I always look forward to go eat at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station (New York City). The food, the decor, the dishes & even the waiters make you feel it could be 100 years earlier. You can always rely on the freshness and the great variety of the oysters, but what fascinates me the most is their signature dish: the Stew / Pan-Roast. I like to sit at the counter as near as possible to the fixed steam-sleeved swivel pots. There, a dexterous cook prepares your pan roast to order. The Ur dish is the Pan Roast made with oysters — though today also made with cherry clams, scallops, shrimp & even lobster— then butter, clam juice, Heinz Chile Sauce —spicy ketchup—, toast points, Worcestershire Sauce, celery salt & heavy cream are added to the pan. The mixture is brought to a boil, swirled onto your plate and once it has been generously sprinkled with paprika it is brought to you piping hot with a few packages of crackers. The Stew Roast is pretty similar minus the point toast and the Heinz Chili Sauce and I must say I prefer that version. I haven’t made it at home yet but below you will find one published in the New York Times in 1974. It is a really very easy and quick to make once you have the ingredients. Anyhow as I said before a premium destination for Pierre and I and when we went last week I recorded our impressions:
Listen to our live impressions at the Oyster Bar!
1 August 1974, New York Times, pg. 32:
OYSTER PAN ROAST
8 freshly opened oysters
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of lemon juice
1/4 cup oyster liquor
Celery salt, a dash
4 ounces cream
1 piece of dry toast (if desired)
Place all but the cream in a deep pan and cook briskly for a minute, stirring constantly. Add cream. When it comes to boil, pour over toast in a soup plate and serve
ps: Before or after the Oyster Bar do not miss the “whispering gallery”.
I was really looking forward to be part of “Tasting and Exploration of Yeast Culture,” an event part of the Umami Festival at the Astor Center on Friday March 12, but it just got canceled by the organizers. C’est la vie! — and it gave me the great opportunity to explore yeast, and more specifically beer & bread in Sumerian culture. As I will not be able to perform for you this time I will share my collectages on the topic.
As recorded today it looks like it is Sumer and not Egypt that would be the oldest beer producing country and the oldest beer goddess thus would be Ninkasi. She is the ancient Sumerian Goddess of intoxicating beverages, her name meaning: “ the Lady who fills the mouth”
Her father is Enki the lord Nudimmud and her mother is Ninti —or Ninursag —Queen of the Abzu. Ninkasi was one of the eight children created to heal the eight wounds of her father Enki; wounds received by eating eight forbidden plants.
So what came first: the kaš/beer (left) or the gar/bread (right)? Hard to say, but what we can read in the text below is that the bappir, that is the twice baked barley bread was stored for the purpose of beer brewing, and there are indications that it could have been eaten. It has also been suggested that the bappir could be an early form of biscotti (twice baked).
The 2800 BC hymn to Ninkasi is a fairly linear description of brewing techniques. You can read the scholarly translation here and if you are a Sumerian scholar the transliteration here. And voilà the arrangement I made for performance purpose:
Borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!
Ninkasi, borne of flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!
Your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
It is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.
Ninkasi, it is you who handle the dough with a big shovel, mix the bappir in a pit, with sweet aromatics.
It is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the bappir in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.
It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….
Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….
It is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.
Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweet wort, brewing it with honey and wine.
It is you who place the gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsare vat.
Ninkasi, It is you who place the gakkul vat, which makes a pleasant sound, on top of a large lamsarevat.
It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the lamsare vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
There was also Sumerian proverbs related to drinking :
“Ce qui est bon, c’est la bière! Ce qui est mauvais, c’est la route!”
What’s good is the beer! What’s bad is the road!
Beer drinking in Mesopotamia- Always with straws which could mean that the beverage was not clear and needed to be sifted.
Another great song I came across is the oldest recorded drinking song! The found tablet is believed to have been written at the turn of the III to II millennium BC and was first studied in 1964 by Miguel Civil. (right: illustration is the Ninkasi seal)
The gakkul vat, the gakkul vat!
The gakkul vat, the lamsare vat!
The gakkul vat, puts us in a happy mood!
The lamsare vat, makes our heart rejoice!
