At one time, my signature dish was canned ham and this pie. The hams were pedestrian, triangular, no fail. Although once I dropped one on the kitchen floor and it went skidding while my husband’s boss and his wife were in the other room. It’s when I learned to wash meat. More on that later.
The pie, I have to say, was a triumph every time. It had the magic of Jello but with a way more complex flavor profile. Some found the purple color off-putting, especially if the pie at hand veered toward the blue. People don’t like blue food except blue berries. I’m enough of a foodie to know that. Anyway, I probably made this pie a hundred times. Every time we had company. So, well, it wouldn’t have been a hundred times. This was a first marriage pie and it didn’t last long enough for a hundred pies. Ten, maybe.
I thought of my former signature dish today while reflecting on another weekend’s experience being my husband sous chef. His habit is to see something random on TV, this time it was Anthony Bourdain recounting his addicted days in some village far from Kuala Lumpur where all the people were tattooed from head to toe and lived in long houses, each family with a small living space that connected to a communal eating space. This provided backdrop for the dish which actually was highlighted as street food in Kuala Lumpur. So when we decided to take dinner to a friend recovering from surgery, my husband decided it was this dish and only this dish that would do.
Never mind he had never made it before. Never mind he had never tasted it before. We were working from the picture. No test kitchen for us. Recuperating friend would be our test kitchen.
The recipe had thirty ingredients, twenty-nine of which had to be found in their natural state, dried in an airless hut, and pulverized with “a mortar and pestle.” I puzzled for a while over which implement was the mortar and which was the pestle but then my husband decided to use an old coffee grinder. Basically, the recipe called for the ingredients in curry. So my husband was making his own curry. I thought it was extraordinary and exceptional and I was honored to be married to such a daring man. The kitchen was alive with incredible smells. We were so talented.
And then there was the lemon grass.
There are many more scenes in this story. The scene where we taste our own concoction. The scene where we wonder if the lemon grass will somehow blend in. The scene where we realize the dish, while possibly authentic, was inedible. The scene where we discussed tattoos and the unlikelihood of conjuring up the romance and mystery of Kuala Lumpur street food with our grassy mixture, our twisted concept of comfort food for our recovering friend. Aren’t you glad we brought dinner?
So while my husband went to take a shower and get ready to see our friends, I washed the meat.
I tried half-measures first. Picking off all the grass. (Drop the lemon, please, now the stuff was just plain grass) .But it took forever, so I just ran each cube under the faucet, strained the sauce and tossed it all back on the stove. We made the removed lemon grass into a hairpiece for our rotting jack-o-lantern. Not really. But we could have.
I consider it all fodder. So to speak. The whole experience gave me something to write about. It strengthened the bond between chef and sous chef. We are united in our hatred of lemon grass.
Marriages need that, sometimes. A common enemy. We have ours. There are five stalks of it lying on the kitchen table waiting for what’s next.