The Woe of Cooking is an ongoing fiasco where the guy who does the Beer Idiot unearths the weirdest, grossest recipes he can find in The Joy of Cooking. Last week he cooked Quick Fish Loaf; this time he’s settling for red meat and pie. Okay have fun.
My fellow Americans: Memorial Day is right around the corner, signaling to everyone still hitting snooze on their Remember to Start Grilling alarm clocks that they are officially on notice. Of course, I’ve been exposing some delicate meats to high temperatures for weeks now, but enough about my sunbathing routine! We’ve got recipes to whip up.
As you’ll remember from last week, this column quite literally takes a page out of Irma Rombauer’s seminal cookbook by aiming to give you a taste of what many Americans were eating early last century, even if some of the ingredients and dishes seem outmoded to contemporary palates. Speaking of cultural evolution, like most other holidays, the particulars of Memorial Day have evolved and expanded over the years: Established to honor those servicemen and women who died in the service of our country, it now also allows us to fete all members of our Armed Forces, if only because it’s both fairly ridiculous and probably fatal to tell a bunch of alive-and-well Marines on your doorstep to wait until Veterans Day in November.
So mollify those Marines through the power of grilling, which is America’s fifth major sport and, metaphorically speaking, the Santa Claus to Memorial Day’s Birth of Christ. So let’s scan the reference material. Surely, given the rich American tradition of sticking a can of beer up something or another’s ass, the Joy of Cooking will have some unearthed treasure of a grilling recipe that’ll make Bobby Flay look like the mango-barbecued jamoke that he is, right?
Well, no. Come on. It’s not gonna be that easy. First of all, grills were called “braziers” back then for some kooky reason, and there’s a treatise in the book about operating one that will make you feel like you wandered into a SpaceX presentation after chomping on some Liquid Gold. Maybe it’s because people still thought it was a bad idea to set everything below the earth’s surface on fire to find fuel, or because the planet was a half-degree colder and no one wanted to use the back porch, but evidently most of the “grilling” in those days was done inside, in an oven.
Yes, sadly, we’re talking about the broiler—the amazing invention that makes deep-fat fryers look versatile and griddles seem fancy. It’s no surprise that the genius who thought up “an oven, but upside down, and also it’s still inside a regular oven” was never able to fine-tune his brainchild beyond a “high or low” setting, but it is a surprise that we keep paying for these useless things to be installed in our ovens. Then again, where would we be without the broiler pans that everyone leaves behind when they move? Cleaning anything off that ultra-stick coating is decent cardio, and you can really lose a chunk of weight scrubbing them in the wrong direction, since they’re basically human cheese graters. Who designed these cruel pieces of shit, Eli Roth?
So fuck broilers. After this Garnished English Mixed Grill, which is what we’re making first, by the way, I’m totally done with them. Maybe I’ll do some nachos once a week. But other than that and the occasional roasted pepper, I’m cutting them out of my life entirely. Unless I’m doing a casserole or something. But only then!
First, buy that truckload of meat, which was apparently considered a reasonable amount for one person to eat as recently as last century, and prepare your grill, which for our purposes today will be situated roughly catty-corner from your dishwasher.
If you have managed to procure a real live (errr, not live) veal kidney, either by sending some internet jerk $145 to ship it to you in a medical-grade Styrofoam container or by propositioning a trenchcoat guy in the alley beside the farmer’s market, then blanch it (and the onions, separately) while your broiler preheats. Blanching is normally reserved for tough vegetables, but in this case we’re going to use the technique to eliminate the pee-pee stank from a baby cow’s guts. Bring some water to a boil in a large pot, and plop in the rinsed and drained kidney. You’re not cooking it all the way through here—just making it more closely resemble something you’d like to put in your mouth—so only submerge it for a couple of minutes. When the water takes on a cloudy or murky appearance, rescue your offal from its bath.
If that whole process sounds gross to you, then don’t worry: You are not alone. Most people (even butchers, the people who presumably spend all day manually separating things from themselves) are not big fans of this particular bit of organ meat. I would know, because I talked to basically all of them this week trying to find some kidneys, and I wasn’t even all that picky. I’d have accepted lamb or fuckin’ ... deer or something, even. Any kidney that wasn’t attached to me is one I was interested in buying, but the search was hopeless. I must have called 30 meat markets, and not just the big mega marts, either. I called a Piggly Wiggly, a Mexican carniceria, and even some lady’s house. I heard her dogs barking in the background. Do dogs have kidneys?
Anyhow, I went without. I substituted a veal scallop, which did not require blanching, but still, if I am being honest, managed to seem not that appetizing. Everything else went exactly as planned, after being basted liberally with butter under a hot broiler for about 20 minutes total. Your sausages and chops will probably take longer than tomatoes and onions, so consider the thickness and doneness of your various pieces as they cook. One of the broiler’s many virtues is that it has a Poochie-like ability to ruin everything in an instant, so don your oven mitt after the 10-minute mark in case things start to quickly go south. How’d it turn out?