The ugurbal jar, glory of the house!
The šaggub jar, filled with beer!
The amam jar, carries the beer from the lamsare vat!
The troughs made with bur grass and the pails for kneading the dough!
All the beautiful vessels are ready on their pot stands!
May the heart of your god be well disposed towards you!
Let the eye of the gakkul vat be our eye, and let the heart of the gakkul vat be our heart!
What makes your heart feel wonderful in itself also makes our hearts feel wonderful in themselves!
We are in a happy mood, our hearts are joyful!
You have poured a libation over the fated brick, and you have laid the foundations in peace and prosperity — now may Ninkasi dwell with you!
She should pour beer and wine for you!
Let the pouring of the sweet liquor resound pleasantly for you!
In the troughs made with bur grass, there is sweet beer.
I will have the cup-bearers, the boys and the brewers stand by.
As I spin around the lake of beer, while feeling wonderful, feeling wonderful, while drinking beer, in a blissful mood, while drinking alcohol and feeling exhilarated, with joy in the heart and a contented liver — my heart is a heart filled with joy!
I clothe my contented liver in a garment fit for a queen!
The heart of Inana is happy once again; the heart of Inana is happy once again!
A …… to Ninkasi.
The code of Hammurabi, inscribed on a basalt tablet, lays down some strict rules for the administration of beer parlors. Owners who overcharged customers were liable to death by drowning!
These pieces will be a great addition to my Sumerian repertoire, they will complement the Incantation of Innana that I have been performing for years (on my cd La Garbure Transcontinentale-The Bi-Continental Chowder). Below is a live performance of that piece for the celebration of Jerry Rothenberg’s anthology Technicians of the Sacred. This is how I got introduced to Sumerian poetry. Merci Jerry!
The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer
La Plus Vieille Cuisine du Monde by Jean Bottéro
Lorsque les dieux faisaient l’homme Jean Bottéro & Noah Kramer
Food in History by Reay Tannahill A history of beer and brewing by Ian Spencer Hornsey
André Daguin, chef/owner of the Hôtel de France in Auch (Gers) until 1997, tells how he gave a new life to the tasty magret de canard — and made it famous in the process:
“The magret was served only as “confit” in soups, cassoulets and everyone would find it dry. The only way to avoid that was to cook it less, but no one dared. I had arguments with my customers; they couldn’t believe it was duck meat! Bob Daley, the New York Times journalist, reported on the discovery of this ‘new’ meat.”
In Occitan-Gascon the word magret —from the latin magre, literally means “lean”. It is definitely the leanest piece of the canard gras — that is the fattened moulard duck raised for foie gras. To make moulard ducks fat, force-feeding is required for a few weeks.
A bas relief depiction of overfeeding geese
This ancient technique seems to be referenced as far back as the 5th century BC. The Moulard duck is a hybrid cross of Pekin and Muscovy duck. Do not confuse Moulard with the very lean wild Mallard duck.
The magret is the breast that is detached from the carcass once the liver had carefully being extracted. In the canard gras nothing goes to waste. The skin is rendered for fat; the fat is then used to simmer the legs and manchons (wings). Once cooked this meat is known as le confit. Le confit is then stored in earthenware pots, covered with fat to seal it, and used throughout the winter in various preparations. The hearts (look here), livers, gizzards are pan fried with garlic and parsley, the carcasses (called “demoiselles” —or the misses) & tongues are grilled in the fireplace for snacks.
Speaking of carcasses: in 1990, while doing an internship at the Daguin’s restaurant I witnessed a “concours de demoiselles” organized by the Château St. Mont in Plaimont (Gers). The goal of the “carcass eating/cleaning contest” is to eat as many demoiselles as possible in the least amount of time while leaving the bones clean as a whistle. The winner then stepped on a Roman scale and the opposite pan was filled with cases of Château St. Mont wine until it balanced!
