on it is sacred. It bewilders me that mayonnaise has somehow acquired a “white trash” reputation in many circles, while others simply consider it gross. To me, good quality mayonnaise, when combined with other savory foods, brings thehighest pleasure.
Holiday season is the time to go the extra mile and make your mayo from scratch. There are many ways to do it, but here is my extra-quick and simple blender method. It’s not as thick as some mayo recipes, but when you spoon it on, you won’t complain.
The other holiday food that I want to talk about is salad. I know I mentioned earlier that this time of year salad alone won’t do it. But hear me out, because I do know a thing or two about salad, and that’s all I’m going to talk about, just a thing or two.
Thing number one relates to how acid and fat go so well together. A nice crisp salad—with a simple 2:1 olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette—will augment much of the lusty, fatty richness on your holiday table.
Thing number two is one salad trick that will make almost any salad better. After washing and drying the greens, and before you add your tomatoes or nuts or goat cheese or olives or whatever you add…first, add a clove or two (or five) of raw, fresh pressed garlic to the leaves, and toss it in. The salad that results, either by itself or in conjunction with a bite of fatty richness, will dazzle any holiday table, and leave you and your friends in a happy, holiday food afterglow that will keep on glowing, even during the shortest daysof the year.
With some homemade mayo and some tangy salad on your table,
you will have both ends of the fat-acid flavor continuum
covered. Whatever you put in the middle is all bonus.
ARI’S HOMEMADE MAYO RECIPE:
Put two whole large eggs (or three small) in a blender, with a tsp of mustard and 3/4 tsp salt, and blend for one minute. With the blender going, slowly add a cup of oil (I like a combination of grapeseed and extra-virgin olive oil). Add the oil very slowly at first, and then faster as it starts to thicken. With the motor still running, add 4 tablespoons total of lemon juice and vinegar, and then blend in any extras you might desire, like minced garlic. Put it in the fridge for a few hours to set up.
Remember: raw eggs may contain salmonella microbes. You should rinse the outside of the eggs before you crack them. If you have a depressed immune system, you might want to avoid home-made mayo, as well as home-made eggnog, or even sunny-side up eggs.