Literary Cravings Part The Second: Oxtail and Barley Soup

Game of ThronesAs I have mentioned before on these electronic pages, I have no defense against a well written description of food. I want what the characters in the book I’m reading are eating and I want it regardless of season, availability, or health implications. There are limits. I don’t see myself salivating over any passages containing sensibility shocking words like “mayonnaise” or “mustard” but I can scarce imagine any author of talent jarring their readers with such grotesques any more than I would expect them to us the phrase “genital warts” when describing a love scene. Doesn’t work (even in a parenthetical).

I am currently reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (“R.R.” apparently being to creators of immersive epic fantasy what “Earl(e)” was to killers over the last couple of centuries). His characters spend an awful lot of time in cold drafty castles and keeps eating hearty winter fare. Barley soup with meat is a staple for the nobility.

Usually the cooking wenchi serve mutton with barley soup. Actually they always serve mutton with barley soup. The reader of George Earl Martin’s works become used to certain repetitive epithets. For example, nothing can be done in a week or a few days. All is measured in fortnights. Mormont’s crow repeats the creepiest word in any dialogue. Daenerys bares her breasts. Griffindor wins the Quidditch Cup. Bran wakes up tasting blood. As recurring as these are, none are quite “Polymetis Odysseus” so I felt sufficient leeway existed to substitute for mutton. I chose oxtail instead of mutton because I like oxtail, I could get oxtail, and I have The Joy of Cooking.

Every home cook hits an adrenal high, a clarity of purpose and vision and dexterity, once a degree of time is spent in the kitchen. Cookbooks, having faded from instructional manuals to culinary guides, become illustrative references. “I’m adding olives to this fish because I see them in the picture!” How many cups of olives are required by the recipe? “Couldn’t be buggered! Want lots! I’m driving this train!” The cook ceases to rely on outside expertise and embraces and feeds his particular tastes. A subject becomes an individual; a Ron Paul of the kitchen.

The Joy of Cooking is perfect for the first time cook. The ingredient lists are spot on. The quantities lead to bland results, but that’s okay. It’s actually the point. Try enough Rombauer recipes and you get a feel for how you would change things, not just specifically, but thematically. It’s neutral. From it you can judge your later version of dishes and see how far from the base you have strayed/grown (I like to think myself Chaotic Neutral). And you have to pay attention because, no pictures.

Oxtail StockStart by browning 2 lbs of oxtail, bone in and lightly salted with some butter, olive oil, and half a sliced Vidalia. When the meat is browned, cover with water and add a tablespoon or so of peppercorns. Simmer for 4 1/2 hours. Remove meat and chill and remove fat. Reheat stock, adding two chopped ribs of celery, one fat or two skinny chopped carrots, bay leaf, 1/3 cup barely, 14 oz. canned whole tomatoes, ripped and without juice, and dried thyme to taste. Pick the oxtail meat from the bones and add to the pot.In a separate pan, mix a roux and to the stock along with at least two glasses of wine. Give it a few minutes at a slow simmer and season to taste.

I would have wiped the edges of the bowl, but didn't have time considering that winter is coming.

I would have wiped the edges of the bowl, but didn’t have time considering that winter is coming.

This is great with a glass of spicy red, a syrah heavy blend would be best, and a clear understanding of how much better we live than people who fought over castles did. Show me the greatest Pharaoh Egypt ever coddled and I will show you the power of HVAC. The entire library of Alexandria takes up as much room as the Scrabble game on my Kindle Fire. Alexander wept as he had no more worlds to conquer but didn’t have a) Kleenex to soothe, or b) GameSpot to send new worlds to conquer. I have access to both. Richard III would have given his kingdom for a modern back brace had he known. Eat it up, my readers, you kings and queens of things greater and other than Leon.

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