I’m a collector of unusual recipes, the kind not found in The Joy of Cooking. Here are a few that might appeal to you.
GEORGE LANG’S GRAVLAX
You may recall the New York restaurant Café des Artistes on a historic block of West Sixty-Seventh Street. It dated back to the 1900s and was a place where artists, movie stars, dancers, and writers like Noel Coward, Rudolf Valentino, Isadora Duncan, and Alexander Woollcott hung out. After the cafe went through a bad patch, master restaurateur George Lang took it over and revived it right down to the Howard Chandler Christy murals of frolicking nudes. The place is closed now. The Christy nudes (they were called Wood Nymphs) are gone.
A popular menu item was gravlax — cured (not smoked) salmon. Here is the recipe.
In a glass dish, sandwich two fresh salmon fillets with salt, sugar, crushed pepper, and fresh dill. Put more of everything on top, and add a half-cup aquavit. I have done this with gin and that works fine. Put a weight on top of this salmon sandwich, place in refrigerator, and check it once a day for four days. Tilt dish and pour the aquavit over it repeatedly. Taste each day, adding sugar or salt until you get it half way between sweet and salty. After four days, drain the gravlax and scrape away the dill. Serve it cold, sliced very thin, accompanied by a good, dark Russian rye bread and with a mustard-dill sauce.
I wonder what ever happened to those Wood Nymphs.
JAMES SALTER’S AVOCADO
James Salter is my favorite living writer. His novel A Sport and a Pastime is a masterpiece. Salter eats well and he wrote a book with his wife, Kay, called Life Is Meals. In it, they point out that avocados were believed by the Aztecs to be an aphrodisiac and were named ahuacatl, which meant testicle.
In Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad in the Caribbean, a popular way to serve avocados is to split them, remove the rough skin, and immerse them in hot beef broth laced with Worcestershire Sauce. It’s acceptable to sprinkle on hot pepper flakes for an extra kick — if needed.
ALEXANDRE’S POTATO SALAD
Prolific French writer Alexandre Dumas, who wrote the popular historical novel The Three Musketeers, had two principal loves — women and food. His assignations were legendary. So was his cookbook Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine. It was published posthumously. Before he died in 1870, he stated “I intend that my last work shall be a cookbook composed of memories and desires …” In the idiosyncratic dictionary Dumas dismissed asparagus by stating simply, “Well, everyone knows what they are” and leaving it at that.
But he did a fine recipe for potato salad: Boil some potatoes in their skins, peel while hot and slice into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add a half-cup of olive oil and that much white wine. Gently stir and let potatoes cool. Add a small amount of wine vinegar, some chopped parsley and chives. The trick is to peel those potatoes when they are hot.
In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote about being hungry in Paris in the 1920s and suddenly receiving a small check from a German newspaper that published one of his short stories. He cashed it and went quickly to Brasserie Lipp on the Left Bank and ordered a liter of beer, potato salad (pommes a l’huile), and a sausage (cervelas).
“When you are through, you lean back and think about your writing. Perhaps because you are no longer hungry, you feel sure that the stories are good and that you should continue on,” he wrote.
Plunge the cervelas or other pork-garlic sausage in boiling water and simmer for five minutes. Remove, rinse in cold water and place in frying pan with a small amount of butter over moderate heat until lightly browned. Serve with a mustard sauce made with a few tablespoons of Dijon mustard, to which a tablespoon or two of boiling water has been added. Slowly incorporate one-third cup olive oil, drop by drop, into the sauce while beating with a wire whip. Add salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Eat and write a short story.
AN ARMY COOK’S SOS
Anyone who has been in the U.S. military remembers this. It was known affectionately as SOS. If you don’t know what that stands for, send me an e-mail and I will enlighten you.
Officially, it is creamed chipped beef on toast and is usually served for breakfast. Sauté the chipped beef (it comes in a jar) in some butter. Add flour and milk and stir over a low heat until it thickens. Pour over toast and serve.
I prefer SOS with hamburger rather than chipped beef. That’s how the Marine Corps makes it. And, of course, Marine jarheads are a bunch of gourmets — at least they are when compared to the Army. And of course, the Navy eats quiche.
ALICE’S HASH BROWNIES
For dessert, let’s consider this special fudge.
Alice B. Toklas was not only the close buddy of Gertrude Stein but also an adventurous baker. When the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook came out in 1854, it created a sensation. Alice included a recipe for “Haschich Fudge” — a forerunner of marijuana hippie brownies.
Here’s the recipe in Alice’s words: “Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: Chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa [her spelling] can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut. It should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.”
If you want to try any of these recipes and need specific instructions, contact [email protected]. He’s also willing to share the recipe for his famous Spam sandwich.