Monday, April 24, 2006

And a Partridge in a Pear ...

It is helpful to have a butcher in the family. Most regrettably, the only butcher in the WesFoodie’s bloodline passed from this world in the middle of the last century denying me my birthright cuts of brisket and my sharehold of fine poultry. Now when I want a really great steak its off to the City to Florence on Jones Street or Ceriello in the Grand Central Market and I get hooked up with some prime pieces of meat. But birds can be elusive.

Way back in Winter ’04 - the holiday season was upon us and a meal I had to make. ‘Twas for the inlaws and to their place we did go. Here is where the scene of me and my family, singing merrily along as we woosh through the snowy down blanket upon the hills of New England should appear to you. Picture me, just my nose and open singing mouth visible in the middle of my fur-lined parka hood and handsome green winter scarf. Your mind’s eye focuses in on my joyful song-filled mouth as I sing . . . and a partridge in a pear . . . SAUCE! Eureka, my menu was writ. Never mind that I had the lyric wrong – I didn't even celebrate Christmas
. It was enough: Unusual ingredient, tasty (probably) and sufficiently clever holiday theme; I would get a couple of dozen partridges, resist the Danny and Keith jokes, cook up some pear sauce with nuoc chom and ginger and we’d have a meal to remember – done.

Not done. It is very difficult to find enough fresh partridges on short notice to feed a table of nine. Somehow I had it in my mind that I had seen partridges at the Whole Foods Market just sitting on the shelf all wrapped up in plastic and Styrofoam next to the chickens. This probably never really happened; the odds are clearly with this having been a figment of the WesFoodie’s holiday imagination; a ghost conjured up by some illicit nog. Regardless, when I went to get my birds, not surprisingly in the eternal sobriety of hindsight, there were none to be had.

Like a ghost of my ancestors, my friendly Whole Foods butcher took it upon himself to navigate the poultry bureaucracy for me. He procured the birds at a wholesaler outside of Boston and had them delivered to my in-laws’ doorstep in time for the holiday dinner. And he charged me nothing because he hadn’t gotten them for me earlier than he did. Incredible. Unbelievable. This is better than being related to the guy – way better actually - and I am forever loyal to the Whole Foods for this extraordinary holiday feat. Unfortunately, that was the high point of our meal.

The sauce came off just fine. A variety of cored and skinned pears, some ginger, nuoc chom, pink peppercorns, wine, a touch of sugar – beautiful. My mother in-law went nuts for this. The birds were tougher (yeah they were tough). Feeding tiny birds, heads on and beaks forward, to my niece and nephew (11 and 8) and in-laws had its own possibilities and potential pitfalls. I wound up twisting the heads off once I had them roasted, eyes darting over my shoulder to make sure the kids were far away, removing the breast meat from the bone (somehow this is okay for the kids to watch) and serving it in neat and tidy slices on the plate with the sauce and a small pear. It looked good. Everyone liked the theme and said they liked the food (my in-laws are very generous when it comes to my cooking). But I wasn’t crazy for the partridge meat. It was tough and meager, not a generous bird, the partridge. A good idea with poor execution. Next year I would do better. Anyone for turtle doves?

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