Just started Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and I cannot resist a review of one of Nabokov’s first paragraphs, the opening of the memoir of a scholar jailed for murder and dying in an American jail while awaiting trial. The scholar calls himself Humbert Humbert and, in the memoir, is introducing himself to the jury:
“My father was a gentle, easy-going person, a salad of racial genes, a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins. I am going to pass around in a minute some lovely, glossy-blue picture postcards. He owned a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. His father and two grandfathers had sold wine, jewels and silk, respectively. At thirty he married an English girl, daughter of Jerome Dunn, the alpinist, and granddaughter of two Dorset parsons, experts in obscure subjects – paleopedology and Aeolian harps, respectively. My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges.”
What a promise of things to come.
According to Wikipedia, “Lolita quickly attained a classic status. The novel was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for the stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Broadway musical. Its assimilation into popular culture is such that the name "Lolita" has been used to imply that a young girl is sexually precocious.”
Today’s post found below is a response from Herschel Adams to a thought posted here recently re: The Maillard Reaction.
Today is Saturday, June 30, 2018
Good morning, my friends.
This is my eighty-third consecutive daily posting.
It’s 6.05am and we’re in a heat wave. Over 90* for the next seven days.
On the screen: A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, titled on-screen as Fistful of Dollars) is a 1964 Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in his first leading role, alongside Gian Maria Volontè, Marianne Koch, Wolfgang Lukschy, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo, Antonio Prieto, and Joseph Egger. The film, an international co-production between Italy, West Germany, and Spain, was filmed on a low budget (reported to be $200,000), and Eastwood was paid $15,000 for his role.
Released in Italy in 1964 and then in the United States in 1967, it initiated the popularity of the Spaghetti Western genre. It was followed by For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, also starring Eastwood. Collectively, the films are known as the "Dollars Trilogy", or "The Man with No Name Trilogy". All three films were later released in sequence in the United States in 1967, catapulting Eastwood into stardom. The film has been identified as an unofficial remake of the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (1961), which resulted in a successful lawsuit by Toho, Yojimbo's production company. In the United States, the United Artists publicity campaign referred to Eastwood's character in all three films as the "Man with No Name".
As few Spaghetti Westerns had yet been released in the United States, many of the European cast and crew took on American-sounding stage names. These included Leone himself ("Bob Robertson"), Gian Maria Volontè ("Johnny Wels"), and composer Ennio Morricone ("Dan Savio"). A Fistful of Dollars was shot in Spain, mostly near Hoyo de Manzanares close to Madrid, but also (like its two sequels) in the Tabernas Desert and in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, both in the province of Almería.
I’m at my desk.
Dinner is chicken drumsticks on sale at Whole Foods for 1.29 per pound. Cost me $2.54 for the meat portion of dinner for 2.
Today’s Post: Submitted by Hershcel Adams.
As I refuse to believe you, you ancient one, are today unaware of what even a reductive (and a little misleading) explanation of the Maillard reaction might be, beyond a knowledge of its mere name, I am offering the following largely by way of its being a conscious (0n my part) redundancy (on your part).
As you are a master of tactics serving an ulterior strategy, which, perhaps wisely, always goes unexpressed unless someone catches you out, I don’t doubt that the charade of ignorance you have alleged to have evinced in yourself serves some other purpose. And especially as it’s inconceivable that you’d expect a practical assessment as personal guidance from a Harvard sophomore – regardless of her level of prescience, and especially irrelevant to her computer tech skills, which I understand have impressed you (but that’s easy, given the level of yours), because I am simply not credulous that she is capable of gauging the worth of you knowing the value of the science behind the Maillard reaction to the practical betterment of your cooking, which seems to be, if one is to believe your assertions, to be largely a seat-of-the-pants series of experiments, based largely on your recollection of your mother’s techniques, not to mention a through immersion in the findings of a true scholar of these matters, Toni-Lee Capossela, in the methodology derived from her exhaustive study of masters, far beyond the possible ken of the miraculous Cassandra, which were then inculcated in your restaurant staff. I recall, quite clearly, those stalwarts to have been deliberately selected for cooking positions because of their ignorance of any methodology, good or bad, which might have served to pervert or contaminate what you intended to drum into them. And that included the prodigy, whom I’ve been given pause to remember you had your own reasons (in your sacred text, Dom’s, An Odyssey) practically to beatify for his genius, I mean Frankie, who I recall as well was 15 0r 16, when you hired him, though claiming to be older, and could not have had the experience to buttress the skills he did, indeed, pick up en passant at Dom’s.
So, just to help you out, in case you do, in fact, have a reason for feigning ignorance, or even simply bringing the subject up, only to shoot it down as irrelevant on the strength of some not merely vague, but wholly insubstantial, if not wholly murky, judgment from a childhood buddy of your daughter, I attach some texts that might help you gather your wits to formulate a better denial of the importance of knowing this, as part of the necessary store of knowledge of any cook with the capability of turning food out that is not a bland, that is, tasteless assemblage of nutrients.
