Thursday, February 05, 2009

Platter of Figs: I'm just doing what he tells me

Here's the Alice Waters blurb on the cover of David Tanis' Platter of Figs: "Incomparable menus, each a little masterpiece."

Hieronymous Bosch painted some masterpieces. 

I've said more than enough about the pig's ear salad.  What saddened me was just how badly the rest of Tanis' "peasant fare from a Parisian kitchen" menu turned out.

The complete bill of fare:

-pig's ear salad with herb vinaigrette
-duck hams with French lentils and celery root remoulade
-chilled prunes in Beaujolais

The duck hams sounded delicious. Per Tanis' instructions I brined, braised them, then baked them with lentils and vegetables. Ordinarily the meat on duck legs is loose, rich, and tender, but in this case the flesh clung tightly to the bone and the flavor was off.

I don't entirely blame Tanis. He says you should brine the duck legs for several days or "up to a week." And while I suspected that "up to a week" was a bit of casual imprecision on his part, I went with it because after I put the duck in brine, it took exactly a week to get those freakin' pig's ears. The duck wasn't a disaster, but definitely a disappointment.

And dessert. Cold little prunes in a thin, inky sauce, like something you'd get at Hogwarts or a nursing home. I speak as one who is fond of the prune, but there's nothing nice to say about this dish except that it's not pig's ear salad. 

Am I the only one who thinks that even on paper this is a hostile menu? Forget the pig's ears for a minute. Can you really imagine inviting someone for dinner and serving chilled prunes?

One theory: This is Tanis' "epater la bourgeoisie" moment after all those years cooking natural lamb and organic baby vegetables for people who think eating at Chez Panisse is a political statement. 

I've made five out of the six winter menus from Platter of Figs. I was going to skip the last one, but now feel compelled to follow through. It does involve octopus and a packet of squid ink, but also yummy expensive scallops and Spanish cheese.

Today I'll try to track down an octopus.


  1. That just seems like really challenging food to me. I admire your moxie, because I would feel too stupid to even attempt cooking that menu.

    The comparison to Bosch was very apt. Intriguing paintings, but not really something you want in your home.

  2. Ive been cooking from Tanis's book for about 6 months now and have found the results to be quite good actually.

    The most glaring exception is the Pig's Ear salad, which I just "finished" since I threw most of it away. Despite scoring "meat wacko" points with my butcher. I feel almost certain I did something wrong since it was crunchy grey and flavorless, but I see my results are actually normal.

    Except for the Pig's Ear's I made the lentils without the duck hams, which turned out very well.

    The prunes too I thought were really tasty and I couldn't stop eating them. I added cloves though, since they seemed like a natural addition and I wonder if they would be better hot, thought Tanis is emphatic about serving them chilled.

    Good luck with the remainder of your quest and if you haven't got them I highly reccomend Anthony Bourdains Les Halles Cookbook and Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday (though good luck with that one if you live more than 30 mins from a Latino Grocer)

  3. I also cooked this menu the other night. I've done a couple of the platter of figs menus with great results - particularly the summer one with the deconstructed nicoise salad, which was outstanding. So, I decided to put my trust in David Tanis and try the pig ear salad - and the pig's ears were easy to find in Mi Pueblo in Oakland.

    Anyway, I was pleased to find this post and the other comment, because it seems to prove that I didn't do anything wrong: the salad was vile, slimy and with lots of crunchy cartilage, but that apparently was how it was intended to be. The rest of the menu turned out beautifully, by the way (I simmered the duck legs for about 50% longer than the book said, and it was tender and came off the bones easily). But it makes me wonder what David Tanis was thinking with this salad - did he really, honestly think most people would try it and enjoy it? It's a mystery.

    Thanks for the post and I'll keep reading your blog.