Thursday, September 17, 2009

bears battlestar galactica

I would suggest you get in the comfortable chair for this one, this meal's got a lot of ground to cover.

Let's talk about a few specific elements.


Corn is pretty great.  I don't know what I'd do without the foods of the New World.  Even apart from the fact that corn kernels are the best canned vegetable and the best frozen vegetable -- though they experience some loss of flavor and texture, it's not nearly as pronounced as in most vegetables -- the sheer variety of forms corn can take is fucking staggering.  Let's break it down:

Cob and kernels.  Self-explanatory.  As demonstrated, usable to make caramel.  Note in passing that corn is the most underrated of all chowders, capable of excellence with only three ingredients (corn, cream, salt), though five is better (+bacon, +hot sauce).

Cornmeal.  Ahhh, cornbread.  When the weather is colder, I'll show you some couche couche, a fantastic and criminally little-known cereal made with cornmeal.  Cornmeal is also the basis for corn chips, tortillas, etc., and while I don't share the enthusiasm for corn dogs that some possess, I am an ardent supporter of fried cornmush.  Cornflour, similar to cornmeal but finer, is found primarily in fry mixes for chicken or fish, especially in the South.

Grits.  Superficially similar to coarse cornmeal, grits are made from coarsely ground corn (ideally stone-ground).  If you're a Yankee or foreigner, you probably haven't had grits.  You're missing out.  Soft and silky when first cooked, grits solidify when cooled, and can be reheated for a texture that's hard to describe, though similar to fried cornmush -- sometimes crispy on the outside, softer on the inside, somewhat like a French fry.  Grits are often compared to polenta but aren't quite the same, if only because the varieties of corn themselves differ -- just as slightly different varieties of corn are used for all these other corn forms.

Hominy.  Especially big kernels of corn that have been nixtamalized (treated with an alkaline solution) and hulled, which makes the corn more digestively useful, and therefore features in the cuisines native to the New World which were dependent on corn, as opposed to those cuisines which have developed subsequently which typically rely on flour (or rice, in Louisiana and the Carolinas) for their principal starch.  It's no coincidence that hominy survives in Mexican and southern cuisine, where corn has historically been most important.  But nevermind that: hominy has a very light corn flavor and a sort of spongy texture that's hard to compare to anything else.  It's amazing at soaking up flavors, which is why it is the key component of posole, one of the world's great soups.  Dried and reconstituted hominy is far superior to the easier to find canned stuff.

Popcorn.  Come on.  Awesome.  I still vividly remember the introduction of Smartfood.  My brother and I regularly argue over who will inherit my mother's popcorn popper, a standalone electric unit which uses oil in a curved bowl to pop the popcorn.  Air-popped popcorn, which displaced such units in the marketplace, and microwave popcorn, absolutely suck in comparison to oil-cooked popcorn, whether popped in a standalone unit or on the stovetop. 

Huitlacoche.  Technically not corn, this is a fungus -- a mushroom, if you're a marketer -- that grows on ears of corn, to the consternation of some and the delight of others.  It has only really been adopted by Mexican cuisine, perhaps because they call it huitlacoche, while gringos call it "corn smut."  The flavor is actually very subtle -- a little earthy, like cocoa powder without the acidity.

BOLD BOLD BOLD HELLO THERE.  Lima beans.  BOLD BOLD BOLD SHAZAM.  God, so many people hate lima beans, but here's the thing: the dried ones are not very good; the frozen ones are only okay; the canned ones are terrible (get canned butter beans instead).  You want to get them fresh, and they have a brief season.  Ideally, lima beans are slightly sweet, with a creamy texture.  They get mealier if they get bigger, and since my limas come from my mother's garden, where generally things are let to grow as big as possible, the ones I'm using do lean in that direction.  But I'm an experienced and satisfied lima-eater, I'm okay with that.  They're just not what I'd consider conversion limas.

"Lima beans" isn't bolded because every time I bold it, my browser crashes, even when all I do is restart the browser, open up Blogger, open up this draft, and do nothing but highlight "lima beans" and then press the bold button.  True story.  What the fuck, Blogger?  Motherfuck.  Fourth fucking time in a row now!  Pisswhistler.  I have employed an alternate means of emphasis.

Beets.  It was a long time before I loved beets, because I had grown up with Harvard beets -- pickled beets -- and was never fond of them.  I discovered plain old regular beets in New Orleans, and for whatever reason they became my standard side dish with fried fish.  Beets have a sweet (remember Mrs Howell?) and earthy flavor, and are sort of potato-like in texture, though they neither fry nor mash as well as potatoes do.  They're very forgiving when you roast or boil them in their skins, which then rub or peel off easily.

The stems -- which have a similar flavor to the beets, but lighter -- and greens (sweetish, tender) are both edible.

Smoked grits cake; beets poached in duck fat; succotash

Lunch, then, consists of:

Succotash, which I have talked about before, a traditional dish of lima beans and corn.  I added tomatoes and sweet pepper in this case.

Beet "confit."  I covered slices of peeled beet in duck fat and cooked them at a low temperature until tender.

Smoked grits cake.  The grits were cooked in the stovetop smoker with salt and butter, and then combined with diced ham and my aforementioned "lactic corn," before being refrigerated.  A slice of the refrigerated grits was reheated in a pan with just enough butter to keep them from sticking.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing how rare grits are outside of the South. I was 31 before I ever tried grits, and that's only because I was travelling in the South.