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On Horse Fat, Fries, and Harold McGee

horsey

Last week I wrote a little post about one of our cooking adventures while in the South of France last year, where we cooked our first batch of fries in horse fat, which our friend Mikael sourced from one of the horse butchers in Nice. Jeffrey Steingarten who is one of my favorite food writers –I have a soft spot for grumpy old men, especially the pedantic ones- also wrote about horse fat fries in one of his columns in Vogue magazine a while back.

Quite a few of you left comments and emails, asking what about the horse fat that makes it such a great medium for fried potatoes. Alas I had no idea. I could only tell you what I tasted. Frankly, I was quite curious about it myself.

And so I thought who’d be better to ask than Harold McGee? So I did. I fired off and email to Harold, who promptly wrote back:

Can you describe how the fries were different, or especially good? Horse fat is actually sort of intermediate between solid animal fats and liquid vegetable oils. It’s harder (more saturated) than the latter, but softer than tallow or lard, not too different from chicken or duck or goose fat. So I wonder whether it was maybe a difference in the flavor more than the texture? Because I don’t see how the consistency of the fat itself would make a distinctive difference in the texture of the fries. Tell me what you remember about them, and I’ll see how good of a rationalization I can come up with!

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The fat edition

yum

How can you not love a market where you can buy goose fat by the tin? And duck fat too. Where’s the market, you asked? Why, Borough, of course. Goose fat makes superb fries, and so does duck fat, although the best oil for fries, I must say, is horse fat.

horse butcher in Nice

When we were in the South of France last year, my friend Mikael sourced some horse fat and we cooked up some french fries -ahem, frites- in it. Gloriously beautiful fries we got from that rendered horse fat.

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Saturn rising

Ringofsaturn3

Saturn rising signals the return of Chez Pim from an unscheduled disruption. I hope. The computer trouble will take yet another week or two to be completely sorted, but meanwhile I’m ready to return to regularly scheduled programming here!

You’re wondering what this Saturn thing I’m talking about, aren’t you? Well, it’s the name of those cute peaches in the photo. These flat peaches have quite a few names: Ring of Saturn, Stark Saturn, and Peento among them.

Have you seen them at your local farmers market? Over here in the Bay Area, they are at the height of the season. I’ve been buying them for the past couple of weeks from the Hamada Farm stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers market. They have a delicately sweet flavor with only a hint of acidity and a lovely perfume of white peach.

Alain Passard uses sweet white peach in a summer salad with green almond and pea emulsion. These Ring of Saturn peaches would make a more fun addition to that salad than the regular round white peaches. To make it, be sure to use light vinegar, like White Wine or Champagne, so as not to overwhelm the delicate peach. A little kiss of Acacia honey in the vinaigrette would be lovely too. And remember to add the thinly sliced pieces of peach at the end. Tossing will bruise them too much.

See you tomorrow with the write-up from the Cook-off show down between Top Chef Harold and the beloved Jacques Pepin.

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Noodle with green garlic, shitake, and crab meat

Greengarliccrabnoodle

So much green garlic at the farmers market yesterday in Santa Cruz, everyone was tripping over them. I couldn’t help but buy some. I also bought some fat Shitake mushrooms and plump local Dungeness crab meat.

Those, and some dried Chinese egg noodle in the cupboard, made a lovely simple dinner last night. So simple it would be a crime to write a recipe.

In a hot wok goes a little oil and then some green garlic cut up on the bias. When the garlic is nice and fragrant, throw in thinly sliced Shitake. Take the Shitake on a spin round the wok until it wilts a bit and gives up some moisture. Then the crab meat. Add a splash or two of good soy sauce. Then in goes the noodle that’s been cooked up on the side. A few quick stir. A bit of pepper if you’d like, black, white, whatever, we’re equal-opportunity around here. Another splash or two of soy sauce just to make me happy.

Four ingredients. Fifteen minutes to cook. Not a frozen pea in sight. Take that Rachael Ray.

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Ingredient: Kapi, Thai shrimp paste

Shrimppaste_1

You must be wondering what in the world has possessed me to put a photo
of this ugly looking thing on my blog. (And, no, it’s not what you think!) Well, you see, I’ve tried to
dress it up. Don’t you notice it’s in a perfectly formed quenelle, and
on my favorite Bernardaud Sardine plate besides? Didn’t help much
though, did it? Oh well, no matter how I dress it up, it’s just ugly
old Kapi, or Thai shrimp paste.

And you know what? It is ugly, and it tastes even worse. Well, when
eaten out of hand, that is. Yet it is an integral ingredient in so
many Thai dishes. It gives a depth of flavor in curry pastes, and
plays a starring role in a lot of Namprik relishes. One of my favorite
Thai dishes featuring Kapi is Khao Kluk Kapi. The recipe
for this is at the end of the post.

I’m not sure if I should tell you how it’s made. Perhaps it is, as
with sausages, better to just enjoy the result? But then again, this
series is about ingredients, so I guess I would have to tell all.
Shrimp paste is made from a type of tiny black-eyed shrimps called
Keuy. The Keuy shrimps are macerated with a huge amount of salt
overnight, then let dry in the sun. The process is repeated for many
days until the shrimps disintegrate and dry out completely. The
resulting dark paste is the Kapi shrimp paste. It can be kept
practically forever.

Different brands of Thai shrimp paste vary in color from light to dark
brown, often with a slight purple hue. The consistency is usually firm
(see the quenelle above). It has a very pungent smell that might need
a little getting used to.

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