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Friday, March 25, 2005

Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Part I

More than once has the San Francisco Bay Area been at the center of culinary trends. Sure, we all know about California Cuisine as perfected by Alice Waters, Judy Rodgers, and Jeremiah Tower. But what of those dishes of old San Francisco? You know, the old standbys that come and go, and go. Those recipes that conjure up the images of gentlemen in top hats, ladies in white gloves, dusty old photos, the first wave of immigrants, and the nouveau riche of the first economic boom. My curiosity posits the question: cioppino, green goddess dressing, celery victor, etc, are they worth keeping? Or are these just portals of the past. Well, I've set myself to testing out a few recipes to see for myself.

Green Goddess Dressing: GO

Most of us have never even heard of, let alone tried, Green Goddess Dressing (GGD). It seems as though this dressing lost favor many years ago, not just on fancy menus, but on supermarket shelves as well. Despite this fact, it appears to have been kept alive by many home cooks who remember eating it on salads as children. It also appears to be having a minor comeback if its appearance in Michael Chiarello's and Thomas Keller's kitchens (though not in its original form) is any indication.

Personally, I've never touched the stuff, until now. I've done some research on it and from what I've been able to gather, it's a mayonnaise dressing with garlic, anchovies, and tarragon. The tarragon is an odd ingredient for such a famous San Franciscan recipe as tarragon doesn't grow easily, if at all in San Francisco. Most local tarragon growers have to trick the plant into thinking it's gone dormant for the winter in order for it to come back in the spring, and it's highly susceptible to disease.

Lovely, innit.

When you Google "Green Goddess Dressing" you sure do come up with a lot of recipes, and everyone seems to tweak it a little. I wanted the original one, so after various Google combinations, I found one. You know, one thing I found very odd in most of the references to GGD, is that many writers repeat the lore of how it was invented, and where, and for whom. Some even write in depth about the play and the actor. But almost noone credits the chef who invented it. Don't you find this odd?

So, while I was still searching I decided to ask a librarian, and sure enough I received a reply. You have to hand it to the friendly librarians at SFPL for being so dang helpful!

Heroic Greg Kelly, librarian at the San Francisco History Center at the Main Library, writes "I have searched high and low for the answer to your question and kept coming up with the same information which was just short of what you were looking for, namely, the chefs name. Then in the article I just sent you from the San Francisco Chronicle there was the answer:

'Sue Walford of Sonoma reports that a Polytechnic High School classmate gave her the recipe about 1930. He was, he told her, the son of its creator, hotel chef Philipe Bromer.'

This may be true. I also called the Sheraton Palace and spoke with the concierge who is going to try and find out the answer. When he gets back to me I will get back to you."

You see folks, libraries and librarians do make a difference! Now, if only the good people of Salinas would realize this.

While Greg was busy looking for an answer to my question, I actually found a news article online that mentions the chef's name, only they have it listed as "Philip Reomer". So, while I wait for a final answer, I made the salad as described in the Post-Gazette article.

First, I made the dressing.

Mix together in a bowl:
2 cups mayonnaise (this was homemade)
1 mashed garlic clove
4 minced anchovy fillets
1 chopped green onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar (used white wine vinegar instead)

1. Mix well and let stand to blend flavors.

OK, got that part. Next, I steamed the artichokes. Because I was extremely lazy, I bought pre-cooked, thawed shrimp (ahh!), which were completely tasteless, so just realize that this part of the recipe is screwy. Once the artichokes were cooled, I assembled the plate.

1. Dress with Romaine lettuce.
2. Scoop out the insides of an artichoke that's been cut horizontally in half (removing the top part of the leaves). Topped hollowed-out artichoke bottoms with a "bounty of shrimp".
3. "Cherry tomatoes added color and shape around the perimeter."
4. "The plate was liberally doused with Green Goddess dressing, a mayonnaise blended with spinach leaves (?), parsley, green whiffy herbs (tarragon and chervil, both contributing a subtle licorice flavor), anchovies and shallot."

My victim: Bruce, who actually said he like it (the dressing), and really, it wasn't that bad. But, I don't know. It didn't do much for me and it seemed a little too heavy. The flavors (anchovies, vinegar, garlic, tarragon) were just too strong for a salad. Maybe as a dip or something, but my stomach wasn't happy (raw garlic sometimes does that).

Nice, but it's gotta go

While it seemed quaint and like I was stepping back in time, I didn't find this salad or dressing worth preserving, at least from my first try. However, I concede that maybe I could've done things a little more different (like letting the dressing sit overnight probably would've improved it), but in the meantime, it's gotta go.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

why did I think Green Goddess had avocado in it? No wonder I always stay away from it, all that mayo...the herbs sound good though...


8:56 AM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

Nicely done, nothing like doing real footwork for the story. I've got a collection of older cookbooks. My figurin' was to start cooking from them to see what the scoop was. Some are fancier books made for special meals either at home or for larger groups. Most are for the homemaker attempting to gain range over daily meals. But after sitting down and going through the recipes, I was left with absolutely NO interest in spending time making these things. It's amazing how much things have changed over the last 100 years. Surely I'll keep the books, but doubt if they'll be put to the use they were intended for.


9:26 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

OK, I have no trouble growing tarragon - admittedly I am in the warmer East Bay - but tarragon was no problem at all (unlike say lemon grass which just won't grow at all at all.

12:11 PM  

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