September 8

National Rotisserie Chicken Day

Rotisserie Chicken. Sugartown. Vincent. Pepper. Dangerfield.

Days Until. . .

Coolinary ends 5

Food Calendar

It's National Rotisserie Chicken Day. (Since, after all, it's National Chicken Month.) If I had to eat only one entree the rest of my life, this would be it. I've loved roasted or baked chicken since I was a kid, but the first time I tasted a chicken roasted on a rotisserie, I went nuts for it. A rotisserie does magic for a chicken. As it turns, the juices that would otherwise drip off stay on the exterior, some of it penetrating back into the meat to keep it moist, some of it evaporating on the surface to give the skin an incomparably rich flavor. It doesn't need a sauce or a gravy: it's moist and flavorful enough to eat as is. I usually brine chickens before cooking them any way, but it's not really necessary when cooking a bird on a rotisserie. Also, the herbs you cover the surface with stay there, and the stuff you shove into the cavity works its way out slowly, imparting lots of flavor. Garlic works especially well in this way, roasting and sweetening as it goes. The only thing lacking in a rotisserie chicken is crisp skin. The juices won't let that happen. But that's an exceptional trade-off for all the other merits. Oddly, restaurants specializing in rotisserie chicken have rarely done well. Right now the best are at Zea and the Rib Room, although the Palace Cafe--which had major rotisseries when they opened, then pulled them out--has returned them to its kitchen.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sugartown is a crossroads in the vast rice-growing prairies of southwest Louisiana. They grow sugar there, too, though not as much as they once did. In fact, nothing in Sugartown is as big as it used to be. The town was founded in 1816, and was the first significant town in that part of the state. Its first big business was lumber, with major stands of virgin pine trees to harvest. It began to decline in the late 1800s, when the railroad lines were built north and south of but not through Sugartown. Now it's best known as a place where watermelons of unusual quality are grown. The nearest restaurant of note is Tiger Pride Cafe, nine miles north in Pitkin.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

Leave one layer of husk leaves around corn on the cob, and put the ears right on the grill. When the pattern of the kernels shows up as light browning on the husk, the corn is ready to eat.

Our Celebrity Chefs

Today is the birthday in 1953 of Vincent Catalanotto, the owner of Vincent's Italian Cuisine. Vincent worked for years as a bartender and a waiter around town before taking over a failed Italian cafe in Metairie. He didn't have a chef, so he did the cooking himself. A fried soft-shell crab with a red sauce mixed with garlic butter became a popular specialty. "That dish told me that I could cook as well as all these idiot chefs who used to scream at me all the time," he said. He built a distinctive New Orleans-Italian menu, and within a year the place was a phenomenon. Its food has always been much better than its looks. The second location in the former Compagno's on St. Charles Avenue opened about ten years after the first one. Back in 1977, Vince and I worked together at a fancy French restaurant called Romanoff's. His irreverent (to put it mildly) sense of humor was already full speed back then.

Edible Dictionary

muskmelon, n.--A slightly more generic word than cantaloupe, the best known and most widely grown of the muskmelons. Honeydews, casabas, and several more uncommon varieties are all muskmelons. The name comes from the aroma of the ripe fruit, which is apparent even before you cut into it. Although the word "musk" has a more earthy meaning now, in Iran--where the muskmelons originated--the word means "perfumed." Giving off this aroma is a prime characteristic of a good cantaloupe. All these melons are in the same family with cucumbers, gourds, squashes, and watermelons.

Music To Eat Veal Parmigiana By

Frank Sinatra, whose music we hear in Italian restaurants more than any other singer's, got his big break today in 1935. He and a group called the Hoboken Four appeared on Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and were a sensation. He soon would be the boy singer with Harry James's big band, and his career went ballistic from there. Sinatra was the only act ever to have major success after appearing with Major Bowes.

Food Namesakes

Two Peppers: Claude Pepper, who represented Florida in Congress for many decades, was born today in 1900. . . And golfer Dottie Pepper won the LPGA tournament today in 1996 . . .Early TV comic genius Sid Caesar was born today in 1922. The Caesar salad was not named for him. . . Clarence Cook, author and art critic, opened his life today in 1828.

Words To Eat By

"I'm at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table."--Rodney Dangerfield.

Words Not To Eat By

"Roumanian-Yiddish cooking has killed more Jews than Hitler."--Zero Mostel, actor, who died today in 1977.

Words To Drink By

"Drink a glass of wine after your soup and you steal a ruble from your doctor."--Russian proverb.

Deft Dining Rule #195

Rotisserie chicken is the most foolproof dish in restaurants, everywhere on earth.