Another anecdote related to magret took place at the top floor restaurant of the Eiffel Tower in December of 1967. Jean & Renée Peyrafitte, my parents, & André & Jo Daguin, Ariane’s parents, were handed over the restaurant for La Quinzaine Midi-Pyrénées à la Tour Eiffel —two weeks of French Southwest fare in the skies of Paris — kind of the birth/ recognition of Cuisine du Terroir. I didn’t get to go, but I was 8 years old and I still remember all the excitement. The opening event was a banquet for the food writers and VIP’s. One of the most exciting items on the menu was the newly ‘dressed’ magret de canard. The magrets had been shipped from the Gers to arrive just on time, but on the morning of the event they had not yet arrived. The magrets were replaced with lamb and as in the Vatel story —though unlike Vatel my dad & André Daguin kept their calm and didn’t need to end their lifes over the problem— the magrets arrived during the luncheon. André Daguin, who like his daughter is never short of a creative idea when it comes to p.r., announced to the press that the magrets had just arrived; he showed them what they looked like, explained how to prepare them and one their way out all the diners were handed a magret wrapped in foil. They got many write-ups, lot of word of mouth publicity and the restaurant was packed for the two full weeks!
Today you can purchase magret through the d’Artagnan website. Some specialty store have duck breast but most of the time there are Muscovy Duck breast, which are good but smaller. One of my favorite recipe that I used to make often at the family restaurant is Magret with walnut and honey glaze. I made it the other night and yum! it is tasty.
Recipe for Magret aux Noix et au Miel:
2 Moulard magrets can serve 4
1 Shallot finely chopped
½ cup of Armagnac or Brandy
1 cup of stock or 2 tablespoon of demi-glace
2 teaspoons of honey
2 Tbsp shelled walnuts
1 tbsp of unsalted butter
Score the skin of the duck magret. Do not cut into the meat, only the skin.
Salt and pepper both side.
Place in a warm skillet on the skin side — no need to add fat, the skin will render plenty. Cook for about 8 minutes or so on the skin side —if you like it pink. More for well done. Flip it over on the meat side for about 4 minutes.
Remove from the pan keep the magret between two plates to avoid loss of heat.
Drain the fat from the pan except for about 1 tablespoon—keep fat to sauté potatoes.
Sauté ½ cup of shallots until translucent.
Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of Armagnac and flambé —I alway turn off the fan when I do it.
Add 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 cup of broth or better, some demi-glace. Let reduce, then add 2 Tbsp shelled walnuts —do not let the walnuts sit too long in the pan as they will give a bitter taste to your sauce.
Cut you magret in slices horizontally, pour all the juice in the sauce pan. At the last minute finish your sauce with a dollop of soft butter, salt & pepper to taste.
Serve with your favorite starch.
Thanks again and again to Renée Peyrafitte for saving & scanning the original documents.
Merci à André Daguin de répondre à mes questions.
And taben mercès pla ta l’amic Marc per l’ajude dab los mots en Gascon!
We sure started the year “en fanfare”…that is: not so discretely! Our new year’s eve adventures started at 6:30pm for hors d’oeuvres & cocktails at the house of good friends. Thanks god I passed on the very tempting Campari martinis and settled for white white. The tasty and nurturing Zabar’s appetizers (great chicken liver paté), provided the healthy layer for the boisterous night to come!
Next stop was Pocha 32 —32th street in Manhattan— a quite exotic Korean drinking establishment decorated with fish nets and soju bottle caps. Soju is the Korean national drink. The main ingredient of soju is rice, almost always in combination with other ingredients such as wheat, barley, or sweet potatoes. Soju is clear-colored and typically varies in alcohol content from 10% to 25% proof. It was first known to have been distilled around 1300 A.D and believed to have been brought over to Korea by the Mongol invasion. I have a serious problems with Soju: I have a tendency of drinking it at the same pace as wine and forgetting the alcohol content!
Fishnets and Soju bottle-caps decorations at Pocha 32(32nd street NYC)
Expertly counseled by our daughter in law we also tasted a very refreshing —and treacherous— beverage: Mak Gul Li (막걸리). This traditional fermented, unfiltered & milky looking liquor is brought to the table in a tin tea kettle and served in bowls. We tried two kinds: one was made with rice and the other with millet. The rice one looked, and tasted, like carbonated fermented sweet rice milk. The intense yellow/green millet one was a touch more bitter, richer with a more complex finish.
