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31. The Catch-Up Issue
All the things that wouldn't fit before.
As I mentioned in the last issue, I haven’t had space for some usual features, so I am dedicating this one to just that.
Panhunter: The Knife Stalker
(For those of you who subscribed after October 29, 2021, Panhunter is a feature in which I help people find what cooking equipment—anything from a cutting board to a fridge—would be best for them.)
Before Christmas a friend sent me a message on Instagram because her husband had put a kitchen knife with a round, wooden handle on his wish list. She wanted to know if I had any recommendations.
A knife can be a tricky gift. On the one hand, it’s perfect because the asking price is often a little higher than someone might want to spend on themselves.1 I think that’s one of the best kind of gifts to give—a true treat. But on the other hand, a knife is a very personal tool and there are enough considerations (length, handle size and shape, balance, blade profile) that choosing the right one is a bit of a crapshoot. It’s better to get a gift card to somewhere like Knife Toronto or Tosho Knife Arts and let your special someone pick out exactly which one suits them best.
With that said, many Shun knives have round, wooden handles and are of excellent quality, so that’s not a bad place to start. They’re by no means cheap, but their prices don’t begin to approach the prices of some of the blades at specialty shops.
A great follow-up gift for next year would be a sharpening class so they can learn to keep their new tool in its best condition.
If you’ve got a equipment question for the Panhunter, reply to this email or comment below.
What I’m Consuming…
A while back I mentioned that I was reading Taste: My Life Through Food, a memoir by Stanley Tucci. One of the great gifts that book has given me is an introduction to the 1980s cooking shows of Keith Floyd. So far, I’ve only watched the series Floyd on Fish and Floyd on France, but I’m hooked. I can’t wait to dig into (among others) Floyd on Italy, Floyd on Spain, Floyd Around the Med, and Floyd’s American Pie. Full episodes are available on YouTube.
It’s difficult to describe Keith Floyd without simply duplicating Stanley Tucci’s words. Episodes are shot on location, usually with a single handheld camera that Floyd directs as he cooks, delivering a nonstop commentary on what he’s doing, the background of the dish, the parsimoniousness of the BBC, the disapproval of his hosts2, and more, all between frequent sips of wine and in an “insanely posh” accent3 (to quote an English friend’s description of it). There is a madcap, unhinged air to the proceedings that is unlike any other show I’ve seen. From a cross-contamination standpoint, it’s an absolute nightmare, with licked fingers constantly dipping in and out of various pots and pans. But that non-sanitized, non-antiseptic approach is part of what makes it so different from other shows. Aside from its dated look, it's a format that I think it quite well suited to the YouTube age4.
And, as Tucci points out, “What Keith Floyd did by taking the cooking show out of the studio, onto the seas, and up to the mountaintops changed the face of food television for better and forever.” It’s easy to look back at something and not understand just how groundbreaking it was in its own time. Once you’ve experienced Keith Floyd in action, you’ll understand how many shows he inspired.
And did I mention that all of the theme music for his shows is by The Stranglers?5 Because there’s that too.
Christmas wishes do come true and I received two of the books in the second part of my gift guide, Harold McGee’s Nose Dive and Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. I’ve only read the first few chapters of each, but I’m very happy with them so far.
I’m calling the Articles of Interest podcast food-related because we typically listen to it during dinner. It takes the 99% Invisible lens and focuses it on clothing, examining the broader implications of the often unseen choices made by designers and what it says about what we think is important. We’re only part way through Season 1 (of 3 so far) and every episode has been absolutely fascinating.
If you’re not a subscriber, you definitely should be! Let The Plate Cleaner come to you.
What’s on the Menu…
McCormick first introduced this blend of hot sauce and their Old Bay crab boil spice as a limited edition at the start of 2020 and it sold out immediately. I thought I had missed out forever, but then learned they had decided to add it to their regular product lineup at some point. I saw it on the shelves of a local fishmonger and snapped it up both for myself and for Christmas presents. So far I’ve used it instead of Tabasco on oysters and in Bloody Caesars and instead of Frank’s in Buffalo wing sauce. Its spicy, celery salt-forward flavour gives all of them a little more interest. Now I want Old Bay everything, like Old Bay ketchup, although Beth points out that I can just mix Old Bay into ketchup any time I want.
The NY-style pizza dough I like to make requires three days of cold fermentation. Space in our fridge is always at a premium, so it isn’t possible to cram two or more dough boxes into it. But once the temperature outside drops below zero, our cold room becomes a walk-in fridge with temperature right around 4°C. So from now until around March, pizza will be a regular fixture on the meal plan.
I recently added this sheet pan dinner to the list I keep on my website of recipes I most frequently use. The only catch is that while it’s a fairly easy recipe to put together, the sweet potato takes about an hour to cook, so it’s not the best choice when time is short. Also, remember to take your butter out of the fridge well in advance so it’s soft enough to spread on the chicken.
It (almost) goes without saying that the price of a knife and its quality do not always correlate. The Fibrox 8” chef’s knife consistently gets great reviews and it can be had for under $75.
While Floyd is clearly a Francophile (he lived and opened restaurants in France before doing TV) you can certainly pick up a hint of disdain for the French as well.
Although Floyd was born to working-class parents, he went to a the Wellington, a public school that counts Jeffery Archer and numerous OBEs and CBEs as alumni. That explains the accent.
It certainly brings to mind early episodes of It’s Alive with Brad Leone, particularly the interactions between Leone and his camera operator, Vincent “Vinny” Cross. The odds that Leone is aware of Keith Floyd’s work are incredibly slim, however.
Is it just me or did everyone expect The Stranglers to play music that is more strangle-y than it actually is?