They say charity begins at home. They also say that “no good deed goes unpunished.” But I have a new aphorism that I hope some day catches on: “Donating your clothes to the Salvation Army leads to goat curry.”
After a week of cleaning out the closet, making room for Craig, we had four giant garbage bags of clothes we didn’t want anymore. Instead of throwing them out, I volunteered to bring them to the Salvation Army which, in Park Slope, is on Atlantic Avenue, west of where we live.
I’d only ever been to the Post Office on Atlantic Avenue and so, in my journey to Salvation Army headquarters, I discovered a whole new world of eating I never knew existed. In particular, a placed called “Stir It Up: West Indian Cuisine.” After dropping off the bags to grateful Salvation Army workers, I decided to pop into “Stir It Up” for lunch (especially after reading a nice review of it from The New York Times taped to the window.)
Of all the items on the menu, two jumped out as dishes I should try because I’d never had either before: (1) ginger beer; and (2) goat curry. The ginger beer was dynamite: literally, my mouth lit up with the heat that comes from chopped, uncooked ginger. I really liked it.
The goat curry was pretty great too and what made it great is the subject of today’s post (it took me a while to get there): bones.
As I stabbed my fork into the jumble of meat before me, I saw white pieces poking out that I thought were potatoes. So as one of these white pieces entered my mouth, imagine my surprise to find that it was bone.
Now many Americans–I’m not going to say “all Americans” because sweeping generalizations get me in trouble–might be grossed out by the presence of bone in their food. Not only that; they might be outraged. The bones were plentiful and tiny, dangerous even to an old war horse like me. But I was grateful they were there: it made the dish more authentic and, more importantly, it made it taste better.
Before me I have Michael Ruhlman’s excellent new book, The Elements of Cooking in which, under the entry for “bones” he writes: “Bones are valuable because they are composed mainly of connective tissue that adds gelatin, and therefore body, to stocks, stews, soups and braising liquids.”
A few months ago, I went back to Pho Grand and had their caramel fish:
It was fish cooked in a syrupy sauce with ginger and other spices and it was truly excellent. In there, though, there were also lots of bones: one poked me in the cheek pretty roughly, another went down as I swallowed.
But it was worth it: as Ruhlman says, the bones gave the dish body. That’s why fish served at Chinese restaurants–braised entirely intact, eyeball and all–is often better than the “Blando Calrissian” fish you get elsewhere. (Note: Craig coined the term “Blando Calrissian” and I thought I’d share its nerdiness here.) Bones are a boon to meat and fish; so why don’t more American restaurants serve food with bones?
I think there are two main reasons:
– Americans are lazy. They don’t like to work when they eat: so olives must be pitted for them, their linguine with white clam sauce is better with canned clams rather than the kind you have to take apart yourself. When Americans go out to eat they want food they can shovel into their mouths quickly and efficiently: hence the popularity of hamburgers, pizza, and tacos.
– Americans are litigious. It’d be risky for an American chef to serve a customer a big bowl of meat or fish with tiny bones. Could a customer sue for choking on a bone? Here’s where my law degree comes in handy (I’m sure my lawyer readers will correct any inaccuracies) but if a jury agrees that chefs have a duty to debone their fish before serving and that the chef breached that duty, that chef could be in trouble. Plus, even if there’s no suing, chefs want to cultivate happy customers: and not too many customers would be happy after choking on a bone.
And so, where does that leave you, my bone-hungry reader? The answer is: ethnic eateries. It’s not a coincidence that both “Stir It Up” and “Pho Grand” served their food with bones: their customers are more likely to accept this as natural, if not downright logical. The West Indian patrons of “Stir It Up” and Chinese/Vietnamese patrons of “Pho Grand” know what’s good for them, that’s why they eat their food the way God intended for it to be eaten (well, I assume God intended it that way: I mean he did give fish and cows bones, didn’t he?) Isn’t it a miracle of both gastronomy and anatomy that the very bones on which our flesh hangs makes that flesh taste better when you cook it? Almost makes me want to cook myself.
If that happens, you can donate my blog to The Salvation Army and reward yourself with some delicious, bony goat curry.