Foodstuff Fun For Today
Tom Fitzmorris February 06, 2020 20:21 Almanac
Thursday, February 6th, 2020
You've Paid For This Year's Food. Raw Oysters. Bivalve. Monopoly. Flavored Perrier. Horsemeat. My birthday.
The Food Budget
It is estimated that Food Checkout Day occurs about now. That's the day when the average American has earned enough money to pay for all his food for this entire year. That day comes much earlier in this country than anywhere else. On average, we spend about 11 percent of our disposable income on food. In France, it's 15 percent. Japan 18 percent, India 51 percent. Here's another statistic about food, while we're at it: only 19 cents of the average dollar spent at the grocery store goes to farmers or other food producers. The rest goes for processing and marketing. I suspect that those of us who like to take a high percentage of our meals in restaurants have a Food Checkout Day much later in the year. Another not-so-fun fact? It takes 100 days of working to pay for your yearly taxes.
This is National Raw Oyster Day. It's the shank of the oyster season right now along the Gulf Coast, with water temperatures cool enough to make the oysters pump a lot of water through their bodies to filter out nutrients. This makes them fat, with big meaty eyes, and more complex, briny flavors. Assuming you have no health problems that would prevent you from doing so, you should have a dozen or two today and see how good oysters can be. I think they're the finest seafood we produce in our part of the world.
The oysters we enjoy in New Orleans are all of the species Crassostrea virginica. These are also the oysters of the entire Atlantic Coast, including those of the Chesapeake Bay and the formerly rich oyster beds of New York City. But there are many other species, although they only occasionally appear in this market. Reason: the quality and low cost of the local oysters, which are as fine a blessing as a habitat ever bestowed on its interlopers.
Belon oyster, n.--The most admired oyster species of Europe, these are smaller and flatter than Eastern American oysters. In flavor they are almost always characterized as having a coppery or metallic flavor. This is not entirely fanciful; oysters contain a great deal of zinc. The species name, ostrea edulis ("the oyster that you eat"), tells its tale. They are found all along the Atlantic coast from France into Scandinavia. Despite its historical preeminence, the despoiling of its habitat has devastated the production of Belon oysters. Only a third as many are harvested as of the imported Pacific species. Some Belons are grown in American waters, but not enough that you're likely to encounter them except in a restaurant specializing in exotic oysters.
Bivalve, Maryland is on the tidal Nanticoke River as it approaches Chesapeake Bay, on the Delmarva Peninsula. It is well named. This is a major historic oyster producing area, although it's had a lot of problems in recent years. Many other nearby place names tell this story: Oystershell Creek, for example, comes into the Nanticoke on the other side of the river, and there's a Blue Point Creek there, too. In addition to a lot of boat docks there, farm fields separate the houses in this attractive rural area. The nearest restaurant is the Boonies, a mile up the road from Bivalve.
Deft Dining Rule #670: No recipe for cooking oysters will ever equal the goodness of the same oysters, freshly shucked, eaten raw.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: The best way to shuck oysters is to find somebody who really knows how and get him to do it for you in exchange for beer.
Today in 1935, the board game Monopoly was sold for the first time. Now you can find custom versions of the game for many cities and special interests. But I don't think I've seen one with restaurants as the theme. Let's see. . . in New Orleans, the cheap properties just past GO would be Domilese's and Charlie's Steak House. Around the first turn you'd have the opportunity to buy Mandina's and Liuzza's. Just past Free Parking you'd have Mr. B's and Clancy's and Brigtsen's. The green properties would be Galatoire's, Arnaud's, and Antoine's. But which would be the ones where Boardwalk and Park Place? August? Commander's Palace?
Annals Of Bottled Water
Today in 1985, Perrier rolled out the first of its flavored bubbly waters. It was the first time the French company bottled anything but its famous spring water. They recently added Pink Grapefruit to Lemon, Line, and Citron (the latter, conceived in a flash of creative brilliance, is lemon and lime together).
Annals Of Food Writing
This is the birthday of Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a great book about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how growing it the way we do is creating enormous problems. It's a book well worth reading, one full of surprising facts.
Mardi Gras 1951
Today is the sixty-ninth anniversary of the last time Mardi Gras fell on this date. I know that because I was born that day. Carnival will not fall on my birthday until 2035. It is my goal to live that long. I share my birthdate with Ronald Reagan, Aaron Burr, Babe Ruth, Tom Brokaw, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and my old radio colleague Bill Calder. And with Thurl Ravenscroft, born today in 1914. A voice actor with the deepest imaginable bass, he was in thousands of productions, the most famous of which was the voice of Tony the Tiger saying, about Sugar Frosted Flakes, "They're great!" Until the hurricane destroyed them all, I had many recordings of Thurl's work from the 1940s and 1950s. He was a good singer, too, easily able to hit a low C without sounding unnatural. You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was his best-known song.
Back Of The Butcher Shop
Today in 1865, a banquet at the Grand Hotel in Paris featured horsemeat in almost every course. Horsemeat soup, sausages, ragout, and steak were served, among many other dishes. Horsemeat goes in and out of popularity in Europe. During the mad cow scare of a few decades ago, it had a brief renaissance. Eating horsemeat has not caught on in the United States. I have never seen it on a menu or in a store, even though I have encountered just about every other edible mammal. Not even T. Pittari's ever offered it.
It's the feast day of St. Amand of France, a monk of the seventh century. He is the patron saint of bartenders, brewers, and winemakers. He's also a patron saint of the Boy Scouts, strangely enough.
Ebenezer Brewer, the writer of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, was born today in 1897. . . Film music composer and conductor Maurice Le Roux was born in 1923 on this date. . . Sir Charles Wheatstone, a British physicist who invented a device for measuring electrical resistance, was born today in 1802. . . Eric Partridge, who wrote about the English language as used in New Zealand, was born today in 1894.
Words To Eat By
"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans."--Ernest Hemingway.
Raw Oysters Mignonette
1/4 cup finely diced French shallots
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbs. dry white wine
4 sprigs parsley, leaves only, chopped
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine everything up to the olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon about a teaspoon of the sauce over raw oysters on the half shell.