FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Welcome to Food for Thought, the online library of Chef and food writer Mark R. Vogel.
The James Bond Diet
MI6: The headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service
In the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again,007 is chastised by his superior for being unhealthy. He accuses Bond of being laden with free radicals from too much red meat, white bread and dry martinis. Our hero retorts by offering to cut out the white bread. Unamused, his boss furloughs him to Shrublands, a holistic, new-age, health facility where he is to purge his noxious metabolism and rejuvenate his body and spirit with meditation, parsley tea, and other hokey panaceas. True to his nature Bond is drawn to Ms. Fearing, his beautiful blonde rehabilitator. When she calls on him to deliver his dinner of lentils, dandelion salad and goat cheese, Bond rebuffs her offerings and flips open his suitcase to reveal beluga caviar, quail eggs, vodka, and foie gras. One bite of his foie gras and she is seduced, and not just by his epicurean delights. As a fellow hedonist and staunch opponent of health food fanaticism, allow me to present to you the “James Bond Diet.”
In its loosest definition, caviar is the roe of fish. But for purists, real caviar is the roe from specific sturgeon from the Caspian Sea; beluga, osetra, and sevruga to be precise. Beluga is considered to be the best, and of course is the most expensive. Unfortunately, beluga was recently banned from importation into the US, thanks to the efforts of Caviar Emptor, a conservationist group that seems to be as determined to target the elite as the endangered species. Their motto “Let the Connoisseur Beware” says it all.
Politics aside osetra and sevruga caviars are very similar to Beluga and make a more than satisfactory substitute. There is also an array of American caviars on the market now. Whether they’re as good as their Russian counterparts is up to you to decide. In any event, the classic method of serving caviar is with toast points (small triangular pieces of toast). For the purist, the toast is not eaten; rather it serves as a platform from which to scrape off the caviar with one’s teeth. However, equally traditional is rolling the caviar into a blini with either melted butter or sour cream. (Some also like minced onion or chopped hard cooked eggs.) A blini is basically a crepe that is made with buckwheat flour.
Vodka is the quintessential beverage for washing down your caviar. I’ve always found Bond’s choice of vodka to be quite perplexing either because his selection is all over the map, or woefully generic. A variety of vodka brands have been featured in the 007 films. However, when ordering his beloved vodka martini, he never specifies a brand. Somehow I can’t picture a connoisseur of Bond’s magnitude settling for the bar-brand vodka. I’m sure if pressed for a favorite his choice of vodka would match his passion for caviar, namely Russian, Stolichnaya to be precise, as featured in the film “A View to a Kill.”
Due to the velvety texture and clean flavor of quality vodka, it has all but replaced gin in the standard martini. Moreover, the true vodka purist will forego the vermouth normally found in martinis and drink his vodka straight, in the traditional Russian manner. To concoct your Bondian elixir, first thoroughly chill a martini glass. Then shake the vodka over ice and strain into the glass. Common accompaniments are olives or a twist of lemon. For a slightly sweet alternative try a cherry. All of the utensils used to serve the vodka must be very clean. Because of vodka’s pristine flavor, subtle impurities in the glass, strainer or ice can be easily detected, especially if you have grown accustom to your favorite vodka's taste. Vodka goes particularly well in the company of a beautiful, foreign heroine or right after dispensing one of your nemesis’s thugs.
Quail is the collective term for a variety of species of small game birds in the pheasant family. The meat is delicately flavored and serves as a refreshing alternative to chicken. Quail can be cooked like any other form of poultry but roasting is probably the best option. Quail eggs are considered a delicacy and are absolutely delicious. Nutritionally they are similar to chicken eggs (proportionately speaking), but that’s where the similarities end. Being one fifth the size of chicken eggs they cook very quickly. To boil them, just drop them in boiling water for two to three minutes. Use them any way you would chicken eggs. They make a wonderful hors d’oeuvre and will go very nicely with your caviar and vodka. They usually come in containers of twenty-four.
Foie gras is the liver of fattened geese and ducks. It is yet another food that has been erroneously maligned and attacked by the growing number of people in this country whose psychological disturbances are manifested in their food behavior. There’s no point belaboring the issues. If you’re one of those endeavoring to ban foie gras, you’re impervious to reason anyway.
If you’ve never tried foie gras and are open to new gustatory experiences then you’re in for a treat. For starters, get that old calf/beef liver or liverwurst conceptions of liver out of your head. Foie gras is nothing like the grim, grungy liver and onions your mom used to make you eat as a kid. It is unctuous, and meltingly coats your palate in a delectable and almost indescribable way.
Foie gras can be served sautéed, whereby slices of the liver are seared over high heat and inevitably paired with a fruit-infused pan sauce. Or it can be made into a paté where its essence is somewhat diffused by the mixture of other ingredients. Both are lovely but I strongly recommend you try the former so you can experience it in its purest form. For that you’ll have to patronize an expensive restaurant or acquire it yourself. You can purchase foie gras, and innumerable other gourmet yummies like quail eggs and caviar at D’artagnan in Newark, NJ, either in person or online at dartagnan.com.
The classical accompaniment to foie gras is Sauternes, the sweetened white wine of Bordeaux. However, I love traditional red Bordeaux with it as well. Every Christmas Eve my wife and I share a bottle of Chateau Latour and foie gras. Here’s my recipe:
FOIE GRAS & STEWED PRUNES
¾ cup dried prunes
Beef or veal stock, as needed
2 slices foie gras, about 5 oz each
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, minced
4 oz. port
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Place the prunes in a saucepan and add enough stock to completely cover them. Simmer, covered for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow them to soak in the stock while cooking the foie gras. Season the foie gras with an ample amount of salt and pepper. In a very hot pan, with no oil or fat, place the foie gras slices. Do not use a non-stick pan or you will inhibit the development of the fond, (the caramelized residue in the pan from which a sauce is made). As soon as the first side is seared, (two minutes or less), flip and sear the other side. As soon as the second side is seared, remove the foie gras and set aside. Sauté the shallot in the fat the foie gras rendered. When the shallots have softened deglaze the pan with the port and balsamic. Bring this mixture to a boil as you scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan. Reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add about a half cup of the stock the prunes steeped in. Add salt and pepper to the sauce. Reduce until thickened. Add the foie gras and prunes just long enough to warm them through and serve.