Monday, May 21, 2007

Things I don't eat any more - but can't forget

Things that I don’t eat any more – but were truly memorable: Part 1:

Coq au vin - mid '80's NZ

I was staying in Auckland at the home of a friend of an entirely different ‘not boyfriend’ and his partner. The NB was gay and at that point I’m not sure if he was entirely out, which meant we were sharing a bed in this little cottage and playing happy couples. Oh the things you do, before you learn better!

The happy homeowner was a then famous DJ (who had the most amazing record collection that I had seen up to that point in my life). His partner was an American woman, a bit older than us, with A Past. This involved having a child that didn’t live with her and a stint as a sex worker. This made her very interesting and exotic. I think we both fell a bit in love with her on that visit.

But her food was even more exciting. She was going out one night and asked us to make dinner for her – “It’s really easy”, she said “just coq au vin” and she proceeded to write the recipe from memory.

A couple of decades on I’ve found the recipe, written in a flowing hand, double spaced, with lots of underlining. Here it is as it was written:

Flavia’s Coq au Vin

Melt in a lg pan 1-2 tbsp butter, add 1 chopped onion, I sliced carrot, and at least2 rashers bacon, (sliced up). Cook ‘til veges are translucent and push to one side of the pan (or take ‘em out & put ‘em inna bowl) Brown chicken pieces in the butter & fat in the pan until nicely browned (as if they ever brown nicely!) Put the veges back in the pan now (if your stupid enough to take ‘m out before). Sprinkle 1 LG Tbsp flour over chook & veges, also sprinkle 1 huge pinch thyme and 1 tsp marjoram (oreganum’s ok, too) over it all. Pour over enough red wine to almost cover the chicken pieces, stir (which is impossible, so just try to, to mix the flour in, y’know) and cover & simmer, for 1 hour.

Lg = large
Tbsp = tablespoon

I can’t actually remember what it tasted like, except that I have a memory deep in my bones of it being good. Not only had we whipped up this exotic dish with ease but the author had consulted no books on the passing on of the knowledge! A year or 2 later I reproduced it and using it as a base with some ducks a friend had just shot and wanted me to cook for him. I’d stopped eating meat by them but I know it got the thumbs up – in an “I’ve never had duck that tasted so good” kind of way.

It doesn’t matter that I shy away from meat now, what she taught me was so much more than how to reproduce a French dish. She had demystified cooking, to not be afraid of food with a reputation, to realise it just broke down into its simple parts – in this case of protein, vegetables and some liquid to cook in. Her simple method scrawled from memory was like her taking us for a tour of her kitchen, rather than a precise science experiment that many of the books sounded like at the time.

As I write this now, in another country and century, I realise this is how I like to write about food.

I salute a great cook who I met just once in my life. Flavia, I hope you are still cooking up a storm and bringing joy to those who sit at your table.

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