I was looking online for one of the two men I depend on for these matters. Preferably, if I can follow his somewhat more arcane and esoteric renderings of the science behind the artisanry, there’s Hervé This, whose Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor is a masterwork. Otherwise, there’s good old Harold McGee, that genial and accessible hero for, what? is it 50 years now?, of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
But first, this far more compact bit, which I found while looking for Hervé (which is the gustatory version of doing so for Waldo), on this site, hitherto unknown to me, but with a very succinct paragraph about the virtues in culinary terms of the Maillard reaction (which Maillard was studying back then, in 1912, for wholly other reasons).
The Maillard reaction, which is also sometimes referred to as “nonenzymatic browning,” produces volatile compounds that contribute aroma and nonvolatile compounds that provide color, known as melanoidins. Some of these compounds contribute to the resulting flavor as well. The Maillard reaction imbues foods with a characteristic smell, taste, and color. High-temperature processes in particular, such as frying, roasting, grilling, and baking, rely heavily on the Maillard reaction for the characteristic aromas it produces. What would the crust of a freshly baked loaf of bread be without the Maillard reaction? What would beverages such as espresso, hot chocolate, or Irish stout be if the coffee, chocolate beans, or barley were not roasted to facilitate the Maillard reaction? Or the nice meat flavors of a beef roast? Or the smell of toasted white bread? Browned onions? The list is endless.
To get to Hervé’s possibly even lugubrious, much more geeky, exertions I had to log on to my research account at Bryn Mawr, because it turns out Molecular Gastronomy is a text book and most access, beyond acquisition of the volume – difficult, even though the original is in French, here in the south of France, and I also believe I already own it, somewhere in our cooking library – is behind a pay wall of another kind.
But what he has to say is more comprehensive. And this, pardon the expression, is just a taste.
The Flavor of Roasted Meats
The flavor of roasted meats depends on their fat content.
Do fats impart a distinctive flavor to meats?
If so, which one?
It was long believed that lipids were capable only of dissolving odorant compounds, many of which are water insoluble. They have also been accused of giving meat a bad taste, turning rancid, or oxidizing during cooking. Nonetheless cooks have long known that the flavor of meat is affected by the fats it contains or the fats that are added to it during cooking. Today chemists can confirm that fats play a decisive role in Maillard reactions, whose products are the chief aromatic components of heated foods.
There are hundreds of odorant compounds, which vary according to the type of meat, the age of the animal, its diet, and the mode of cooking. Moreover, compounds present in minute quantities may be aromatically preponderant. One of the principal reactions responsible for generating tastes is the Maillard reaction between sugars (such as glucose) and amino acids. Named after Louis-Camille Maillard, a chemist in Nancy who first identified the reaction in 1912, it contributes to the flavor of bread crust as well as the roasted aroma of meats, beer, and chocolate, among other foods. This reaction also leads to the formation of the dark compounds called melanoidins, which give cooked foods their characteristic color.
Chemists have been investigating the precursors of the volatile compounds of meats for several decades. They first observed that these compounds have a low molecular mass. In addition to the reactive agents typical of Maillard transformations (amino acids and sugars), they found phosphate sugars, nucleotides, peptides, glycopeptides, and organic acids. The role of lipids, in particular, long resisted explanation. It was known that phospholipids (fatty acids linked to a hydrosoluble group that are very sensitive to oxidation) were responsible for the appearance of fatty and rancid notes, but in 1983 Donald Mottram and his colleagues at the Meat Research Institute in Bristol, England (now the Institute for Food Research), were the first to observe that they are also indispensable to the development of the characteristic taste of cooked meat. In 1989, their colleague Linda Farmer showed that lipids are involved in the unfolding of Maillard reactions, not only through their degradation products but also on their own account, changing the odorant profiles of roasted meats.
You, Dom, with your baroque, if not wholly tortuous, process for ensuring crispy brown skin on a roast fowl, including of all things rubbing in baking soda (as if there wasn’t enough sodium already in the abundance of salt you rub in as well – and all this after your fastidious exemption of any salt in the preparation of your basic chicken stock recipe, for “nutritional and health reasons,” you said... that’s a laugh, Mr. Go Ahead Eat All That Crispy Yummy Skin I’ve Taught You How to Embalm in the same way the ancient Egyptians did the mummies)! Saying “Poof” to the Maillard reaction and the presumption of that snippy Ivy Leaguer... What’s her cooking like?
Anyway, you might be interested in what the Greek guy on the Khymos.org blog post had to say about accelerating the browning of, say, onions, by including a little baking soda into the pan... And all because of the impracticality to cooking of a knowledge of the Maillard reaction.
I don’t wonder you were puzzled by the description you found, which, I’ll agree, is a little numb-witted, about the Maillard reaction. With the brown rings and all... What’s important to know is that it does happen, and what the optimal conditions are, because you alter the flavor of what you’re cooking, including a very broad range of foods, from bread to roast meat, if you induce, never mind amplify, or conversely deliberately prevent the Maillard reaction, under differing conditions. It’s even involved in the aging of booze in charred casks...
All of which suggests to me that Cassandra is not of age yet, and doesn’t know her white lightning from her bourbon. Which is enough for me not to go by her word. So what’s your excuse?
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