Kate notes four big food events for February 2008: read her classic 1997 Leah Chase Interview for Mardi Gras, for the Super Bowl, learn about cheese curd snacks, check out her crab cake recipe for Valentine's Day, and for Chinese and Lunar New Year, Kate picks her favorite recipes in What to Eat This Month.
by Kate Heyhoe
We recently saw Leah Chase in the news, trumpeting New Orleans' rebirth.
In celebration of Mardi Gras, here's an excerpt from an interview with her from 1997:
"We had Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne...There was no other place to go, really. And I'm so grateful to the ones like Lena, and our dear Sarah who passed away a few years ago, because they always remembered us, even after segregation. Sarah used to order our stuffed crabs, and Lena, she likes our fried chicken.
"Duke Ellington got us selling Heineken beer, because that's what he liked to drink. Cab Calloway, John F. Kennedy, the Jackson Five—everybody comes here to see what its all about. We make Creole food. and this city has so much good food. You know there's White Creole and then there's 'Creole de Colour'—don't ask me where it came from—I don't know, it's just been that way, and I guess I'm just in the thick of it all. But the food here is all so unique."
What constitutes great bar food for beer drinkers?
Today's choices are unlimited, but beer nibbles have historically skewed toward regional tastes, possibly because taverns and brewpubs are neighborhood establishments. In other words, traditional brewpubs cater to the locals, and rely on familiar, readily available ingredients rather than imported goods favored by the fancy set. More than with cocktails, beer foods also trend toward simplicity, easy victuals for a brewmaster with limited or no kitchen facilities.
Hot roasted peanuts, in the shell, are easy for bartenders and keep beer drinkers busy. But if you lack a sawdust floor, they can be messy.
Beer-drinking Wisconsinites pass out cheese curds, which are essentially nuggets of fresh cheese, in the rough, before it gets aged and packaged, and being fresh, last only a few days. A "cheese curd" may sound unappetizing, and they tend to squeak when eaten (good kid entertainment), but once you get past all this, you'll probably agree: cheese curds can be most addictive. Of course, following the logic that "if it tastes good plain, then it's bound to be better battered and deep-fried," someone made a hit out of hot, beer-battered, fried cheese curds, and a tradition was born. Wisconsinites don't have a monopoly on cheese curds. Cheese producers in Texas, California, and other dairy-rich states now sell local curds, a perfect ready-to-eat snack for the beer bar in your home.
Speaking of Texas, tip your hat to the Lone Star State as the home of the nacho. Actually, the first nacho was devised at a small cafe in the border town of Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas. Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya needed a quick snack for a group of Texas officers' wives, so he melted some good quality cheese (cheddar) over corn tortilla chips, and topped them with sliced fresh jalapeño. Instant success—the nacho was crunchy, hot, and perfect in its simplicity. Once it crossed the border, the nacho grew into a veritable Texas institution before being adopted nationwide. Sadly, Texas was both the source and the undoing of the authentic nacho. In 1975, Texas Stadium rolled out a gooey, gloppy, neon orange mess they called nachos, and the poor things have never been the same since. (For upscale nachos with integrity, go to the sample recipes for my book Macho Nachos.)
Besides cheesy dishes (including pizza), other traditional beer victuals that have surfaced in history include pickled eggs, sausages, fried oysters, fish and chips, and of course, salty pretzels—hard and crisp, or soft, hot, and slathered in mustard.
Stay home and smooch with champagne and these fancy but easy gems from one of New York's classiest restaurants. (Discover more romantic recipes in my latest book, Great Bar Food at Home.)
Also visit our main Chinese and Lunar New Year page for more links and party recipes.
Copyright © 2008, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2008
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