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The 36-Hour Dinner Party
October 6, 2010 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Here's the conceit: Build a single wood fire and, over the course of 30-plus hours, use it to roast, braise, bake, simmer and grill as many different dishes as possible — for lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again. The 36-Hour Dinner Party by Michael Pollan
posted by AceRock (35 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Michael Pollan seems to generate story ideas using Mad-Libs. "Cook _______ using only _______ in _______ hours to prove some point about _______ ."
posted by smackfu at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I did this once, but back then it was called Boy Scouts.
posted by drezdn at 9:21 AM on October 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


I did this once, but that was back before I discovered Pottery and Bronze Working.
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


I did this once, but that was back before I discovered Pottery and Bronze Working.

I always go right to Mathematics and Navigation.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:26 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bronze Working > Iron Working > Hunting > Archery
posted by timdicator at 9:29 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The inspiration for this pyro-gastronomical experiment was the communal ovens still found burning in some towns around the Mediterranean, centers of social gravity where, each morning, people bring their proofed, or risen, loaves to be baked. (Each loaf bears a signature slash so you can be sure the one you get back is your own.) But after the bread is out of the oven, people show up with a variety of other dishes to wring every last B.T.U. from the day’s fire: pizzas while the oven is still blazing and then, as the day goes on, gentle braises or even pots of yogurt to capture the last heat and flavors of the dying embers.

My mom's side of the family is Greek, and she'll often go on about this -- "You know, most Greek food is meant to be served lukewarm, 'cause they would only have one oven in the village and everyone would do their cooking there, then bring it back home to eat much later."

This spiel is often tangentially related to her larger point that there's nothing wrong with leaving food or ingredients out on the kitchen counter for hours, since that's how they used to do it in the old days, and we come from hearty peasant stock, and that's why our family is not susceptible to food poisoning (all said with the never-directly-stated but constantly-present implication that WASPs are fragile creatures with pitably gossamer-like GI tracts).
posted by Greg Nog at 9:29 AM on October 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


as many meat pies as possible, one puppy and a standard five-year old child, seventy-two, dick cheney.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:33 AM on October 6, 2010


I think I support any event that can be labeled "pyro-gastronomy".
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also like how much this part:

Everyone else thinks the bread came out wonderfully moist and chewy, but Chad is not thrilled, and his relationship with the oven will remain testy all weekend.


sounds like a caption straight out of Catalog Living.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 AM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


meh. we do this all the time on the gulf coast. every time a hurricane seriously threatens, half the town packs up & head out. the other half fires up a grill & starts cooking everything in the fridge & freezer that would be lost to a significant power outage. neighbors start bringing over their perishables to throw on when a spot opens up. add some brewskis & you've got the epitome of a communal table.
posted by msconduct at 9:38 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would do this every weekend if I had a Big Green Egg. Overnight brisket smokes and all. Yum.
posted by mkb at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except Chad in this case is Chad Robertson, baker of no little renown (as in, I knew who the quote was about without having to read the article), so he is entitled to be not thrilled. It isn't like Catalog Living at all, because I'm sure the guy can be truthfully described to have relationships with ovens.
posted by ssg at 9:42 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, I'm the furthest thing from a foodie, but this--
After a leisurely lunch well oiled by a few bottles of rosé
--there may be some really good rosés out there, but my initial reaction was, "Woo hoo, break out the Lancer's!"
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:44 AM on October 6, 2010


This made me hungry. And determined, broke or not, to go out this fall and buy lots of local produce. On the one hand, stories like this are always conceits. But there's something to this, I think. Okay, I don't have an oven like this, I don't have access to a whole goat or fresh morels, I wouldn't have all the people to come over and help even if I had a whole goat and an oven like this, but really, does it matter? I have an oven, I have access to local produce, this sort of thing inspires me to do stuff with those things I have access to. Versus so much of the media, which just inspires people to feel envious of things they cannot possibly get--fancy cars, huge houses, impossible bodies.

