18 July 2014

The Esquire Culinary Companion

Charles H. Baker was quite the man about town.  Actually he was quite the man about everywhere.  Baker traveled the world compiling recipes for food and most notably, drink.  His magnum opus was the two volume The Gentleman's Companion: Being an Exotic Cookery and Drinking Book, published originally in 1939.  Since that time, The Gentleman's Companion has been read, collected, re-printed, and recollected since it was published.  So successful was The Gentleman's Companion, that he fell back on the formula for The South American Gentleman's Companion. 

As a writer for Esquire, he traveled the globe sending back witty and wise dispatches.  Each stop on his culinary adventure around Europe featured a "Baker's" dozen: 13 of his favorite recipes from the sojourn. 

His prose is a flourish of deeply rich purple.  Everything is large, grand, and memorable.  The martini's are the coldest, there are tidal waves of diet-death whipped creams, there are astounding, colossal gardens, and world-famous Alfredo sauce.  I dare say Baker would be laughed out the Esquire offices today, but think back to a time when the biggest celebrity chef was named Boyardee.

Baker's recipes are unmistakably, well, astounding and colossal.  Recipes are filled with instructions such as, " hit it in a 400 oven," "rubbing it into oblivion," "slice with a keen blade," and "put a complex layer of prosciutto on top."

Here is a great recipe from jolly old England.
The Trout

Trick about this simple trout dish is to use twice as much butter as you'd usually plan, and heat gradually until hot but in no way smoking.  Dry fish carefully, season with nothing but salt and hand-milled pepper; dip in a trifle of flour--shaking off all excess.  Then the next trick: Put tail of every fish  into hot butter first until covered 1 1/2 inch or so.   Hold thus for a few seconds each, then lay gently in butter and poach.  This way the fish do not curl up as usual.  Brown over not-to-furious heat.  Fish come out tender and moist.  A bit of fine-snipped parsley and a wedge of lemon, perhaps, is the sole garnish.  No extra flavors to detract from the fish itself , which is correct as can be.
I am liking that "trifle" of flour.  You may not want to cook from a Charles H. Baker book, but reading it will definitely bring a smile to your face.  The grandest most memorable smile, ever!

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