Yes, that’s a very normal amount of meat for one person. Ugh. When’s dessert?
In a book that advises the reader, without a hint of irony, to watch for signs of spoilage when preparing bear (an animal which, word to the wise, is a walking war machine that could turn a full-grown man inside-out without even stopping for a cigarette break), there is probably no recipe more perfectly cultivated to catch my wandering eye than the one for Jefferson Davis Pie.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis may have been a lot of things—a privileged, treasonous, drunken little shit, not to mention a slave-owning continentialist, an underachiever, a disgraced coward, and a dumbass—but a pie?! Oh, hell yeah, he’s a pie, and he actually sounds pretty delicious.
First, cream together 1/2c butter and 2c light brown sugar.
If you don’t know what is meant by “creaming,” you need to stop here and go read this or, ideally, this. Or maybe even this, because if you’re trying to bake without a good grasp on this, then you’re gonna need some help from the original Big Man. In short, creaming is the process of improving the texture and volume of the fat you’re using to make it suitable for baking. It turns the butter you would only kinda want to eat when no one is looking into the butter you desperately want to eat, social mores be damned, which is exactly what we’re looking for.
You really can’t just jam this crap in a cereal bowl and go to town. The order in which you deploy the ingredients actually matters, so pay attention to what you’re being asked to do. You’ll almost always be adding sugar to butter, as you are here, so throw your room-temp (or, ideally, slightly colder) butter into the bowl of your stand mixer and beat it up a tad before adding the brown stuff. You should stop when the mixture has significantly lightened and increased in volume, and when your glucose levels are critical from eating it like soft serve.
Now, beat in four egg yolks, one at a time, making sure that each is fully integrated before adding the next. This is as important as the other junk about rules or whatever I was saying before, so don’t blow it off.
Separately, you should have been sifting together 2tbsp all-purpose flour, 1tsp cinnamon, 1/2tsp allspice, and 1tsp freshly grated nutmeg, so I hope you read this entire thing before starting to bake. If not, don’t panic. Just pause the mixer, take a Xanax and a six-hour catnap to calm down, and when you wake up, start working with the dry ingredients. Yes, you really should sift it. Yes, if you have a food processor, you can use that. No, you shouldn’t just order that giant caramel cookie thing from Domino’s instead. Pies are more virtuous than cookies, and when you’re done baking, you won’t get a weird e-mail from a store asking how you liked your meal. You can just like it, or not, and no multinational conglomerate needs to deploy a sophisticated algorithm to keep track. Now, add the dry mixture to your bowl very slowly, in part to ensure you don’t antique your whole house, but also so you don’t mess up the delicate balance of ... I don’t know, glutens or whatever. Just go slow, okay?
Next, cut off the mixer and stir in by hand 1c cream, 1/2c chopped dates, 1/2c raisins, and 1/2c broken pecan meats. “Pecan meats” is just a really gross way of saying pecans, by the way, so don’t worry about it being some weird vegan beef substitute. Also, make sure you use the 1/2c measuring cup and not the 1/3c one. They look the same, but crucially, they aren’t. Learn from this hypothetical mistake which I have definitely never made.
Fill your prepared pie shell with the filling—also, go buy a pie shell or make one, then do the thing I just said, preferably in that order. I used a Marie Callender crust, and if you go this route, be sure to score (poke holes in) and pre-bake it. Throw some pie weights (or dried beans) in as well, if you have them lying around. If not, the crust will bubble up and you can push it down when it comes out, which will, I am told, not count as exercise. Bake in the oven at 325 for 30 minutes or until the pie is set. The center of this bad boy wouldn’t stop jiggling if you dunked it in Quikrete, so throw that old chestnut out the window (there are no chestnuts in this pie). Just wait for the filling to decently coagulate, like you’d expect from a pumpkin pie, or a big tidal wave of blood coming through the elevator doors. My pie took closer to one hour than 30 minutes, and there’s a decent margin of error there, so don’t make any plans while it bakes; you could be waiting a while.
After the pie cools, feel free to top it with meringue, if knowing that my grandmother called it “calf slobber” doesn’t turn you off that mess for good. I suggest a dollop (read: a heaping baseball helmet full) of praline gelato instead.
The final result is, appropriately and somewhat unbelievably, a lot like Davis himself: a little too rich and yet fairly forgettable. It does a little with a lot. Some people would really like it, but I’ll never make another one, and that’s probably for the best. Thanks anyway, Jefferson Davis. You were always ... there. Until you weren’t.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
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