Tuesday, March 04, 2014

I think I get it now

Not to belabor this, but I made the Roberta’s Cookbook burrata and apple salad last night for our first course, and I made Ed Lee’s sauteed squid and bacon salad from Smoke and Pickles for our second, and all my questions about yesterday’s Piglet verdict were answered. I think. I will never know for sure what Aran Goyoaga thought about these cookbooks other than what she wrote, but I may have a better idea of what she was getting at.

The Roberta’s salad consisted of chopped, cold Pink Lady apples tossed in a bowl with burrata (glorified, creamy mozzarella) which fell apart and coated all the apple chunks. You’re supposed to add sorrel, but there was no sorrel to be had, so I added watercress leaves, just a few. Then I lightly salted this salad, put it on plates, and drizzled with honey. 

It was clean, bright, light, refreshing, all the flavors distinct. Beautiful. I flipped through Roberta’s and can see that this is typical of the Roberta’s style, at least in the salad department. Most of their salads don’t have dressings. For instance the other salad Goyoaga made was a beet salad that is “dressed” with just some creme fraiche. Another salad is “dressed” with celery juice.

To assemble the Ed Lee salad, first you make a really delicious, intense dressing of tahini, Asian sesame oil, and lemon. Fry some bacon. Fry some squid. Put it all together on a bed of arugula. Find the antonyms of all the adjectives I used in the first two sentences of the last paragraph and you have a roughly accurate (but highly unflattering) portrait of this salad. Messy, murky, a little heavy, not too pretty. But you could also say: gutsy, dark, rich, and full of strong flavor. (A chef could make this salad handsome, even if I couldn’t.) One of Goyoaga’s complaints about Lee was the “sauciness” of his food. This salad was definitely not "drowning" in sauce/dressing, but it had a dressing, a very assertive dressing that tied everything together. If you don’t want everything tied together, if you like your flavors pure and clean, you’re going to resist this salad and probably most the dishes in Lee’s book. 

This is a completely valid reason for choosing Roberta’s over Smoke and Pickles. Depending on your tastes, this could also be a completely valid reason for choosing Smoke and Pickles over Roberta’s.

I like both styles of cooking. I preferred the burrata salad to the squid, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of Lee’s dishes, too. I think the deciding factor for me would be that there are about five dishes I can make from Roberta’s without mail ordering 'nduja, black truffles, or bottarga, begging the butcher for pork collars, smoking my own ricotta, or figuring out how to grow sucrine

But it’s all moot because in the final round this morning, Roberta’s lost to The New Persian Kitchen


  1. I love your intense level of engagement with this issue. It is delightful.

  2. Except for Tosi, I have found the whole piglet reading experience irritating. Goyoaga's writing is as contrived as the type of food she peddles. Honestly, I could not bring myself to make it to the second paragraph. I am sick and tired of reading about Brooklyn.
    I also think that this was an exceptionally dull year for cookbooks: editors have run of ideas; designers are copying this silly “rustic” look with the same color palette, matte pages, and “handwritten” recipes. Yes, I am grumpy today.


  3. I have also thoroughly enjoyed your running Piglet commentary. Thanks for delving in and lending some clarity. To "anonymous" (above): rock on! I agree with a lot of what you say, grumpy or not. Perhaps this means I am also grumpy? I am okay with that.

    1. Maybe we're all grumpy. I was so agitated yesterday -- about cookbook commentary!

  4. The New Persian Kitchen?! That book did not appeal to me at all. Then again, I usually disagree with The Piglet's results.

    1. I bought The New Persian Kitchen and it's looks sweet and very slight. Like the big names canceled each other out and this one slipped through because it was so small, pleasant, and inoffensive.

  5. I used to read Goyoaga's blog when she did mainly pastry. In fact, her Pistachio, Cashew and Cherry Nougat Glacé is one of my top 5 all-time desserts. When she went gluten-free, her cooking became very...austere. No surprise she preferred Roberta's.

    1. I have to look up that nougat glace -- it sounds incredible.

  6. Predictably, I just did look that recipe up:
    It sounds very much like the frozen nougat recipe we both already have, just with different garnishes. Sounds totally wonderful. And I would probably (again predictably) try a version where I replace the kirsch cherries with brandied prunes.

    1. I was going to send it to you, but I knew you'd find your way there! The cashews are intriguing. I don't know about the chocolate on top.

    2. I can't imagine chocolate with this. But maybe. Unlike you, I am irrationally fond of chocolate.

  7. We can get sucrine lettuce at the farmer's market here in NYC. {In fact I would wager that Roberta's gets theirs from the same grower that I do, Rick Bishop. } I find it kind of meh, in an expensive way.
    I'm enjoying coming here for a second dose of Piglet! I thought it was exceptionally well written this year, but don't feel the need to buy any of the books they have discussed.

    1. The article said it's available in the fall on the West Coast. I'm wondering if it might approximate a lettuce I used to buy in London years ago. It was called Little Gem, but it wasn't like the Little Gem we get here. It was very crisp and tightly textured and crinkled into itself, sort of like the inner leaves of romaine, but it was sort of tender and delicate too, without the slight bitterness of romaine. There were no outside floppy leaves; the whole head was crisp and pale and small, shaped like a little football. Best lettuce I've ever had.

  8. Someone mentioned your blog in the comments on the last round of the Piglet today! I chimed in with a plug for your book.

  9. This review kicks the ass of quite possibly every single Piglet review this year. Maybe next year the organizers will catch a clue and invite you to contribute. Thank you!

  10. Want a balloon? Ready to float down in the sewers? Expect Pennywise the Clown to be asking these questions up close and personal in a theater near you sometime in the future. Being nearly 20 years since Stephen King's IT was adapted to the small screen, Warner Bros. is developing a threatrical adaptation of his best selling novel. The studio has hired Dave Kajganich to adapt Stephen King's novel while Dan Lin, Vertigo's Roy Lee and Doug Davison are set to produce.

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