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Flash in the Pan

Of sages and tyrants



I was sleeping when Mistletoe burst into my chambers. “This chick just left you a message,” she said. “Something about mayonnaise. She sounded desperate. I thought I should tell you.”

I leapt from bed, calmly determined to assist this damsel in distress. When you’re Chef Boy Ari, it’s a 24/7 commitment.

Damsel’s message: “Hey Chef Boy Ari, I don’t have any mayo in the house and I need some right now so I’m trying to make it but it keeps failing and what am I supposed to do. If you get this message soon, like in the next 10 minutes, please call me back beeeeeeeeep.”

Then I’m on the phone, talking Damsel through my mayo process. Problem was, I didn’t quite remember my process. Alas, it had been many months of backsliding since my New Year’s Eve resolution to make as much mayo as I buy. I kept pace for a while. But then, like an idealistic youth who unwittingly slips into the rat race and wakes up half a lifetime later to realize his values are nowhere in sight, there I was with my pants down, out of touch with my Special Crème.

With the phone bent into my neck, the blind leading the blind, I flipped through The L.L. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook by Angus Cameron. This book is an amazing compilation of culinary knowledge, assembled in the context of cooking wild game, but so much more. The voice is a mix of old-school Euro/East Coast haughty twang and timeless down-to-earth culinary advice, including tips on knives, field dressing and other tangential nuggets, such as the important technique of larding and the proper use of juniper berries.

Each recipe is rich with history, and flipping the dense pages is a fine way to wake up on an autumn morning. But with Damsel on the line I couldn’t linger. Turning to page 369, I was reminded: “Mayonnaise is so simple to make in a food processor or a blender that even the junior partner would seldom settle for the store-bought variety…”

Demoted to Junior Partner, I read the recipe to Damsel. (The mayo recipe I ran on July 4, 2002 was one and the same, so I won’t repeat it.)

After averting the crisis, I lingered reading in my chair. A recipe for venison chops advised, “The wine accompaniment should be a hearty red that will fight back, for this is a lusty dish.” A sidebar on garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives—dubbed “the errant lilies”—informed me that “…the leek or shallot often imparts a more delicate savor to game bird recipes than onions or garlic, while the latter are surely the proper flavors for a hearty red meat stew.”

A sidebar dealing with herbs offered the following sage advice: “The good cooks I know are all experimenters both in selection and in quantities and use recipes as counselors rather than tyrants….some herbs make especially happy marriages together. Marjoram and summer savory, and thyme with parsley and marjoram or both. But there are many others that you can discover for yourself—for example tarragon and chervil for fish.”

Opposite the herb sidebar was a recipe for venison mincemeat pie: “…virtually a medieval dish, a little-changed descendent from the sweet, spicy meat and fruit dishes of the Middle Ages—a scarcely altered version of the Grete Pye of the 15th century.” At this point, our Junior Partner made a note-to-self for Thanksgiving.

Skipping the sections on squirrel and possum, lingering briefly on beaver and moose, my eyes finally settled on antelope. As my first antelope was hanging in the garage, this section held special significance for me.

I call them sage ghosts, because they glide effortlessly over the undulating plains, covering more ground at a casual graze then most humans could do at a run. Meanwhile, you’re crawling through the prickly pear and you see some specks on the horizon that might be antelope. You look through your binoculars at the specks, a half mile away, and they are indeed antelope. And they are looking right at you, waiting for you to twitch your left nostril one more time before they bolt. And when they bolt, they bolt faster than any other animal in North America. But if you can figure out how to ambush one, the meat tastes like sweetgrass and sage extract.

Although I’ve been doing pretty well just frying some bacon and grapeseed oil in a cast iron pan, adding antelope chunks, turning off the heat when the meat is almost done and stirring in soy sauce and minced garlic, I decided to read the recipe for Flemish-style antelope stew with beer, a recipe that “…uses dark beer as a braising liquid and lots of onions.”

It was enough to make this Junior Partner willing to submit to the tyranny of a recipe, from time to time.

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