Friday, December 12, 2008

Revenge is best served cold...

Image of a plate of sauteed tarantulasDear Gentle Reader,

Your fearsome scribe is back from Cambodia.

What is that picture, you ask?


Success in the ongoing struggle against the spiders of the apocalypse (first encounter in Taiwan here, Hong Kong encounter here).

Success was had in Cambodia.

This time, the spiders lost...

After Wednesday's post on bouillabaisse (updated in the comments section to deal with the base of French bouillabaisse) your humble scribe considered a post on one of his culinary heroes.

Who would these be? Chef Carême, Chef Brillat-Savarin, Chef Denis, and Chef Chanavat, of course. 

Antonin [Marie-Antoine] Carême, 1783-1833, or Chef Carême, was a brilliant sauce maker and pastry chef extraordinaire. 

Carême was both the founder of classical French grande cuisine and the Chef to, among others, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 1st Sovereign Prince of Beneventum, better known as the Prince of Diplomats, and the father of gastronomical diplomacy...

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826, or Chef Brillat-Savarin, was the author of the splendiforous Physiologie du goût ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante, ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux gastronomes parisiens par un professeur, membre de plusiers sociétés littéraires et savantes. (I admit to only reading it in translation, and I cannot even find that these days.)

The eponymous Denis (Lahana Denis), 1909-1981, of Chez Denis was motivated to cook by his love of food. 

My favourite line of Denis', when responding to jibes from chefs from poorer backgrounds who felt that he had parachuted in at the top, was "I have eaten my way through six inheritances in the great restaurants, so I know what good cuisine is all about." 

I only wish. 

Heirs and heiresses who want to learn how to eat, and spend an inheritance or six, contact me now...

Chef Jean Chanavat is still alive, and his age will remain a mystery. Stolen from France by the Swiss, Chef Jean worked his magic in Geneva for years before stealing away, himself, to Ticino. 

Now retired, Chef Chanavat still works his traditional magic and has been known to share secrets with the very lucky... among whom your scribe counts himself.

Instead of writing of French chefs, your humble scribe will write about our last dinner in Cambodia because it is closest in memory. Success has a habit of staying with you, sometimes.

Your scribe admits that spicy, sauteed tarantulas may not be the height of French gastronomy, but, like Carême, I also am a devotee of foreign cuisine.

Image of your humble scribe eating a tarantula
These tarantulas were cooked a bit long; two had overly chewy legs. 

The tarantulas were also a bit big, which meant that their bellies were too bitter for your scribe to really enjoy, but the first tarantula had a lovely, delicate woodland flavour with deeper, meatier tones and hints of floral, acidic notes high up the palette in fleeting after-tastes.

Also, tarantula feet stick to human tongues like burrs to a sweater on a walk through the woods... an intriguing sensation, to say the least.

Combined with a peanut-based dipping sauce, with notes of galangal, Thai basil, and the lightest touch of hot pepper, these tarantulas were a lovely first course.

Your Heroine did not approve. 

Apparently fish, cheese, and egg eating vegetarians like her avoid spiders. 

Go figure.

Having a vegetarian wife is probably why I never had poulet demi-deuil in Lyon, France, one of Lyon's most famous dishes. I could not justify the expense if I could not share the delicacy with her. 

Poulet demi-deuil, or half-mourning chicken, is cooked with white and black ingredients... white chicken flesh, a white suprême sauce, and contisés avec les truffes (encrusted with black truffles).

But who knew that a vegetarian would avoid spiders on the table?

As you, my gentle reader, know, I generally avoid spiders, including ones found on the table--unless they are cooked.

Wisely, I think, I refuse to cook the blighters myself. 

More accurately, I give live spiders of the apocalypse the proximity that they deserve. At least the length of a broom, if not a room.

But I am quite happy to eat them, after they are cooked.

Thank goodness I am an omnivore, I say. 

Thank goodness I am too paranoid to cook tarantulas, dinner guests say.

The tarantula first course was followed by a pumpkin-squash and Tonlé Sap freshwater fish prepared Amok style with a light coconut green curry. 

The fish was an unknown fresh-water white fish with firm flesh, not oily, and with very few bones. Its actual name, in English, Khmer (Cambodian), French, or Latin remains a mystery. 

Your scribe thoroughly enjoyed this dish, but your Heroine had had enough of Cambodian fermented fish sauce by now.

