Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Nature of The Beast ...

Hampe would probably have to be my favourite cut of beef, followed pretty closely by basse-cote, which is wonderfully suited to marinating and then cooking on the barbecue. But hampe is in a class of its own: full of flavour, tender (if you cook it correctly, anyway) and - another point in its favour - ridiculously cheap, as few people seem to want to eat it.

It's an odd bit of meat: a band of muscle that goes from side to side of the beast at what is technically called the "arse end'. Its job is basically just to be there and, by its presence, prevent the bladder and guts from falling out, with possibly disastrous, and certainly unsightly, consequences. (Disastrous for the cow, anyway.) A worthy job, that of organic hernia girdle and doubtless a fine example of evolution making do with what it's got to work with, but not, let it be admitted, particularly glamorous.

Nor particularly onerous, because it doesn't do any actual work. It's not as though it has to go through that "lift hoof. Let hoof drop down again. Lift hoof ..." routine, it just hangs there and tries to hold itself together. A job which by and large, given that there are few cases of cows spontaneously losing their intestines and all the other attached bits, it seems to do pretty well.

Don't bother looking for it at your local butcher: you will not find it, for the French do not cut up their beasts as the English do, and in fact I'm not even sure there's a word for it in English. I suppose the closest approximation would be skirt steak.

Mr. B. (the butcher, evidently) nicely pulls off the membrane that sheathes it and even cuts off the shaggy edges before weighing it (an honest butcher is a good man to know), so I come home with a long strip about 8cm wide and up to 3cm thick if I was lucky enough to get a bit from the middle, with the grain of the meat running across the length. I would never dream of trying to make it into a stew, because I rather suspect it would wind up as thick stringy soup, but it can't be beat for a decent stir-fry.

Slice the thing with the grain into 2" wide strips, then - with a sharp knife, remember - slice those thinly across the grain, and it asks only to be marinated with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil before swishing around in a damned hot wok for a minute, no more. What you do with it from that point on is up to you.

It's also excellent simply seared quickly in a pan with some shallots or some-such; if you're feeling decadent you could stick slices of foie gras on top and then slosh sauce aurore (which is nowt but a béarnaise with an education and a bit of tomato concentrate thrown in) over just before serving. In which case it would be more or less mandatory to serve it with cubes of potato rissoled in the fat from the foie gras and sprinkled with thyme and rosemary and gros sel, and a good salad is always nice.

Don't know why I made you suffer through that, maybe just remembering last night's dinner, out on the terrace in the evening under a clear starry sky. Anyway, we just bought a little circular saw attachment for the Dremel which would be absolutely perfect for trepanning, so our next little anatomy cooking lesson might be interesting.

Human nature being what it is I really do not know why I should be surprised: even Indonesia apparently has its own sad twats. Although how I'm to explain to Stacey that a search for 'incest mother with son" on Google Images leads to a photo of her bikini hanging up to dry I cannot imagine.

Completely à propos of nothing in particular, I came across a quote the other day from no less a luminary than Bjarne Stroustrup who is, for those of you not in computing, the guy that is vilified/adored as the man responsible for the Baroque edifice that is C++. Which is not really to the point, and the fact that the fellow (who had to be Swedish, didn't he) has single-handedly caused more misery than anyone since the ill-famed Griswold family (and there were three of them) of SNOBOL infamy is not particularly relevant.

Anyway, what he apparently said was "I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone". I can sympathise with that.

We've had two weeks so far of weather that can only be described as "changeable": oppressive, hot and sticky, with the threat of a thunderstorm alwasy present. Take yesterday, for instance: gray and overcast in the morning as I wandered around the market, then suddenly the clouds disappeared and we took the apéro and remade the world under the parasols at le Refuge.

Emily and Stéphane invited us around for a barbecue that evening and true to form, just as we sat down (only half an hour late, all our fault of course, and anyway that really counts as being on time or even a bit early around here, what with le petit quart d'heure savoyard) the clouds that had been stealthily lurking around the mountains decided to close in and then open up.

Fortunately their parasol is heavy-duty and does a pretty good job as an umbrella, so we didn't bother to shift, just sat and ate and drank and talked as the rain drummed on the canvas above us.

And as luck would have it, on returning home we discovered that we had in fact remembered to close the velux before leaving. Just as well, as we were not really in any state to spend half an hour mopping up the floors before flopping into bed.

Whatever, Jerry's off again today or tomorrow: a friend has invited him to go off on the family holiday, down to Menthon. You know, little place down on the Mediterranean, close to the Italian border, where consumptive New Zealand writers go to die. Think Margo and I passed through it once, many years ago, before we were blessed with children.

So we've another ten days or so rattling around the house and being able to count on the contents of the fridge remaining more or less as expected, without sudden disappearals overnight, and the freezer will no longer be full of frozen gummy bears.

And then, a few days after his return, it's off to Pesselière for the family reunion: us, the Parisians, the English cousins, Mal (just back from Peru or whatever, and doubtless totally jet-lagged) and Tony, and of course Jeannie, freshly arrived from NooZild.

Should be 18 or 20 of us all up: no idea where we're all going to sleep but that isn't really my problem. Stick the yoof in tents in the garden, I guess - as far as possible from the house. And dinners may present their own, purely logistical problems: it's bad enough getting everyone to the table at approximately the same time when there's but 8 of us. I suspect the solution may be found in barbecues and salads. (Weather permitting, of course.)

We'll worry about that when the moment arrives, I suppose. Mind how you go now.

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