I am capable of making toast and spreading it with cheese and jam. I am capable of roasting meat. I am capable of making pizza crust. Maybe not every meal, but sometimes. Those things really are that satisfying, when you do them, even when you do them in a more accessible way. Inspiring people to want things which they can actually have and which will make them actually feel good... I'm in favor of that.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:50 AM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


My list: hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, hot dog, s'more, s'more, s'more. And then we bust out a Dutch oven, fill it with Crisco, and fry doughnut holes until all the hair is burned off my arms & face.

(I, too, was a Scout. A well-fed Scout, in fact.)

Did I win anything (besides this mild queasy feeling)?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:52 AM on October 6, 2010


I get it! I get it! I should not have left California, the Land of Fresh Ingredients! Now leave me alone!
posted by polymodus at 10:01 AM on October 6, 2010


And Pollan's getting larger
posted by stbalbach at 10:05 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn you, NYT ...I've been sitting on a post idea about cob ovens and Kiko Denzer for a while.

The timing is interesting! We built one of these at my community garden over the summer (and by "we" I mean "a bunch of people not including me but will lump myself in with because it's all of our garden") and we inaugurated it last Saturday evening with a pizza fest. It was a great shakedown run, and the pizza was terrific, but I definitely want to plan a full-day cooks-travaganza like this - maybe stopping short of goat, but going through the rotation of dishes that use gradually reducing heat all day long.

I can't say much for the cob oven in terms of resource efficiency, but I can say it was wicked fun to fire up and cook with, brings a party together lickety-split, produces delicious food, and it was a great hands-on get-dirty project for the creative types.
posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on October 6, 2010


I can only handle about two hours of dinner at most, and I really did like The Omnivore's Dillema but I didn't think The Botany of Desire was that great and Michael Pollan's more recent works (all catalogued nicely on Metafilter, natch) are kinda losing their relevance.

My new dreamy foodie hero, let me show you him. Let's have more Francis Thicke FPPs!
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:08 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Botany of Desire was really moreof a pop-science book that Pollan wrote when he was basically working as a science reporter. it's interesting to see where it has taken him, as it clearly drew him more and more into the sociology and economics of food, and now he's known so well as a food writer that most people identify him primarily as such. But he really wasn't when he wrote that book. I love the book, love it in the same way I love John McPhee's work. It is materially different from his food writing, but then it's not so much food writing at all.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on October 6, 2010


Halloween Jack, I've been predicting that rosé will be the next in wine. I thought it'd happen this summer, and it looks like maybe it is in certain markets. Mark my words--look for a lot of dry rosés in the wine shops and at fashionable restaurants next year.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:15 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


BoD is just so florid I fell off the narrative train somewhere after the midway point. Needed less journey, more destination. imho, iirc, it's been a while. It was interesting while I retained interest.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2010


I bet you're right, MrMoonPie. Lipstick Thespian is always raving about rose and trying to get people excited about it. It has passionate proselytizers.
posted by Miko at 10:26 AM on October 6, 2010


Go in your backyard, dig a little shallow hole about 6-8 inches deep and 12-24 inches wide. Gather up any twigs or sticks lying around and build a fire in your new firepit. find a metal grate (like from your coleman grill) and lay it across one end of the pit. cut up veggies, potatoes, sausages etc and start cooking!
posted by kuatto at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2010


My wife's family has been spending their summers in Quebec since about 1910. Her great uncle bought what is now our cottage in 1920 and my son is the forth generation to be going up there. It's located on a ridge between two lakes somewhere North of Ottawa and the cottagers are a mix of Canadians and Americans, some of whom she's known all her life.

A lot of folks have fire pits in their yards, our neighbor even has this giant grill made out of an old boat trailer and a large oil drum. He had the thing custom built by some French Canadian with a welder.

We have a full kitchen with an electric stove, but we do cook on the fire pit a lot. Mostly burgers, dogs and steak, the occasional chicken when I'm up for a challenge, and of course we also fry up some bass when we've been out fishing.

The local guides will take you out for the day to do a shore lunch. It's a bit too pricey for us but some friends have invited us on one now and then. Basically you fish all morning and then you find a picnic spot (it's a *really* big lake) and the guides get a fire going and, with a cast-iron pan about as big as a swimming pool, they first cook up about ten pounds of bacon (thick cut stuff bought from the butcher in town, none of this Oscar Meyer crap) and then, while you eat the bacon as an appetizer, they cook up the fish in the bacon grease. This is all served with beans, stewed tomatoes, more bacon, and potato slices which are also cooked in the bacon grease. It ain't healthy, but damn is it good.

