While our inadvertent Era Of Austerity extends longer than expected, we’ve been scouring our local grocery emporiums for the best deals possible on stuff we can extend as long as possible. We’re finding a fair amount of success and, with three chefs in the house, it always manages to turn out pretty well.
My parents were raised during The Great Depression, meaning they learned pretty quickly how to squeeze a food nickel until Jefferson screamed like a 12-year-old girl. I think the decision to put Roosevelt’s face on the dime was intended as a subtle reminder they could have gotten something almost as good for a nickel if they’d searched a little harder. (One of the unfortunate culinary side-effects of this in the 1950s, however, was the decision to dress up normally decent dishes by floating them in aspic.)
Today’s food world is different, thanks in part to improved storage and transportation. Any reasonably stocked grocery store is going to bring in unusual stuff unheard of by my parents unless they were on an extended world tour (they never took one) or, in the case of my dad, sent to Guam and New Guinea during the war. A simple trip to Hong Kong Market on the Westbank opens up tremendous culinary doors for those with even the most rudimentary kitchen skills.
Despite the availability of all this stuff, however, we seem to be riding a wave of down-home stuff that used to be ignored, thrown out or, literally, thrown to the dogs. Give it a few twists and it’s now Big Shizzle at a lot of places around town. What used to be iffy things made into pet food are now sought after as haute cuisine. Not saying this is a bad thing (particularly if you’re a physician specializing in gout treatment), but it has sent the cost of many of these items into the upper reaches of our atmosphere. What used to be “get-by” food is now often “must-have.“
I was in the Uptown Rouses Friday afternoon and noted they now have whole, fresh (and domestic) rabbit. It’s a wonderful food (and, yes, it tastes like chicken and is used generally the same ways). Rabbit as always been available as a frozen item in most Southern grocery stores, but you often had to ask. I was glad to see it laid out there naked for all to see. Pick up a copy of Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking” and she’s got a few tremendous recipes. In a former location, we’d serve on Easter. Of course, hassenpfeffer is also an Oktoberfest staple. It’s a pretty easy recipe.
We’ve been fortunate enough over the past couple of weeks to try some various home-style twists on what used to be simply stew meat. The lamb neck over at Toups Meatery in Mid-City is absolutely wonderful in its simplicity (served over black-eyed peas) and I’ve lately been noticing an increased number of ads searching for those who can whole-butcher an animal. Thanks to places like Toups, Boucherie and Cochon, this city has an increasingly broad choice of places to try the down-home gone Uptown. Its simplicity makes it simply wonderful.
As a nation, we’re still getting over some old culinary prejudices. In recent years, we’ve seemed to get past the idea of eating the Easter Bunny. But we remain hung up on meats such as horse. The rest of the world eats it and there’s a louder voice for allowing such here but, well, it’s a horse. A horsie. My Little Pony. Might take awhile.
I was brought up in a (part-time) Texas cattle-raising family and my dad used to always warn us to never name something that will later wind up on your plate. This being the case, it’s pretty easy for me to jump the hurdle of trying something new because it‘s not personal.
Once the budget allows, I plan to go back and get some of that rabbit. It’ll be worth every fluffy bite.
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.