Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Santa Fe Meets St. Paul

Back in March, around the time of my birthday, I had lunch with Holly Anderson. As we awaited our Shanghai soup dumplings she handed me a gift-wrapped package. I wasn't expecting a gift, and I told her she shouldn't have. "It's a Minnesota thing," she told me (Holly grew up in St. Paul). I unwrapped the package to discover a pound of wild rice.

I gave up cooking years ago. Now I specialize in eating. So what was I going to do with a pound of wild rice?

It didn't take me too long to figure out what to do. I called a friend of many years, the most serious non-professional chef I know, and told him that I had received a pound of wild rice as a gift and would gladly donate it if he would invite me to dinner and cook up something interesting. I thought that was a pretty generous offer. He replied, "What, you don't think I have wild rice?" He did, however, accept my generous offer.

We couldn't get our schedules to mesh for months, however. In the interim I had gone to New Mexico. While I was in Santa Fe I picked up some dried chiles as a gift for him. I called him from Santa Fe and said I had a new generous offer. Now that I had bought him chiles he was welcome to come up with a menu that tastefully combined wild rice and chiles. He said "Sure," but he didn't sound as enthusiastic in accepting the offer as I was in making it.

We finally got together for the Minnesota-New Mexico menu last week. I asked if I could write about the meal and take some photos. He agreed on condition of anonymity.

I suggested he invite our mutual friend Manda, who happens to be both a serious foodie and good company. So there were six of us at table: my anonymous friend, Mrs. Anonymous, the two Anonymous children, Manda and me.

My friend has the most formidable kitchen of anybody I know in New York, and he's a passionate, versatile cook. I wonder if his two young sons think that everybody eats at home the way they do.

To my friend's credit, he didn't try to force a Southwest-Upper Midwest fusion. Instead he tastefully captured the down-to-earth style of both regions. The centerpiece was a braised pork shoulder, seasoned with, among other things, three types of dried chiles (he added anchos to my guajillos and pasillas), Mexican chocolate, and a Oaxacan mole blend he had brought back from a recent south of the border jaunt. The sauce was later thickened with masa harina. The pork was excellent, moist and delicious, but it was the sauce that made the meal. It was spicy and hearty, yet somehow still delicate. The rice was prepared with monastic simplicity, and the sauce tasted great on it. The mole earthiness and the wild rice earthiness were a surprisingly perfect match.

I think I'll make my friend generous offers more often.


Anonymous jimmy cantiello said...

I adore wild rice but to cook it can be vexing. It always seems to take a different amount of water and a different amount of time to cook each and every time I cook it.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Holly Anderson said...

My midwestern brother Scott is a consistently
successful hunter and fisherman who often serves wild rice with his game dinners of venison, elk,
wild turkey, pheasant or walleye. Since he doesn't like the 'grassy' flavor of lake-gathered wild rice he adds roughly a pound of salted butter to a pound of cooked rice (!) plus fistfuls of sauteed onions & mushrooms. His cholesterol count is sky high but those simple dinners of his are sublime. My MSP-LGA flights often include a small cooler loaded with frozen venison steaks which are NEVER shared with
friends! I'm just greedy and it'll be my own damn fault if I end up with 'chronic wasting disease' (CWD) the wild man woods & prairie version of 'mad cow'...

8:54 AM  

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