Monday, 20 May 2013

For J. K. Huysmans (1848 - 1907),

"He had organized a funeral feast in celebration of the most unmentionable of minor personal calamities... The viands were served on black-bordered plates,--turtle soup, Russian black bread, ripe olives from Turkey, caviar, mule steaks, Frankfurt smoked sausages, game dished up in sauces coloured to resemble liquorice water and boot-blacking, truffles in jelly, chocolate-tinted creams, puddings, nectarines, fruit preserves, mulberries and cherries... The invitations, which purported to be for a dinner in pious memory of the host's (temporarily) lost virility, were couched in the regulation phraseology of letters summoning relatives to attend the obsequies of a defunct kinsman."
     -- A Rebours


Oh my goodness so many food inspirations!

A Rebours (in English, "Against the Grain") follows a wealthy recluse of decadent tastes who has taken to the countryside to pursue a solitary life of reflection and contemplation (hello, future self?) But in a former life, he was said to be quite the character. So much of a character, in fact, that he once threw a funeral for his penis.

Now I've thrown parties for a lot of non-reasons. Birthday parties are reasonably legitimate. Dinner parties to celebrate newly discovered recipes seem a little less justified. I once threw a brunch to welcome the arrival of winter. And once an elaborately catered movie night to make use of a borrowed projector. And I've been known to throw a dinner party to celebrate the throwing of my dinner party. (Meta food!) So yes, I understand the appeal of an unnecessary soiree.

But throwing a funeral feast to mourn a temporarily disfunctional sex life? That takes -- ironically -- quite some balls.

And if he makes all the food black, what are we supposed to assume about the host's potentially diseased reproductive organ? I.. I... don't want to think too hard about that. Unfortunately, I'm cooking with sticks of liquorice today, so keeping diseased phalluses out of my head is not going to be easy. (Are you hungry yet?)

No more phallic food this post... oh wait.
I hope you are, actually, because the 'ye oldy English' tradition of melting liquorice into sauces is actually a lot more appetizing than it sounds. If you start with a base of rich wine, soft onions and some flavourful extras, all the liquorice does is add a mild aniseedy note. Served on game meat as at Huysman's fictional funeral, or on chicken and mushrooms as I prefer, it tastes of warmth and winter and stews, without actually being as sloppy as a stew. And this comes from a life-long liquorice hater, so you know you can trust me.

(Sidenote: did anyone else out there get irrationally angry, as a child, when someone promised them sweets and delivered liquorice? I remember getting some from a neighbour when I was about six and thinking: this is worse than getting no food. Bring me some damn gummy worms.)

But this one-woman anti-liquorice brigade is eating her words, and her enemy. Next week: salmon in gummy worm glaze?


Liquorice Sauce

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
150ml red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp pomegranate molasses (optional, but delicious)
1 stick soft liquorice (about 40g)

Method

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the onions until slightly browned. Add the wine, vinegar, and pomegranate molasses if using. When the liquid is warm, add the liquorice. It won't melt entirely, but you'll be blending it later, so don't worry. Simmer the liquid until it has reduced by half. 
Blend the mixture until smooth. Pass through a sieve and return to the pan to rewarm. Transfer to a small jug and drizzle over meats. (I poured mine over panfried chicken thighs, mushrooms, and garlic mashed potatoes. You should too.)


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