But probably the best meal I've ever had was something our friends called "Ridge Paella." This was a local version of the Spanish rice dish (our neighbor's mom is Colombian, she pronounced it Pia-aye-ja") made with some wild rice purchased at a local Indian reservation (I have no idea if wild rice is native to the area, I didn't ask), chicken and pork bellies (both bought from that same butcher, the animals probably lived within 50 miles of the cottage), some kind of locally-made sausage, a shit load of chanterelle mushrooms harvested from the ridge (our friends are mushroomers, a similar amount bought at a store would cost a fortune) and some intense beef reduction that spent about 30 hours on the stove. There were other things in the dish but I don't remember what they were. It was by no means an authentic Paella, not that I would know one if I saw it. I'm sure if you ate poutine in Mexico it would be lacking that same authenticity.

This was all cooked in a big-ass cast-iron pan over a wood fire on their custom grill. About 20 of us, representing three different generations of friends and family, ate this in their enormous dining room. The wine was flowing like water and it was one of the more enjoyable meals I've ever experienced. I don't know how much of that was from the food and how much was from the atmosphere, but it was amazing. I can still taste that dish. It was like nothing else I've ever eaten. It was like you could taste the history and the land and the lake in it. I can't believe I just typed something so corny but I don't know how else to describe it.

So yeah, cook over fire once in a while. Nobody gathers around an electric stove while dinner is cooking but put something over a fire and everything changes. Build a fire pit, go camping, use some wood on your Weber. Find an old cast iron pan and maybe a dutch oven. Do it. Not because it's some kind of macho thing, or because you're getting back to some silly cave man or frontier roots, but because it's a blast, it brings people together like nothing else, and it make your food taste really fucking good. You don't even need any celebrity chefs or food writers to help you.
posted by bondcliff at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Dry rosés deserve to be "in" for a while. Growing up, rose was either cheap Portuguese swill or Koolade tasting stuff like White Zinfandel. After a trip to France and tasting some of the lovely things made from Grenache and Syrah, I'd be happy to see more dry rosé from American producers, assuming they manage not to muck it up the way they did Chardonnay.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:34 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It isn't like Catalog Living at all, because I'm sure the guy can be truthfully described to have relationships with ovens.

But Gary can truthfully be described to have relationships with tree branches and brie, too.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:36 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been predicting that rosé will be the next in wine.

I definitely shed all my rosé prejudices this summer. We drank cases of the stuff, much of it sparkling, and I have to say I regret my previous opinions.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:11 AM on October 6, 2010


Halloween Jack, I've been predicting that rosé will be the next in wine.

Um, yeah. 3 years ago. Then people remembered that it sucks. /snark

I kid, of course. In Provence (and California), le rosé c'est magnifique! But I do think the trend has peaked.

(Wow, the French article est tres superieur du version Anglais. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise ....)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Go in your backyard, dig a little shallow hole about 6-8 inches deep and 12-24 inches wide...

...by 24 inches long. Fill with approximately 150 pounds of thermite. Ignite thermite, stand back, enjoy reaction from safe distance. When surface solidifies, use as cooktop.
posted by eriko at 12:11 PM on October 6, 2010


I would do this every weekend if I had a Big Green Egg. Overnight brisket smokes and all. Yum.

I have not managed to make my Egg turn out good BBQ. The Weber bullet seems better suited for the task.

I have, though, done steaks at 700 degrees, then a roast chicken or two, then dessert on the same firing of my Egg.
It's awesome.
posted by madajb at 12:39 PM on October 6, 2010


FLASH!!!! Michael Pollan discovers having dinner party with famous chefs, wealthy neighbours is fun! Updates to come!
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 1:29 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


bondcliff, i want some of that Canuck Paella! *drool*
posted by wenestvedt at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2010


Rosé is due for a comeback, sure. But you know what really deserves it? Cold Duck.
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:54 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hot pockets.
posted by stevil at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2010


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