Your scribe notes that your Heroine might as well have said that she was tired of Cambodian food by now, because almost everything there is flavoured with fermented fish sauce... 

Melamine in China, fish sauce in Cambodia...

Next came a jackfruit and green mango salad, followed by a deep-fried taro root spring roll in, essentially, a bed of ultra-fine Cambodian coleslaw with a vinaigrette heavy on the vinegar and with maximal cane sugar dissolved along with crushed and lightly sauteed hot red peppers.


I doubt the rest of the menu needs a great deal of flavour explanation, but the tarantulas deserved their own paragraph.

Enjoy your day and try not to dream of tarantulas coming back from the dead in your belly, while you sleep... mmm, zombie spiders of the apocalypse...

Chris, Regina, and Pommes who wonders when we can share. 


Heidelweiss said...

What could you possibly be thinking? I was reading about the absurdity of the weights system in Hong Kong and suddenly this hideous picture of crinkled black death shows up. I was forced to gouge my eyes out with my knitting needles. You must have posted while I was reading your last post! Heaven help me! WHY?! Why would you put such a thing into your stomach? Do you know it's a proven fact that people who eat spiders die? Eventually.

Sepiru Chris said...

Liebe Heidelweiss,

I posted this for you...

I am sure that I left a STRONG warning somewhere for you, and I was actually just about to head over to your site to post another "STRONG warning" for you there...

I have been known to try anything at least once. Sometimes for the novelty factor, sometimes to close a deal or a negotiation.

I admit to liking good stories too.


PS. Regarding your question about why such a thing would be put into a stomache, it is a far better thing for it to be in mine than for me to be in its...

Ever since the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Don of Mathematics at Oxford, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, queried "Do cats eat bats or do bats eat cats" I have scryed into the absurdity of life.

Then I came face to face with the spiders of the apocalypse and the absurdity was made real.

When it is me against them, it is better that I win.

This might help tip the balance in favour of man. If spiders read this, and like those giant cockroaches besieging Hong Kong, they might, this might make them more reluctant to go after my mortal brothers and sisters...

PPS. I hope your eyes and your knitting needles are all OK.

All the best,

Cloudia said...

What a delight! Ah, to taste your carefully selected / prepared/ served words is Magnifique!
Plus you revealed more of your unique-ness. Out-of-print books made me what I am today, Scribe!
Your devotion to gastronomie, and your success in meeting a mythical master could source a film, or at least a blog post. STORY Please, scryer!
Alas, I too am married and hopelessly enthralled (in thrall to?) with a vegetarian. The meals I miss, OY!
Ah, but the meals & laughs I HAVE. Reservations have been made at the touristy-retro (but undeniably "view advantaged") Top of Waikiki which is now a REAL fine restaurant since culinary savant Sean Priester took over. (Though still revolving) Carribean, the deep south, Italy & Spain all come together reborn under his touch. . . revelatory grits! Jazz! Sure wish you two could make it. Or how about Duc's Bistro on Maunakea Street? You gotta try it! Or . . . . .
mmmmmmm, tarantella, baby!

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Cloudia,

Unfortunately a physical visit to Hawaii is not so likely in the near future, but one never knows.

I had always meant to get there while Don Ho was still crooning; drat and double drat.

What about you and the Vegetarian whom you are in thrall to?

Any trips to the Far East planned in your future? Hong Kong is quite affordable once you have accomodation covered, and for people that are used to life on a boat, I know just the place for you both.

I also know some good places to eat, usually in our dining room. But there are great places for dim sum with fantastic views of the scenery (the architecture) or the scenery of the locals...

Junosmom said...

OK, Chris. I'm going to go eat some dry toast now. And try to keep it down.

Candace said...

Wow. I thought I had "odd" eating habits... you win the prize or take the cake (a regular one, thanks).

Take care and have a great holiday!

Barbara Martin said...

I ditto Junosmom on the dry toast. I would sooner eat fried prairie oysters than tarantulas.

lyzzydee said...

PUKE !!! I don't mind spiders but I just couldn't eat a whole one!!!!

Travis Erwin said...

I would comment, except I'm kind of nauseous at the moment.

Virginia Lady said...

Okay, entirely too creepy for me. I'll skip the cuisine, thanks for the description of the textures though. Makes it all the more difficult to forget. :-)