March 14

National Potato Chip Day

Crawfish And Goat Cheese. Muriel's. King Of Pizza. Potato Chips. Craving For Pepper. Cotton Gin. Crisp. Einstein.

Days Until. . .

St. Patrick's Day--4 St. Joseph's Day--6

Restaurant Anniversaries

Muriel's opened today in 2001. At first, it was the newest location of a too-hip, mostly West-Coast chain started by a dot-com zillionaire. But in the aftermath September 11 that year, all the Muriel's locations closed, except for the one here. That restaurant proved resistant to fallout--not only from 9/11, but Katrina. It continues to thrive. The setting is unique: diagonally across from Jackson Square, in a building whose first use was as a pasta factory.

Rising Restaurateurs

Today is the birthday of Slade Rushing, the executive chef of Brennan's on Royal Street until moving on last year to lead Louie, a restaurant in London. Slade and his wife Allison Vines operated a succession of restaurants around town, the best of which was MiLa. When Ralph Brennan and company took over Brennan's, they held a stringent contest for the chef position. Part of the test was seeing what the contestant could do with the makings of eggs Benedict. Slade not only had the most impressive dish, but the ingredients he used were unusual. Slade joins a rather slender line of Brennan's chefs. Fewer than six chefs have held the position since the restaurant moved to its present Royal Street spot in 1955. Among them is now Rushing's replacement, Executive Chef Ryan Hacker.

Food Through History

King Umberto I of Italy was born today in 1844. He was one of the first leaders of a united Italian kingdom, and was a forward-looking and well-liked monarch. But for our purposes, we remember him as the husband of Queen Margherita, his cousin. The original pizza--made in Naples with cheese and slices of tomato--was named pizza Margherita in her honor.

Food Calendar

It is National Potato Chip Day. Until the 1960s, most potato chips eaten in New Orleans were under the brand name Dickey's. That local company--on Elysian Fields across from Washington Square Park--was almost the only game in town until Lay's moved in. One of Dickey's advertising slogans was "Untouched by human hands." From the ten-cent bag upwards (there was a nickel portion, too), Dickey's potato chips contained a little packet of activated charcoal and silica gel--something else they promoted in their advertising. Lay's put them out of business by offering a more consistent product and better merchandising. The big issue surrounding potato chips these days concerns the kind of oil used to fry them. Now just about every maker claims that theirs are fried in oil free of trans-fats--a good change.The most widely-circulated story about the origin of potato chips concerns a Native American chef named George Crum. He worked at Moon Lake Lodge, a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1853, a customer complained repeatedly that the fried potatoes Crum cooked were too thick. "I'll show that moron," thought Crum, who then cut paper-thin slices of potato, fried them, and asked whether these were thin enough for the guy. The customer was surprised but delighted by the result: the first potato chips. They became such a hit that Crum later opened his own restaurant, with "Saratoga chips" as a specialty.It's easy to fry your own potato chips, but it's also easy to overcook them. Use a sharp potato peeler to slice the potatoes. Heat vegetable oil to just 325 degrees. When you have enough sliced to make a batch, fry them while slicing some more. But keep your eye on the ones in the fryer. If they're browning quickly on the sides but not in the middle, the oil is too hot. When they're brown all over, drain them in a large sieve (paper towels make them soggy). Salt them up and keep going. Depending on the number of people in the house, you may well be at this for hours, because freshly-fried potato chips are even more addictive than the ones in the bags.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Chip, North Carolina is an isolated place in the wooded hills of central part of the state, about sixty-five miles east of Charlotte. It's on Chip Road, itself just a local highway, near a dam and reservoir on a tributary of the Pee Dee River. The nearest restaurants are in Troy, about six miles away. Zeno's Italian Restaurant sounds good, but don't try to drive just halfway there, then half the remaining distance, then half the remaining distance after that, or you'll never get there. (Anybody get this reference?) A more promising destination may be Hometown Bar-B-Q, beacuse this is barbecue country--open pit, the sauce likely to be vinegar-based.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Make potato chips thick enough to stand up to the dip. Or make a dip thin enough not to break the potato chip going into it. Better still, do both. (Joke.)

Sounds Like A Drink, But Isn't

Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin on this date in 1794. It pulls the seeds out of cotton bolls, but you knew that. The seeds are pressed to make an edible oil which is widely used for frying. Still, every time I hear the words "cotton gin" I think that somebody ought to roll out a brand called "Cotton's Gin."

Edible Dictionary

gin, n.--A colorless (usually) distilled spirit made from grain, flavored with juniper berries and other flavoring agents (called "botanicals"), and distilled a second time. Botanicals whose flavors come through in a good gin are anise and citrus peel, as well as the resiny quality of the juniper. The botanicals also create a sensation of astringency, or "dryness." The ancestor of gin was created in the Netherlands, where it was called genever, the Dutch word for juniper. "Gin" is an English contraction of that name. The Brits changed a few other things about the drink, using wheat instead of barley and refraining from aging the spirit. The London style of gin dominates the category now. Gin is the essential ingredient for a classic martini, as well as many other drinks. The classic New Orleans gin drink is the Ramos Gin Fizz. Recipe in the Recipes section today.

Food Namesakes

Composer Francois d'Assise Morel was born today in 1926. . . Archaeologist Albert Egges van Giffen was discovered today in 1884. . . Jasper Carrott, a British comedian, was born today in 1945. A quotation of his is famous among my radio colleagues: "I am amazed at radio DJs today. I am firmly convinced that AM on my radio stands for Absolute Moron. I will not begin to tell you what FM stands for." . . . Actress Wendy Rice hit her mark today in 1975.

Words To Eat By

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."--Albert Einstein, born today in 1879. He also said:

“An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.”

Words To Drink By

"I have lived temperately. I double the doctor's recommendation of a glass and a half of wine a day and even treble it with a friend."--Thomas Jefferson.

Deft Dining Rule #853

Rule #853: If a drink contains no gin or vodka, no vermouth, and nothing even remotely like an olive, it's not a martini, even if it's served in a martini glass.