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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Part II

Celery Victor: Stay

When I hear the name Celery Victor, images of hand-to-hand combat between two leather-skinned, mullet-headed, bleach blonde/roots-showing, steroid-ridden "gladiators" in spandex run through my mind. I can see them up on some contraption high above the crowd, or in a steel cage, slugging each other with monster-size celery stalks in that classic faux-wraslin' way, with one waging vendettas, the other gloating in the defeat of his/her enemy of the week. This show is what remains of the Old America, the America that craves the pre-"reality", pseudo-reality melodrama and vaudevillian flash of the traveling sideshow where good and evil are easily distinguished from one another, despite reversing roles every other month. In our voyeurism we relish in taking sides, without much thought why, and joining in the tribal chanting of jingoistic slogans, while losing ourselves in the homogeny of the herd.

Celery Victor or Vanquished?

This is could easily be said for Celery Victor, the dish. Simple, old world, changing sides between hot and cold, lost in the homogeny of early 20th Century cooking, in which vegetables were always boiled until colorless and soft.

Yet despite all of this, despite my initial trepidation, I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that we can't pull the plug yet. This dish still has some comfort left, and a few surprises too. One such surprise was how well it pairs with hot food, especially beef and root vegetables. The other was that it actually improves it's flavor after sitting cold for a day or two.

Of course, there are caveats. One is to use real, or at least quality, chicken stock since the celery simmers in it and absorbs the flavors of the stock. In his original recipe, Chef Victor Hertzler simmered the celery in both chicken and veal stock. This show has several stars, one being the celery, one the stock, and the other the dressing. So the stock is very important. The original dressing was a tarragon vinaigrette, but I used a mustard vinaigrette I swiped from the latest Gourmet cookbook.

This dish has taught me that cold, cooked celery is actually pretty good. And with the dressing, it makes a nice little salad/side dish item. And like I said, it improved with time (though several days later it was on its way down). I could see taking this on a picnic or eating on a hot day. It's cool and refreshing and the celery flavor is, well, I don't know how to describe it. It's celery, but not as bright as raw. The tartness and zing of the vinaigrette pick it up, but it still has a savory under-flavor.

The night I made Celery Victor was the night we determined to be Hof Brau night. Something about the CV and the meat and root veggies I cooked seemed to transport us into that world/time/era. It's hard to describe, since the flavors spoke so much for themselves. Maybe it was the fact that this wasn't "ethnic food", which is the food we are so use to eating. This was old school cuisine that originated in hoity-toity, fine dining establishments and trickled down over decades to working-stiff stomachs, demoted to function in old age as mere schwag for happy hour swill-fests. This was as untrendy as Member's Only jackets... oh wait, that's still in fashion, nevermind. Anyway, this was soooo last century. I mean, this conjured up Prohibition, the War, McCarthyism... oh wait, that's still in fashion, nevermind. Well, you know what I'm getting at. And yet here we had the spirit of the side show on our plate, with the Beef and Potato Boys tag-teaming the Cold Celery Gang, the old duffers of cuisine, each vying for the right to pass into the 21st century. Luckily, they haven't met the Undertaker. What I needed was a cold, cheap, metallic-tasting beer, like MGD or Schlitz.

Hofbrau Nite: Drag Up A Stool

Don't worry. No one broke a hip. Celery Victor, has fallen, but it can pick itself up. And while it's not something I would enjoy all of the time, it's still satisfying enough to come back to occasionally, if only for the nostalgia, the simple flavors, and the flying body slams.


Blogger Sam said...

One of my favourite restaurants in SF, Flytrap, is famous for still having Celery Victoire on the menu. I would like to try it one day, but I am so deeply in love with their Limestone Lettuce salad, I find it difficult to order anything else.

10:53 AM  

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