The legendary chef answers the question…What did you eat today, Jeremiah Tower?
When I lifted a dripping barbacoa-packed taco to my mouth this morning an eyeball fell out. Every Mexican friend at the table was riveted on my reaction. I shoved the eye back into the tortilla and popped it into my mouth. What is this, I thought, a table full of Touaregs? But no dessert tents here. On the contrary, all this rain and cold makes one yearn for the Sudan even if not for being the nomadic Arab guest of honor and having to eat a lamb head. All that thought of Arabs made me think of one of my favorite books, Alan Moorehead’s The White Nile with its chapters like “The Vales of Paradise” and “The Coy Fountains.” Not much food in it though since Livingston, Speke, Kitchener, and Sir Richard Burton spent most of their time in cots undernourished and feverishly dreaming of what their London club mates were having for lunch. And that brought up mine. As long as the day had started in a literary bent I picked up another favorite, if a lesser one, Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter’s Found Meals of the Lost Generation, vignettes about meals that did or at least should have happened in Paris during the 1920’s. The menu for Isadora Duncan of Caviar, Cold Asparagus with Sauce Ravigote, Strawberries, and Champagne was a bit optimistic for the local Merida markets. Ravigote–not to get caught up in the great ravigote, remoulade, sauce verte debate–is one of my favorites especially when I treat it as remoulade and add chunks of chopped hard-boiled egg.
Optimistic too was Grilled Lobster for Josephine Baker, as was Cold Ham Braised in Madeira for James Joyce. Too long to make and where to find, in this Yucatecan empire of fresh pig in many glorious forms, a non-industrial ham? Cold Roast Chicken for Ernest Hemingway seemed easy, fast, and doable by lunch. So back to the market where I stopped by the chicken woman and bought a fine one I hoped was not a rooster. Would had to have spent hours over coq au vin or at least arroz con pollo. When I voiced that concern, my companion firmly suggested that lunch should be quite late–he wanted chicken in rice. My mother, having lived in Mexico for some years, used to make it for us all the time in England and Australia, so why not now in its homeland? It’s not in the book, so had to wing it. What is in the book is Jimmie The Barman’s Aphrodisia, a cocktail strong enough to delay any lunch. He was the famous bartender in Paris’ brawlingest bars like the Dingo, the Jockey, Hole in the Wall, and Trois et As, among others. He made his “special” like this: full Jigger of Cognac, half each of Pernod, Amer-Picon, Mandarin, and Kirsch. Shake with ice until your arms hurt and pour into a frozen ‘up’ glass. Cook the lunch before starting on the first and don’t go beyond a second. I put the cocktail shaker and a couple of martini glasses in the freezer and set about cooking the cut-up chicken in a rich vegetable stock (adding first the longest cooking) and, when cooked, and put them aside. Cook the rice in that stock. Shove the chicken back into the only warm rice (don’t want to overcook the chicken), and let sit as long as you can. Even better the next day. After two Aphrodisia I heated the arroz con pollo, threw in a handful of chopped cilantro leaves, and added some Xcatic chili-infused lime salted lime juice. It was delicious, we decided, and had a toast to the great cook (and cocktailer) that my mother was. // Jeremiah Tower