52 Titles: M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Art of Eating”

This book is actually five of her early titles, bound into one, so I will count it as five — a welcome loophole, as I was falling behind schedule and this put me back on track.

M.F.K. (Mary Frances Kennedy) Fisher was a locavore and proponent of nose-to-tail eating before either of those concepts became gastro-fashionable. She is from a different era, when cooks used all parts of their groceries because it made fiscal, not moral or ethical, sense.

My favourite of the bunch was “Consider the Oyster.” There are two kinds of people in this world: those that love to eat oysters, and those who would gag to the point of vomiting from the slippy, cool, salty texture. It is a love letter to the most beautiful food we eat alive.

The cookbook/memoir is a breezy read, one that can be finished in a single sitting — unless you are inspired to get up and walk to your nearest fishmonger because the sound of Oysters a la Bazeine is too much to resist:

Oysters a la Bazeine, or Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense [ed’s note: translated means “Evil to him who evil thinks.”]

  • Have on hand adequate supplies of sauce Béchamel, sauce Soubise, and velouté. (Recipes can be found in Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, in Dumas’ Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, or even in Andre Simon’s French Cook Book.)
  • Prepare a roux of chopped chives, butter and rice-flour, and set it aside.
  • Slice truffles paper-thin, and cut into the shapes of dolphins, crabs, and other sea-monsters. Set them aside.
  • Poach brook trout, preferably alive, in a court-bouillon made with a good dry champagne instead of ordinary wine and water. Set them aside.
  • Make a marinade, using fine instead of wine-vinegar, and in it marinate small cubes of Parma ham for several hours, or until a faint iridescence appears. Drain, and set aside.
  • Prepare croutes by browning thick slices of fine white bread in Strasbourg goose-fat, and do not set aside.
  • Instead, place them quickly on heated plates. Spread each tranche with Béchamel and then the roux. Set a trout carefully upon it, and coat with Soubise. Over this, sprinkle the cubes of Parma ham, and then a thin layer of velouté. Decorate lavishly with the truffle-silhouettes, and serve at once under bells with a modest but well-bred Sainte-Croix du Chateau Pinardino ’08.
  • Or fry oysters and serve with ale.

Hahaha! Like I said, Fisher was an antithesis to the Chowhound-esque gourmand, happily mocking fussy, molecular gastronomers before that was a thing, too.

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