Since Thursday, experts have been busy calculating the many costs of the Blackout of 2003, though it’s unlikely they’re bothering with the losses from spoiled condiments. Everyone had to empty their fridge, or risk killing their families—we agree with Gloria Vittoro, as she threw away 40 pounds of food, and said ‘I guess if I wanted to kill off my family, I could serve them this, but I kind of like the mopes.’
But she could have cooked up those 40 pounds, if she’d had the means, or the will. Or the recipes. That’s where we come in. Cooking without power may remove a lot of the fun modern man has in the kitchen—you can hear Tim Allen, or more likely, Ron Popeil, weeping in a test kitchen somewhere, his Rotisserie Oven spinning on its last rotations—but it does clear away the roots of our fun in preparing and eating food: surprise, oil-burns, carnal satisfaction, the traits we can tie back through centuries of life around fire and meat.
The Morning News was lucky enough to survive and indeed, enjoy the blackout. Food played a big role in that. Andrew has told the story well, but his wife and I thought we might add a bit more texture to the narrative, the flesh to the fiction let us say. The rules for cooking were simple: there wasn’t enough light to read a cookbook so recipes had to be invented. No ingredients could be brought in from outside the house, and all eggs, chicken thighs, and sausages had to be used; same with the cream, butter, leftover pesto, and some produce. (Therefore, some ingredients should be replaced where it seems obvious; e.g., the vegetable broth in the Paella de Cotton really should be chicken stock.)
We had a four-burner gas stove, one small counter, and a recent wedding registry’s battery of Le Creuset pots and pans. The kitchen was small and extremely hot; a lot of good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc got passed around. These recipes are not printed to be culinary genius or even necessarily correct, only what to do in an emergency when your kitchen is stocked exactly like ours, and you want something delicious.
Oeufs sans Électricité, mais Champignons!serves 4
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups Cremini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chives, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon pesto
1 bulb of garlic, chopped super-small
That big ol’ hunk of Parmesean Reggiano from the back of the fridge
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
1. Bring about two inches of water to boil in a high-walled skillet, large enough for four eggs to mess around. Lower the heat once it starts bubbling.
2. As the water’s heating up, warm up the oil with the garlic over medium-high heat in a medium-size saute pan, then toss in the butter and chives once the room starts to reek of garlic—right before it goes brown and you ruin it because you can’t see in the dark. Three or four minutes later, throw in the mushrooms. (Do it when it feels good.) Knock ‘em around with a wooden spoon, then turn down the heat. Two minutes later, stir in the pesto then toss a lid on. Flame down to as low as it goes—let ‘em sweat.
3. Break the eggs one at a time into a bowl, then slide them into the water in separate quadrants of the pan. (They will mingle anyway, but try to keep them apart.) Spoon water over the tops, then let them sit.
4. Back at the mushrooms: turn the heat back up to a good medium-high, stir in the cream to coat, then salt and pepper to taste. Portion out little mounds on the plates.
5. Once the film on the top of the eggs has gone white, pull them out with a slotted spoon (carefully!) and let them drip over the pan. Once dry, plop one on top of each mushroom-pile, then shred Parmesean on top. Go nuts with fresh-ground black pepper, easier with the sea salt.
6. Serve in the dark.
Paella de Cottonserves 4
6 chicken thighs, patted dry, snipped of extra fat
6 pork sausages
1 can (14 ounces) vegetable broth
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
Half a large white onion, chopped
2 bulbs of garlic, chopped very fine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
1. Heat up a good heavy pan over a medium high flame for three or four minutes. Add butter and 2 tbsp. olive oil, and heat till sizzling. Toss in the chicken and sausages. Brown like crazy for three-five minutes to a side—do not pull up early. Remove meat from pan, but make sure to leave the oil, butter, and drippings.
2. In the same heated pan, sauté garlic and onion until translucent and softened—throw in your salt and pepper around the same time.
3. Dump in your cup of rice and coat with the remaining oil. Fry the rice until just slightly browned, stirring frequently.
4. Add the broth, wine, chicken pieces and sausages to the pan. Bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, cover pan with a tight fitting lid and reduce heat to a very low flame. Cook for 20 minutes and then let stand five minutes off the flame. Season to taste and serve.