"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Sunday, February 01, 2004

David Rosengarten: Sinner

I mentioned yesterday that I'd been reading David Rosengarten's attempt at the definitive American cookbook, called It's All American Food.

I've got to admit, I've always regarded Rosengarten suspiciously. He wrote the Dean & Deluca cookbook, which makes him suspect for a number of reasons, and he often sends out mass-mailings to wannabe foodies like myself, inviting us to join his secret newsletter club. I haven't joined the club, but I have read his new cookbook.

Overall, it's not a bad read, with some pretty interesting recipes. He covers "american-style" ethic foods for the first half of the book. What this means is instead of doing a Marcella Hazan version of Italian food, he offers recipes for Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore, that sort of thing. Similarly, the Chinese section contains shitty Chinese restaurant staples such as General Tso's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, and so forth. So far so good.

And then. And then. The regional cuisine section. Rosengarten's introduction is a bit odd. He wastes a lot of pages arguing (kind of) that America has no true regional cuisine. And then he proceeds to name and provide recipes for each American region. Except for the Pacific Northwest. Leaves out Washington and Oregon completely, though come to think of it, we don't really have any regional specialties up here. No lobster roll, no Philly Cheeseteak, no special style of pizza, no indigenous fish taco.

Speaking of the Fish Taco, here's where he really fucks up. As a former San Diegan and fish taco devotee, I feel qualified to assert that David Rosengarten's recipe for "San Diego Fish Tacos" is utter bullshit. Maybe it tastes good. That's not the point. It's a fiction. I've never eaten a fish taco in San Diego that bore any resemblance to the gussied up "healthy" version he offers here.

Where he's right: He recommends using filets of firm-fleshed white fish. Okay.

That's about all he gets right. He recommends grilling the fish, after having rubbed it in a rather byzantine spice mixture. He calls for sour cream. He calls for CHEESE. Cheese on a fish taco? You've got to be kidding me!

The true fish taco consists of two soft, steamy, preferably freshly made corn tortillas, onto which you place two fingers of fried fish (beer battered, with little or no seasoning or marinade--add a little lime juice to the fish before battering if you'd like), shredded white cabbage, and a thin sauce of mayonnaise mixed with a little milk. A little lime juice is also often added to this sauce, but it's not necessary or traditional. Why? Because you should always have fresh limes on hand to squeeze on the taco as you eat it. That's it. Usually fish tacos are served with a choice of at least two salsas, one red, one green.

There is no Monterey Jack on a fish taco. The fish must be fried in beer batter until crunchy. There is no dairy on a fish taco save the bit of milk you use to thin the mayonnaise.

Oh oh oh! I just re-read the introduction the recipe. Rosengarten acknowledges that the fish taco is usually fried, but recommends grilling in order to "make it as Californian as possible." What the hell does that mean?

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