Friday, May 11, 2012


 If you’re on the email list for Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine you occasionally get sent one of his molecular gastronomy recipes. I know he doesn’t much like the term molecular gastronomy, but until something better comes along to describe his cooking it will have to do.  As a meaningful term “modernist cuisine” strikes me as a complete a non-starter.  Modernist as in Modernism?  As in Picasso?  As in Ezra Pound? As in Le Corbusier? Come, come.

Anyway, these emailed Myhrvold recipes produce much innocent mirth in a reader like myself, since they involving hours, if not days, of labor, the use of massively expensive quasi-industrial equipment, and in the end you’re left with a spoonful of lemon curd or some such.

The latest recipe to come across the bows is Chorizo French Toast (above).  This is actually one of the simpler recipes, requiring only a sous vide machine and a vacuum chamber, and could probably be accomplished in a couple of hours or so.  You might think that the average sous chef (as opposed to a sous vide chef) might be able to rustle up something remarkably similar in about ten minutes, but why be negative?

I think the result seen above, looks pretty decent, shown here with a "quenelle scoop of olive marmalade." And there’s a word to the wise from the email under the heading “tips and substitutions.”  “Save your quail shells. We like to serve a trompe l’oeil in them. We use spherification to make a passion fruit egg yolk and white, and serve it in a quail eggshell.”  Well they would, wouldn’t they?

Eggs have been on my mind lately because the Tam O’Shanter restaurant, just down the road from me, is currently celebrating 90 years in business, and to mark this, each month they feature dishes from a specific decade of their history.  They also print facsimiles of the relevant menu.

Last month they celebrated the 1940s and the menu was from the war years, and on the front there’s praise for, “The stupendous job the government is doing in distributing the food so that all may be adequately fed,” although it concedes that “shortages and restrictions are inevitable before long.”

Inside, the menu itself shows few signs of austerity.  There’s Planked Hamburger, Fresh Cuban Pineapple (with or without cottage cheese), Little Pig Sausages with Potatoes.  There are also eggs served many ways, including devilled.  I actually ordered these in the restaurant.  They were perfectly good, as good as devilled eggs ever are.

And, having a long memory, I recall the days when dinner parties in England regularly featured devilled eggs as a starter.  I even made them myself - this was right before the avocado vinaigrette craze swept the nation.  The term “devilled” originated in the 18th century, and doesn’t mean much more than “spicy,” although the concept of flavoring egg yolks is ancient and dates back to at least Roman times.

The English variety I used to make weren’t especially devilish, the yolks were mixed with mayo, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on the top.  Trust me, in 1970s England this was regarded as pretty darned exotic. How they were regarded in America in the 1940s I’m not sure.  How Nathan Myhrvold would regard them I can only imagine.

Anyway, above are some I made earlier.  They're probably not restaurant quality, and definitely not modern.  Modernist? Nah.  Postmodern?  Just possibly.

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