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Cinnamon

"Imported cinnamon had been known in Egypt as early as 1450 BC & it reached a peak in the first century AD when the Roman demand for spices began to seem insatiable. At that time they accounted for forty-four of the eighty-six classifications of goods imported to the Mediterranean from Asia and the East Coast of Africa. (The others included elephant trainers and eunuchs, parrots and palm oil, cottons and cooks.)"
My first memory can be culled from my mental jukebox simply by twisting open a container and inhaling. My mother would carefully cut equal parts of ground cinnamon with white sugar and I was allowed to take a crop duster approach to my butter-heavy toast. Oh yeah, man that was living!
True cinnamon is indigenous to Sri Lanka. Like cassia, it is the dried bark of a tree of the laurel family. The rolled shape is referred to as a quill. If you find the bark, look for firm, aromatic pieces. Avoid packages that are broken up into small bits. They will be less potent.
At NORMAN'S I have one dish that bridges the gap between the sweet and savory in the most hedonistic fashion and I use cinnamon as one of the elements. It's my Down Island French Toast.
I soak homemade brioche in an egg custard that has cinnamon, Tahitian vanilla beans and mace. I griddle cook them and sandwich seared wafers of Curacao, orange and cinnamon scented foie gras between the golden brioche. I serve this with a Savory Passion Fruit Caramel. When its cooking on my stove that is in our dining room you can see heads turning wondering what in the heck that fragrance is. It's the French Toast and it's made with some cinnamon.


*Works consulted:Food In History, Reay Tanahill, The Complete Book of Spices, Jill Norman and Asian Ingredients, Ken Hom.



Duck

A man was in the restaurant just the other day and enjoyed his meal very much, but wanted to know why no restaurants serve duck anymore. Well I had to fight back a smile because just the very night before we had cooked at the Miami "Share Our Strength" Dinner and had cooked 60 pounds of it! It wasn't the Long Island Roast Duckling with Oranges of his memory's desire however.
We served a braised Duck Stew with many Asian elements (and one Peruvian one. You know me. I like to mix it up a little.) The dish is one I have called "Bang Bang" over the years.
This is my "New World" take on Chinese Peking Style Duck. I make it with the meaty Moulard variety ducks that are raised for us out cooking, California. It is a two day affair with the meat falling off the bones, shredded and enhanced with many vegetables, zest of oranges, and chilies all packed into my Scallion-Ginger pancakes.
Ducks were domesticated rather late in history. This was probably due to their abundance in the wild and ease of capturing them. The ancient Chinese, Japanese and Romans kept them in a semi-wild state, perhaps knowing that the wild bird tastes better than the domesticated ones. They were domesticated by the 15th century in Europe and probably earlier in China.
Returning crusaders gave considerable impetus to the eating of wild ducks in the Middle Ages when they brought back citrus fruit from the Holy Land. Ducks are swimming birds and naturally would consume a lot of fish and this could create a fishy taste that the fruits would dispel. Like the Duck a la Orange my guest was craving or if he would be so bold, my Duck "Bang-Bang".

 




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