I've had something of a fascination lately with the idea of San Francisco food. I mean, everyone knows our fair city to be a major foodie destination, and most people can rattle off a list of restaurant names of varying degrees of prestige in the current-day food scene. But what of the classics, the dishes that emerged from restaurants past and present that have made it into the American culinary vernacular?
Many of these dishes have appeared on menus for so long, they've been fallen out of fashion and are now associated with lunching matrons in chi-chi hotel restaurants: Crab Louie, Celery Victor and the grandmother of all creamy salad dressings, Green Goddess.
It's small wonder these dishes have become culinary dinosaurs. In the monotony of preparing them on so many menus over so many years, they've surely slid into mediocrity or worse at the hands of indifferent chefs. Just recently, I dined locally at an otherwise perfectly good establishment (that shall remain nameless). I was actually excited to see a salad with Green Goddess on the menu, and ordered it with glee. Sadly, I was presented a lackluster pile of greens thickly coated with what as far as I could tell was just straight-up mayonnaise. No green, and far from godly.
But I maintain that when prepared with love and integrity, these foods must be excellent in their own right. How else could they have become such culinary icons?
And the goddess is an icon indeed. It was created at the Palace Hotel in 1923 by Executive Chef Phillip Roemer at an event to honor actor George Arliss, who was then the lead in the play "The Green Goddess" by William Archer. Cool, creamy and fresh with herbs, it must have struck quite a chord with the diners that evening, for it went on to become one of the most popular dressings in the West for decades, eventually dethroned by ranch dressing (with which it has a more than passing resemblance.)
Its fame peaked in the 1970s when Seven Seas sold a bottled version of it, and today Annie's Naturals produces a version as well, but for the last three decades or so, the goddess has largely lost her followers.
Well, consider me a member of the Cult of the Green Goddess, then. And I aim to convert you, too.
You see, Green Goddess is much more than a dressing. Since I've started making it, it's made its way into a variety of applications. It makes a fantastic dip for just about anything on its own, but toss it into a blender with some white beans and you've got something rather special indeed. Our friend Jim's mother used to use it as a dressing for cold pasta, and served with grilled jumbo shrimp; I think scallops would be at least as delightful.
In researching the dressing, I came across a lot of different recipes with a surprising amount of variation: Different proportions of mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar; with or without anchovy; and while nearly all call for parsley and chives, others called for basil, tarragon and even chervil. Despite Martha's greatest efforts to market it, however, chervil remains an elusive ingredient for most of us.
The Palace Hotel thoughtfully has published the original, and that is what I used. Well, sort of. While they call for parsley and chives, the original evidently did not include tarragon; this will not stand. For reasons I cannot justify, in my mind Green Goddess must have tarragon. Must. So I added it. And I stand by that decision. Fact is, you could tweak this recipe ten times till Tuesday, and you'd still end up with a delicious, refreshing dressing, so have at it.
What other San Francisco classics do you love? And what current dishes do you think will stand the test of time?
Nearly every year, we give away some sort of hand-made food product for the holidays. In the past, we've given jams, chutneys and pasta sauce. This year, we decided to take on the holy trinity of American condiments: Ketchup, mustard and relish. After all, why pay less than two dollars in the grocery store for what you can make at nearly equivalent cost plus hours of back-breaking labor?
Why? Because we can. Because there is more to this delicious life than the flavors served to us by the major food manufacturers. And because when you take the most basic things back into your own hands, you can apply your own stamp to them.
The genesis for this project was when I saw Sarah waxing rhapsodic on Twitter about a maple black pepper ketchup she made, the recipe for which she then shared at my behest (and which I of course had to tinker with). Meanwhile, we've been meaning to make mustard for some time now. What's left? Why, relish of course, and we had just made up a big batch of delicious sweet yellow squash pickles from a cookbook given to us by the lovely Amy. It's a small step to go from sweet pickles to sweet pickle relish. We availed ourselves of the final harvest of summer squash and set to work. (Sidenote: I tried, oh how I tried, to find locally harvested mustard seed, but evidently the much-vaunted mustard of Napa county is mainly for show. The seeds I got came from San Francisco Herb Co. So, that makes them locally sourced, right?)