What can be better than spicy tripe and octopus dishes to enhance these potions? Maybe more soup? I got a taste of the fish cake soup (어묵탕), then came Seafood Pah jun (해물파전), spicy stir fried tripes (소곱창 볶음) , followed by spicy baby octopus with pork belly (쭈꾸미 삼겹살 볶음). Overall the food was decent but as I was in a party mood I might have missed some subtleties—though I did noticed the horrible mushy over cooked rice!
After a few hours of jolly time at Pocha, we felt the need to move and one of us had heard of a rooftop bar next near by. We had no trouble finding it and that is were we comfortably settled to toast the new year. The 14th Floor Roof Top bar of the La Quinta Hotel looks up to the Empire State Building —for which I wrote and recorded the French audio tour, and last I heard it is still on! To our surprise the place was not crowded at all but boasted the kind of eclectic bunch of people only New York City can bring together. So it was with a motley crew of Puertoricans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, French, Germans —and even a young man from Luxembourg, to Pierre’s astonishment! — that we celebrated well into the night with bubbly clear fermented grape!
It was hard to wake up the next day, and our stomachs felt a little unsettled, but we showed up right on time to set up my crêpes station at St. Mark Church for the 36th Annual Marathon Reading. Pierre read first and didn’t get my act together to film him —sorry!— The crêpes got sold out pretty quickly. It was really nice to have blog readers stop by say hello —Merci! The place was packed through out the day and despite much of my time spent in the back I got to listen to some very nice reading and music. Voilà! and let’s start the year with a touch of Gascon language:
Bona annada, plan granada, e de hèra d’autas accompanhada!
Among all the family recipes LesPannequets Saint-Louis is truly a unique one, et je pèse mes mots — that is: and I weigh my words — yes: unique, a word I almost never use.
My great grandfather Louis, Gabriel, Marcel, Marie, Peyrafitte (1858-1929) created this amazing recipe that we still make for very special occasions like this Christmas day when Pierre, Joseph, Miles and I gathered around our kitchen island for a true family food communion.
Pannequets have been part of the French cuisine repertoire for a long time, though the word derives from the English “pancake”— from the middle English pan +cake —that’s an easy one. The famous French chef, Auguste Escoffier, has several entries for pannequets in the Entremets section of his reference work Le Guide Culinaire. So does Joseph Favre in the Dictionnaire Universel de la Cuisine, mentioning an interesting version of pannequets au gingembre — with ginger. They both specify that it is a Patisserie Anglaise or English pastry. Not surprising at all, in fact, that my Pyrenean ancestors would be acquainted with English desserts. In the 1900’s the French Pyrenees were “invaded” by English tourists, the family hotel in Luchon even changed its name: the Hotel de la Poste became the Hotel Poste & Golf ! My family had sold some land so a golf course could be built for to the increasing (colonial) British clientele. Surfing the net to look for traces of my grandfather Joseph’s stay in England (he was there as a cook between 1902-08),I was quite astounded to find the following entry in “The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe” by Algernon Bastard (probably published around 1903):
Throughout the mountain resorts of the Pyrenees, such as Luchon–Bagnères de Bigorre, Gavarnie, St-Sauveur; Cauterets–Eaux Bonnes, Eaux Chaudes, Oloron, etc., you can always, as was stated previously, rely upon getting an averagely well-served luncheon or dinner, and nothing more — trout and chicken, although excellent, being inevitable. But there is one splendid and notable exception, viz., the Hôtel de France at Argelès-Gazost, kept by Joseph Peyrafitte, known to his intimates as “Papa.” In his way he is as great an artist as the aforementioned Guichard; the main difference between the methods of the two professors being that the latter’s art is influenced by the traditions of the Parisian school, while the former is more of an impressionist, and does not hesitate to introduce local colour with broad effects, — merely a question of taste after all. For this reason you should not fail to pay a visit to Argelès to make the acquaintance of Monsieur Peyrafitte. Ask him to give you a luncheon such as he supplies to the golf club of which Lord Kilmaine is president, and for dinner (being always mindful of the value of local colour) consult him, over a glass of Quinquina and vermouth, as to some of the dishes mentioned earlier in this article. You won’t regret your visit.
