The truth comes out- identity revealed! Visit my new site at Chef John Paul’s On the Back Burner.
rant 1 : to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner
2 : to scold vehemently
Well, here are a few things under my culinary skin this week and although some are not worth a vehement scolding they still twerk me a bit. (note: Twerk has no Webster’s definition but we all seem to understand what it means.)
1. Taco Bell introducing new items that are merely the same old items in a different format or shape. It’s like one of my favorite routines by Jim Gaffigan on Mexican food in America- every entrée is just a different variation on tortilla, meat, beans, tomato, and cheese. They should just introduce LOOK- NEW SHAPE! Now the tortilla is folded so the edges are round…now we’ll put beans on a fried tortilla and glue a soft tortilla to it… They really should change the name to Taco Origami. Also, what is ‘carne asada steak’? Carne asada means grilled meat, do they really have to add the word ‘steak’ to the mix- I mean especially in California? C’mon.
2. Continuing from the end of the last entry…Prime Rib of Beef with Au jus (or worse- with Au jus sauce.) “Au jus” is French for ‘with juice’, so if you say ‘with au jus’ you are saying ‘with with juice’ (or worse ‘with with juice sauce’.) Can we please stop this? No really, PLEASE? It’s ridiculous. Adding to this it’s really not Prime Rib unless you are roasting a standing rib of prime beef. If one is roasting a bone in rib that is less than prime it is in reality a standing rib roast (it stands on the bone as it roasts, thus the name)- hey nothing wrong with that and more accurate to boot.
3. Ridiculous toppings. I went into one of the make your own sundae yogurt shops the other day and was baffled at some of the toppings. Gummy bears? Has anyone tried this besides my son who we had to take to the dentist afterwards? A gummy bear at ice cream temperatures becomes a tooth filling, not to mention inedible- Ju Ju Bees on steroids for sure. I also feel that big chocolate chips are a bad idea in that they don’t melt in your mouth when they are that big and that cold- chocolate flecks are a better idea. Just because a topping is good on its own doesn’t mean it will be good as an ice cream topping- would Grape Nuts be a good topping for a hamburger? I like both, but probably not a good idea together.
I’m done ranting for now. I’d love to hear your rants…………
Tenderloin (aka the Filet) -it is the most expensive cut of beef, but other than being tender I find little about this cut that is noteworthy. Albeit the shape of the tenderloin allows numerous uniform cuts that can have plate appeal but I’m talking straight up beef eating pleasure- and other than not having to chew very much I find this cut, well, inferior really.
Why is tenderloin and filet mignon so popular? Because we have a love affair in America with tenderness and often the quality of the steak is judged by how tender it is, but how often do you slather a filet with butter or sauce, or wrap it in pastry with mushrooms and foie gras, or…. I’ll tell you why this is done- it’s tender but on its own it pretty much lacks flavor. Now you can dry age the short loin and try to develop the flavor of the tenderloin but the NY strip will inherently have more depth than the filet.
Part of the problem with the tenderloin is that it is a suspension muscle and does not do much. And like lazy people that don’t do much- the lack of work means lack of depth! On the other hand a well worked muscle will have a ton of flavor but if it a locomotive muscle like the round off of the leg; it will yield a weekend’s worth of chewing if not prepared properly. But if you’ve ever had a slow roasted baron of beef sliced thin au jus, then you know what I’m talking about- FLAVOR, FLAVOR, FLAVOR and because prepared properly quite tender, especially for a locomotive muscle.
I don’t want to bash the tenderloin too much, it for sure is not garbage meat but my argument is that the price tag does not match the eating quality. If I’m going to spend the bucks on loin cuts I’ll take a dry aged Hereford or Wagyu rib steak, chuck end thank you! Now I have the best of both worlds- tenderness and flavor.
If I really want to give filet a run for its money for tenderness then I’ll take a cleaned flat iron steak. This cut is second only to filet for tenderness but is off the shoulder clod which means it exudes flavor because of muscle development.
Now getting into my favorite cuts: the hanger, the outside skirt, the coulotte (top sirloin cap), and the bavette (bottom sirloin flap). All these cuts have relative tenderness but are in my opinion unmatched in flavor, especially the hanger that has an incredibly robust beefiness. All these are exceptional eating at a fraction of the price of tenderloin with a few more chews, but what’s wrong with that?
It’s like the commercials for one of the most popular beers on the planet that boasts low calories and no aftertaste- I believe what is being described is water. When I drink beer I want something with an aftertaste that I almost have to chew. The same is true of my steak; I don’t mind a little chew as long as there is lots of flavor!
Before another 350 seat “bistro”, that sells everything from enchiladas to Chinese chicken salad, opens I have to stand up and say, “ENOUGH!” Have we forgotten what a bistro is? Did we ever really know? Or do we love to throw French words around so much and try to capitalize on them by diluting the concept to the point of it being unrecognizable?
I must back up my rant by defining what a bistro actually is. In the modern term in France a bistro is an unpretentious moderately priced restaurant offering, wine by the glass, local dishes, sandwiches, etc…a small eatery such as where friends can casually meet and enjoy themselves.
Where does the term “bistro” (or sometimes bistrot) come from? Patricia Wells in her book Bistro Cooking comments on how it may have had a Russian origin. The Russian word быстро (bystro) means quick. According to an urban legend, it entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout “bistro.” This may be suspect as the word was not used until decades later to describe this type of establishment.
Another version is that it is an abbreviation of bistrouille, a French term for brandy mixed with coffee or a very cheap brandy, the sort that may be found in a traditional bistro.
Regardless, I believe the point is clear that the true spirit of bistro may be reflective in any culture, whether the Italian trattoria or the mom N’ pop American diner. When I watch the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives I believe this is what I would define the American version of bistro at grass roots levels to be. When you walk the streets of Paris, New York, San Francisco you can find what can be defined as a bistro, French or otherwise, if it is small, modest, good simple fare that is local and locally owned. Now if your corporate office is in a NYC high rise and you’ve just opened your 47th “bistro” I must give a hearty hoorah for your business success but you have not opened a bistro, you’ve expanded a restaurant chain, but ‘restaurant chain’ is not as inviting as ‘bistro’ now is it?
I do believe that was the name of the seafood stand we stopped at in San Francisco’s fisherman’s wharf. It was not very good but it was expensive. My question is how can one enjoy, especially seafood, in this type of an environment? The aroma was somewhere between the sea and the sea of humanity, I must say I’m salivating already! There were people smoking, car exhaust, sea gulls doing their business, crying babies with runny noses in strollers and garbage cans filled with half eaten calamari being finished by the flies. Oh, and who can forget the lovely meat bees…
At this point I’m not thinking of eating but actually the process of eating from start to finish, as though I were not of the human race but was evaluating human eating habits. Needless to say my appetite was a bit non existant at this point.
Then a realization came over me. After taking 3 hours to park and walking a mile to the wharf the average human is FAMISHED and would gladly eat in the mess hall at Alcatraz. So here we are, the grottos were doing business hand over fist and I just stood there watching my wife have a shrimp cocktail all the while wishing I had not taken that food sanitation class the week before.