Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fishing around

The festive period is fast approaching, along with all the entertaining duties that accompany visiting  family members and friends. As mentioned on numerous occasions here and no disrespect intended to other social gurus like Martha Stewart et al, when it comes to wining and dining savoir faire, Debretts is a good source to consult.

Last time, the focus was on the selection and imbibing of champagne including the proper way to open  the bottle. Among the advice offered by Debretts was that the choice of drinking receptacle is an important factor to enhance the experience and taste and that a tulip-shaped flute glass be used to preserve the bubbles. I mean, what's champagne without bubbles? Like wine without a  vintage. Right? It's not called bubbly for nothing. The glass flute (somehow "flute" reminds me of the musical instrument even though there is no way it could be used for drinking purposes...just a thought, such as it is...but I digress) should or even must be held by the stem to keep the liquid cold. Getting back to the bubble aspect...

As an aside (big on these) a study conducted by the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, in France, suggests that there are 15 million bubbles fizzing in a single glass of champagne. A researcher studied the role of the carbon dioxide (CO2) throughout its journey from the bottle to the glass, focusing on the second fermentation stage, resulting in the CO2 dissolution into the wine -- aided by the addition of yeast and sugar before sealing each champagne bottle -- to the stage where the gas escapes through tiny bubbles popping on the surface of the wine in the glass.
( Go figure! Somebody actually studied champagne bubbles. Just thinking...wonder if any tasting was involved... Just a thought.

By the way if anyone reading this is interested in studying champagne other than by a taste test and happens to be in the Reims, France, vicinity, the Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table is offering a course, entitled, "The Physics of Champagne Bubbles."  No mention whether a degree is offered for those who pass or complete the course. What would it be called? A BA in Bubble Study?

A good match for champagne is caviar, or the roe of the sturgeon fish. As mentioned previously, it's not a personal favorite but it certainly has its adherents. The average portion of caviar is 30 grams. According to advice offered by  a special spoon made of bone, crystal or mother of pearl should be used in order to preserve the taste and eaten in amounts smaller than a tablespoon. This sounds like logical advice given the high end price of what in the end, is fish eggs. Furthermore, it's good etiquette to consume caviar in small bites. One would never deign to stuff one's mouth with caviar and if one does, one should immediately take a large gulp of champagne to wash it down (my personal advice, not experience). Champagne always seems to make things right. In my mind - such as it is - there is a somewhat snobbish appeal to being served caviar at a party:

"Yes Felicia - they served the golden caviar with crackers. Only the best and found in only one in 1000 osetra sturgeon. I must remember to pick up a can at the supermarket tomorrow for the bridge club ladies."

Debretts also offers advice on eating lobster although it's a specie that is morally difficult to eat - at least for me. Somehow, it's hard to reconcile seeing a future meal positioned in a tank of water along with others of its kind, waiting to be selected as a main course. Moreover, when served whole, it's also problematic to eat a food that stares back at you with accusatory eyes that seem to say, "killer!" Then again, perhaps it's just me. The actual eating of the lobster requires the wearing of a bib while grasping the shell in one hand, while the other hand slowly and methodically uses a lobster cracker to reveal the flesh, after which it's pulled out with a lobster pick. Oh the angst of being a tasty crustacean favored by many!

Last but not least, snails is another shell type food, which has its devotees. Having never consumed one but spotted a number in the garden, can't comment on their flavor value. Judging by their size, not much to eat and once again work is required to remove them from their shell. Debretts advice includes the use of snail tongs to remove the meat, yet another meal requiring work.

Speaking (or writing about) snails, while researching this piece, came across the Mother Earth News site, which advocates using your very own snails found in the garden. FYI, the site provides among other interesting facts, this background info.: "The common garden snail, Helix aspersa, is a close relative of France's commercially harvested Helix pomatia. Both can be found on French dinner plates, where the former goes by the affectionate "petit gris" (little gray) to distinguish it from its cousin gros blanc (large white)." A snail, is a snail is...

Perhaps Jean-Paul Sartre sums it all up: "“It is not a matter of indifference whether we like oysters or clams, snails or shrimp, if only we know how to unravel the existential significance of these foods.”

Whatever you say, Jean-Paul.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Debretts guides us the right way during the social season

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right."
Mark Twain

In a little over a month, people will be in a celebratory state of being as the month of December ushers in Christmas and the holiday period in general. It's also the time when friends and family members gather together for a memorable festive meal. When it comes to the "how-to's" of conducting oneself in public and social deportment in general, Debrett's is the guide to consult with when it comes to acting correctly in public. It's a good source for ensuring that one does the socially correct thing as to not embarrass oneself. For example, there is more to merely sipping champagne and wine.

