Raising the steaks
A FRIEND of mine was found positive for the performance-inhibiting drug butane. “A load of anabolics,” he claimed in our local bar, “someone must have slipped it into my drink.”
The confusion arose from my friend’s erroneous belief that good barbeque can be achieved over a gas-fired grill. I am of the Pedantic school that thinks all of the latter sanitized cooking apparatus should be collected and recycled offshore as an artificial reef.
Jamie Oliver, who improved our school lunches to no end, agrees with me. In his book Jamie’s Dinners, he comments: “The only barbeques to go for are charcoal or wood, as opposed to gas ones, which can impart a negative flavour and certainly don’t give the authentic smoky flavour that makes barbequing what it should be.” Jamie also recommended a UK manufacturer of barbeque units. If you want to check them out have a look at: www.caribbeancookers.com. These hand-crafted, stainless steel barbeques come in various models and are truly top of the line. I am saving up to buy one of Jamie’s discards.
I would imagine hanging lumps of meat over a wood fire was the earliest form of creative cooking our ancestors practised. This is confirmed by cave paintings in Texas showing a group of early customers at a Paleolithic rib restaurant. I think they are waiting for a table.
Anthropologists are convinced humans have consumed meat for most of the past million years, though they only started to cook it about 50,000 years ago. A few thousand years on and seemingly only a small minority of us have perfected the art of barbeque. Grilling meat or fish over glowing coals seems a simple thing at first but the results are often dreadful. Many times I have been served meat or chicken that has a crunchy, carbonized coating outside and a pink, spongy interior you could describe as not cooked as opposed to rare. I take my omnivorous dog along to barbeques to surreptitiously dispose of these horrible items, though sometimes even the mutt turns his nose up at them.
The word barbeque does not come from the French barbe a queue (from beard to tail) as some French food critics would have it. The word actually derives from the Spanish barbacoa, or the French babracot, adaptions from the Taino and Arawak languages of Haiti and Guiana. The Indian words referred to a framework of sticks set above the fire for hanging meat from.
Real barbeque (at least in the southern states of the USA) has nothing to do with just grilling meat however. Backyard grilling and the methods practised by most a la brasa restaurants in Spain, is quick cooking over intense dry heat on an open brazier. The best barbeque to eat if you can get it is prepared by slow, enclosed cooking at gentle temperatures in moist, hardwood smoke. The key word is enclosed. A rack of (pork) ribs can take five to six hours to cook in a barbeque pit or cooker; a shoulder of pork might take 12. While most people grill their meat to rare and juicy, real barbeque is always well-done. Any sign of blood or unrendered fat is a serious flaw. All the tough connective tissue must be dissolved and the meat must pull cleanly from the bone in long, moist shreds. “Real barbeque never sizzles; it just lies there quietly, slowly and imperceptibly reaching what has been described justly as ‘a higher plane of existence.’” Thanks to Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything for much of the above information.
We have ways of making you talk
A highly classified EU document has come into my possession. It originated in Berlin and is almost certainly from the office of Mrs Angular Gherkin. The report reached me via a hidden website on the internet, on which food columnists in different parts of the world chat to each other using code words like fettucine, foie gras and overcooked.
I am probably exposing myself to danger publishing this document as three food writers who saw the original memorandum have died in mysterious circumstances. One was run over by a 60-kilo wheel of Parmesan cheese, one froze to death in a Häagen Dazs ice cream van and one is reported to have perished in a chip fryer in a branch of McDonalds in Shanghai.
I am determined to publish his document in the name of investigative journalism and freedom of the press and if it wins me a Pulitzer Prize and an invitation to join the American lecture circuit, so be it. They must be getting tired of Margaret Thatcher by now.
The document in question is entitled:
EC/DIR/6291/33/ECOM/D: PROPOSED PHASED INTRODUCTION OF A PAN-EUROPEAN STANDARD FOR END-USER COMMUNICATIONS. TOP SECRET.
The paper reads, in part:
“As English has become the preferred language in the European Union, the federal German Government has commissioned a study into the ways of improving efficiency in communications between member Government departments. European officials regularly point out that English spelling is irrational and unnecessarily difficult. For example: cough, plough, through and thorough are spelled similarly but pronounced differently. This is particularly confusing for the French who are more used to words that are pronounced the same but spelt differently. There is a clear need for a phased introduction of a program of changes to solve these anomalies.
“In the first year, the committee suggests using s instead of the soft c. Sertainly sivil servants in all cities would resieve this news with exsitement. The hard c would be replased by k, sinse both letters are pronounsed the same. Not only would this klear up konfusion in the minds of klerical workers, but keyboards kould be made with one letter fewer, resulting in substantial savings in Brussels.
“In the sekond year, the replasement of the troublesome ph by f would be announced. Henseforth, this would make words like fotograf up to 20 per sent shorter.
“In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kould be expected to reatsh the stage where more komplikated shanges bekome possible. Governments would enkourage the removal of double letters, whish have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.
“In the forth year (see below), the sekondary pronounsiation of s and z would seaze. The horible mes kaused by the silent e in the languaj would also be adresed. Therfor we kould drop thez and kontinu to read and writ as if nothing had hapend. By this tim, the skem would be wel under way and peopl would be reseptiv to steps sush as replasing th by z. Perhaps zen ze funktion of ze w kould be taken by v, vitsh iz, after al, only half a w. Shortly after zis, ze unesesary o kuld be droped from vords kontaining ou. Similar arguments vud of kors be aplied to ozer kombinations of leters or difzongs.
Kontinuing zis proses, yer after yer, ve vud eventuali hav a reli sensibl riten styl. After 20 yers zer vud be no mor trublsum difikultiz and evrivon vud find it ezier to pronons ze languaj in ze sam vay az it iz riten.
Und zen ze dremz ov ze Germanz vud finaly kum tru: TODAY ZE SPELINK; TOMORO ZE VURLD!