And so the plan was hatched: Classic American flavors, each with a twist -- Maple bourbon ketchup, tarragon Dijon mustard and sweet yellow squash relish. Sorry, hot dogs not included.
I have to admit that I never really got chutney until well into my adult life. My first bite was straight-from-the-jar Crosse & Blackwell Major Grey's at a tender young age, and I had no idea what to do with it. It was sweet, but strangely funky, a little too salty and ohmigod hot for my nubile palate.
Well. Things have changed. Today, I love the complex sweetness of a good chutney, and my only qualm with the aforementioned condiment (a Smucker's product, incidentally) is that it is too pedestrian.
I've made the occasional chutney, the greatest success of which was a reasonably good fuyu persimmon version a couple years ago when I inherited a massive bag of the things from a friend. But in terms of off-the-shelf product, I've been left wanting. Until now.
Alongside our plates of charcuterie, cheese and chocolate were little glass bowls of glistening Gaelic goodness. Now, I wasn't aware of Scotland's place in chutney culinaria, but I shall never doubt again. From my first taste, it was true love.
The ones I specifically remember tasting that day were the Moray Fig & Ginger and the Elgin Habanero. Despite its incendiary name, the habanero chutney's introductory taste is a mustardy-vinegary kick, with a pleasantly sweet crunch of apple. Only on the finish do you get a throat-tickling burn of capsaicin. The Moray fig is its sweeter sister, with a honeyed palate and caviar-like crunch from the fig seeds. I immediately scampered to Cowgirl Creamery to share these treats with DPaul.
The obvious application is with a cheese plate, and you can't go wrong there. We had each with an unremarkable sharp cheddar and crackers to reasonably good effect, though I felt bad for the poor cheese's whimpering cries under the chutney's operatic trill. By contrast, as a flavor- and texture-enhancing condiment to some smoky grilled pork chops, the sweet-tart zing of the moray fig was like long-legged, blonde arm candy strutting alongside a tall, pomapdoured mayor.
Sure, they run something like a buck an ounce, but you only live once, so you might as well live happy. I say run, don't walk to these locations and stock up on these charming chutneys right now. I said now!
Nick had worked out an arrangement with one of the vendors at the Galleria farmers' market to buy off all her bruised fruit for a song. "Don't be alarmed by 50 lbs. of pears," said Nick. "We don't have to peel them." Grand. Still, we did have to core, chop and cook them down. The pumpkin butter was sealed and done, and the fig jam was well underway by the time we even began dealing with the pears. Russ and I set to work, converting ourselves into pear coring machines, filling container after container with 1" cubes of slippery pear flesh. In the end, we barely got through half the pears before deciding we wouldn't have the time -- or energy -- to finish the job all in one shot.
Some of the pears got a little scorched, but as we lovingly ladled the puree into our jars, being careful not to dislodge any actual burnt bits from the bottom of the pot, it had a dedidedly not unpleasant burnt-sugar aroma, so we joked that they became caramelized pear butter. Truth be known, we're into one of the jars of scorched stuff now, and in fact it has a delicious caramel flavor. I wouldn't recommend attempting this deliberately, but if it happens know that all is not lost.
This recipe comes to us from our friend George, or more accurately from his mother, Peg. As far as I'm concerned, any canning recipe that comes from a little old lady in Nebraska simply has to be good. Like the fig jam, this recipe uses only citrus rind for pectin. The resulting pear butter has a pleasantly creamy texture. It bursts with citrus and spice flavors, but still screams "pear" throughout. We're already well into consuming our second jar of the stuff. Glad we canned so much of it.
Is there anything more beautiful and mouth-watering than a juicy, perfectly ripe fig? It seems to me the fig would be a far more appropriate symbol of temptation than the apple, but I wasn't consulted on the matter.
This recipe calls for no commercial pectin, instead relying on the natural pectin in lemon rind for thickening. We adapted from a recipe on Cooks.com, replacing some sugar with honey to accentuate figs' natural honey notes.
You soften the figs first by steeping them in boiling water, then mashing them and cooking them down. The water turns a gorgeous, brilliant magenta color. I so wanted to figure out something to do with it, but in the end it was just fig water, and down the drain it went.
The resulting jam is glossy and purple-black, with constellations of tiny seeds throughout. I can hardly wait to crack into one of the jars.