A bottle of chilled champagne is always a good start to a holiday meal and accordingly, there are rules and regulations as to how it should be served. Maybe not rules and regulations as such but suggestions to get the most out of champagne. Have to confess or at least own up to the fact that perhaps I've imbibed in high end champagne less than a half-dozen times in my entire life. You know - special occasions - and found the taste somewhat dry and lip-pucker-inducing. Then again, I'm not big on caviar, either. A little bit too fishy and slimy going down for my taste. But I digress. So now about champagne.

Rule number 1: do not shake the bottle of champagne prior to opening it. Don't quite know why somebody would do that other than for personal amusement to see the end result but obviously if this is a precaution, than  obviously one should keep it away from potential champagne shakers. You know who you are!  Unlike in the movies, it's wasteful, not to mention messy, to have a large stream of champagne dripping down from the ceiling. Then there's the ensuing issue of who should clean up the mess including what to do with inebriated pets. Moving on...

Rule number 2: the champagne bottle should be opened by peeling off the foil over the cork. My solution for difficult tasks such as tricky foil removal especially if there's a threat of broken finger nails that have been newly manicured, or the retrieval of  broken corks stuck inside bottles, is made easier with the help of fork tines or the tip of steak knives. I mean, these things happen even with champagne bottles.

Rule number 3: Most important in order to avoid an incident as in the case of rule number one, bottle should be pointed away from the person opening the bottle. It should also not be pointed in the direction of family members and/or friends sitting around the table. In my mind, the bottle should be pointed at a 45 degree angle....

Rule number 4: Remove metal cage over the cork. Just wondering the rationale behind placing a "metal cage" over the bottle head and cork. According to Wikipedia - Wiki is as knowledgeable as Debretts in many subjects and areas:
"A muselet is a ware cage that fits over the cork of a bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or beer to prevent the cork from emerging under the pressure of the carbonated contents. It derives its name from the French, museler, to muzzle. The muselet often has a metal cap incorporated in the design which may show the drink maker's emblem. They are normally covered by a metal foil envelope. Muselets are also known as wire hoods or Champagne wires."

Somehow, the term "wire hoods" reminds one (me) of a gang of champagne thieves, as in: "Today, le gang de muselet conducted a daring robbery and emptied out the Café des Artistes Qui Boivent du Champagne Directement de la Bouteille (English translation: the café of artists who drink champagne directly from the bottle) located in downtown Montmartre." But I digress - again.

Rule number 5 and 6: Hold the cork in one hand and the bottle in the other. This is what could be classified as the "duh" moment. Cork one hand...bottle in other. I mean, how else would one open a bottle? At this point, the open-ee should prepare for the next step being the removal of the cork. This is the point where it all comes together and the big reveal.

Rule number 7: Gently and slowly and ever-so-carefully, twist (not wrench) the bottle - not the cork.

Rule number 8: Debretts advises when removing the cork to "aim for a sigh - not a pop." So I'm thinking here, I mean, what's the difference if a person sighs or yells or even swears out loud when opening the bottle? Is there some type of unwritten rule somewhere where champagne has to be opened with a sigh? Anybody know? But I digress. Once more.

Anyway...moving right along...champagne should be served in tulip shaped fluted glasses, since the shape of the glass preserves the bubbles. The glasses must be absolutely clean and even remnants of dishwashing liquid can cause the champagne to lose its fizz. We all know that nothing tastes as bad as champagne that has lost its fizzle like many other things in life.  Right?

Moving on and related to the issue of spirits, ordering wine in a restaurant can be challenging for many people who are not knowledgeable about vintage, or a growing region, the grape question or aging. For many of us, wine is relegated to red or white, period.  This could present a problem when dining in a good restaurant especially when one is required to taste said wine.

1.  According to Debretts, "the waiter will show you the bottle and the cork so that you can verify your wine's identity." Really - as a person who drinks wine on an occasional basis, identification of the wine really doesn't have an impact on whether or not I like it. I taste it - if it pleases my taste buds - it's okay.

2.  One should never smell the cork. Again, it never occurred to me to smell the cork. I mean, why would I want to? Seems that the cork is to be used a means in which to strictly provide information. When was the last time you read a cork? Can't say that I ever have.

3.  One should swirl a small amount of wine in the glass when it is served by a waiter, followed by a sniff.  People unsure of the scent may take a small sip to ascertain it's taste and quality. My philosophy as far as this is concerned is if a sniff doesn't mean anything, chances are neither would a sip. In any case, once this is all completed, the wine is ready to drink. At last.

Now that the delicate issue of opening champagne and the selection of wine has been completed. it's time to actually sit back and enjoy the fruits of one's labors, in the true sense of the word. Only one thing to add to that: Cheers.

Next time we'll examine the various foods and their serving for the holiday period and their consumption.