If you’re a foodie and you have foodie friends – and if you’re looking to have, start or perpetuate an argument – then try to decide which movie about food is the best.
OK, I’ll start.
I really like “Big Night,” with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. It’s the story of two brothers struggling to make it in their neighborhood Italian restaurant in the 1950s. At this point, some of you are saying, “No! No! Kitchen Guy! “Chocolat” was better! “Eat Drink Man Woman” rocked!”
And still others will add “Like Water for Chocolate,” or “Tortilla Soup,” or “Babette’s Feast.”
They were good, too. And I really enjoy them all, as each has a place in my permanent DVD collection.
But few works of cinematic fiction delve into the actual technique of making beautiful food the way “Big Night” does. It was easy to see that the writer and director had the greatest respect for fine food expertly prepared and disdain for run-of-the-mill cliché Italian food.
Without going into scene by scene detail or explaining the whole movie, the premise is that the brothers’ fiercest competitor recognizes the superiority of their food and in a devious plot schemes to put them out of business by having them create a sumptuous feast for the supposed visit of Louis Prima, one of the biggest stars of the day.
Louis Prima never arrives, of course, but the food – course after course of extraordinary creations, lovingly prepared by Tony Shalhoub’s character, keeps coming to the table as the invited guests gorge themselves in this special feast.
Why, you may be asking yourself at this point, do I wax rhapsodic about this particular food movie? Yes, I loved the story. Yes, I loved the food. Yes, I loved the overall feel of the picture.
But what I liked best was the fact that these food masterpieces were created by a cook with no formal training in any culinary school. These were recipes and techniques handed down in his family from father to son, from mother to daughter. Furthermore, there was respect for the ingredients and almost a sense of reverence for the end product.
As food prices skyrocket; as reports of food contamination increase; and as the costs for food commodities fall prey to speculators’ greed, we ought to be reverting to the attitudes we had about food in the 50s. For sure there were far fewer preservatives in use and more of us used fresh ingredients in preparing our daily meals. There were almost no “fast food” places churning out transfat-laden junk food. You really had to work at becoming obese.
So dig out Great-Grandma’s recipe file that you inherited or that old and tattered Betty Crocker cookbook that Mom used to use and find something retro to make for dinner tonight. How about my recipe for this throwback dish from the 50s with a little modern tweak?
Salisbury Steaks with Mushroom Madeira Sauce
4 slices bacon, diced
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup whole milk
1 3/4 pounds lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash pepper
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound mushroom, sliced
5 teaspoons flour
1 cup beef broth
3 tablespoons Madeira wine
2 tablespoons chives, minced
Dice the bacon strips and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Soak the bread in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk. Lightly mix the bread, the ground beef, salt, pepper and 2/3 of the Worcestershire sauce, until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oval patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick.
Preheat the broiler and grease the broiler pan. Broil patties approximately 4 minutes on each side for rare; 5 minutes for medium rare; 6 minutes for medium.
For the sauce, melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté about 3 minutes. Blend in flour and cook one minute longer. Slowly add broth and cook until thickened. Add the Madeira and remaining Worcestershire. Pour over the steaks, and then sprinkle on chives and bacon bits.