The Joseph Peyrafitte (1849-1908) mentioned above is Louis’ brother and therefore my grand father Joseph Peyrafitte’s (1891-1973) uncle who was named after him. Louis & Joseph had married two sisters, Marie & Anna Secail. Anna moved to the Hôtel de France in Argelès-Gazost and Louis Peyrafitte came to Hotel de la Poste in Luchon. The marriages had been arranged by one of the Peyrafitte’s brothers who was a priest at the Vatican with one of the Secail brothers — also a priest. All this is documented — and left a magnificent family heirloom that I inherited: “the Chandelier” but that story is for another blog-post. Both brothers had been classically trained cooks so one can easily understand how the inspiration for this recipe came about.
Hotel de la Poste in the late 1890’s
My father, Jean Peyrafitte, doesn’t remember his grandfather’s cooking very much — he was 6 years old when his grandfather Louis died in 1929 — but he vividly remembers his father Joseph Peyrafitte (my grandfather and cooking mentor) making the Pannequet Saint-Louis.
At that time no “grande carte” was available at the restaurant, though there was a menu du jour which changed daily given that the clientele were “pensionnaires” —residents — who would stay for periods of 3 weeks or more. My grandfather would occasionally put the pannequets on the menu but only during low season, as they are incredibly time consuming. The recipe was not written down until the mid 1960’s. At that point my dad decided to promote regional cooking and to upgrade the restaurant to a “grande carte,” hoping to get attention from the Guide Michelin and Parisian food critics. So he created a “grande carte” full of regional dishes like Pistache (mutton & bean stew), Peteram Luchonnais (lamb, veal, and mutton tripe), duck confit, etcetera. My grandfather considered this food low class and believed that lobster and tournedos Rossini was more appropriated.
But my father pointed out that the clients could eat that food anywhere, but not our local specialties. That is when the pannequets Saint-Louis made their way to the dessert menu of the grande carte and were listed as “Les Excellences to be ordered at the beginning of the meal (order for 2 minimum)”.
Now this is the part I remember. In the late 60’ my mother begged my grandfather to write the recipe down. He said he couldn’t as he knew it by instinct. She didn’t get discouraged. She stood by him as he was making them, weighed the ingredients one by one and made a note of it. I must say that without my mother (Renée Peyrafitte) most of the family memory would be gone.
When I called my parents to talk about the Pannequet Saint-Louis recipe I reassure them that I wasn’t going to give the recipe away. Mom said, “don’t worry no one else can make them anyway.” What she meant is that this recipe takes total dedication. When my grandfather grew old, it was she who was entrusted with the task of making them. She tried to teach a few cooks but the result was never satisfactory. One of the reasons is that from making the batter to cooking them requires total and utterly focused attention. And if you don’t do that the best dessert in the world turns into the worst glob!
I must say that since a little girl I watched my grandfather & then my mother making them over and over. My favorite post of observation during “service” was in the corridor where I could survey all the action. As soon as I would hear an order for pannequets being “barked,” I would get into position to assist and taste! I have memorized all the gestures. Unlike the regular crêpes the pannequet doesn’t get flipped (but come and see me do that Sunday at the 36th Annual New Year’s Marathon). Once one millimeter of the batter is poured into a hot and generously buttered cast iron pan, it is let to cook until almost, but not completely, dry. Then the edge of the dough next to the handle is gently detached with a spoon and if cooked perfectly the batter will roll down the pan like a cigarette helped only by little tap in the pan. A perfect pannequet Saint-Louis has a very lightly crisp skin on the outside and custard like consistency on the inside. While the texture melts in your mouth, the rum, almond, lemon & vanilla flavors lead you to gastronomic ecstasy! I don’t know if my great grandfather named the pannequet “Saint”-Louis himself, but I doubt it — it sounds more like one of those mischievous puns my grandfather Joseph Peyrafitte was famous for!
Hotel de la Poste became Hotel Poste & Golf around 1905