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We continue with a second instalment of "Recipes". Enough said. Bon appétit!
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JOURNAL NOTES FROM THE BLIND CHEF (translated from Japanese) (3 full color artworks)
I could smell the stale air of empty chambers. I could hear the echo of open unfurnished space. As they led me in, my feet crushed on loose tiles and disturbed gravel and I think of destroyed, forgotten history.
The place had an air of abandonment. Death and decay? Yes. That of rusting structures and mouldy wood, and perhaps something more. A hint of bleach, cleaning agents and soap trying to disguise the underlying mildew and rot. Someone had tried to clean up. Throughout the years in the culinary profession and even more so since my accident, to compensate for my blindness, my nose, along with my other senses has grown very acute to the slightest of smells. Perhaps for this reason this had made me a better preparer of food.
The room I was led into by my handler was large. Industrial. It had a scent of cleanness, sterility, and also that of familiarity. I had spent most of my life in a space like this. This air of metallic newness bore the unmistakable hallmarks of a large industrial kitchen of a large restaurant or hotel. It was all there. Cutlery, pots and pans, oven, stove, utensils, and many other implements of culinary preparation too numerous to list. I have handled enough of these implements, steel knives, cast-iron skillets, copper pots of pure quality to tell me they spared no expense for this event.
I did not need to wait long before the faint squeal from the wheels of a gurney approached me and the smell of freshly cut flesh that came with it. I had spent all my life being around meat from all kinds of beasts but this scent was different. It was more complex. A beast raised in pens usually have a narrower band of odors, more intrusive and pungent through limited exposure. This one was more subtle and complex, consisting of an irregular bouquet of disparate scents, of linen, shampoo, candles and library books, in a mixed in with the coppery smell of blood. It had a fragrance of sophistication and ... travel. I had recognized this sort of flesh sitting at the city park and shopping mall benches especially when strangers walk by. It was a sweet, floral fragrance, less pungent and delicate.
I didn't need my handler to lead me towards my subject. When I touched the flesh and ran my hands along the goosepimpled skin, immediately, I knew. This was not the texture that belonged on the kitchen table. I felt this flesh when pressed amongst strangers on the Tokyo Metro. I am used to the same texture, but soft and warm. This time, it was cold.
The details of those who brought me here and procured the meat of which I am to perform my arts... I cannot tell you if I could. They do not tell me much, only that I am to perform the task required of me and I will be well rewarded. As to the "donor"... one could say, the source from which it came once I laid my hands on the meat became very, very clear – the cut was not in doubt even as I had lost my sense of sight. It felt smooth, slender, slight of build and very familiar. The matter was confirmed when I ran my fingers towards the narrowing end of the limbs, and it was then when I was thankful that I had been spared the sight of this horror, when what should have been a beastly hoof instead were five dainty toes, my worst fears were realized.
I recalled while I had been led into this place of excited men muttering under their breaths as if taking care that I not overhear, there had been mention of a French girl. Had this been the donor? I had never touched a girl, let alone one of European descent.
Nevertheless, after my initial shock and dread, curiosity and a sense of professional urgency had set in. I had a task to do, and these are the kinds of men who would make me disappear from this world very easily. I had to quickly dispense with my fear and remove all sense of morality. In the end, what had the world given me? Nothing but injustice, pain and tragedy. Was it fair that I had lost my sight? Perhaps it was fate. Was it fair that I was not given the chance to cook in a world-class restaurant? That I could bear less. All that was left for me to make a deal with devils.
I was curious to its gender. Male or female? Would it matter? With wild game, I had to know that the texture and toughness of the meat will greatly affect my preparation methods. I had to be sure. I reached into the crevice between the haunches and spread them apart. I had felt the heat of shameful excitement which no doubt my handler would have noticed the reddening flushness of my cheeks.
And there, within the soft folds between my probing fingers, there was my confirmation. Definitely female.
This had been the moment when I felt an unnatural excitement. After that, my caresses become more loving towards the flesh. If there had been any shame left of me there was none, not since the day I accepted the assignment... so I will confess that my arousal was borne from the fact that I had been a virgin and have always been very shy with the opposite sex. I had touched flesh almost all my life, but not of the human variety, of all manner of animal that I prepared for the dinner table. But that was the first time I had ever touched another in an intimate way.
I had almost wished I had my eyes with me again. Without her top half, it was both gruesome and fascinating. I was not prepared for this sensation nor I had hoped that he did not notice my growing arousal inside my pants. I had hoped by butcher's apron had provided ample cover as my hands explored every surface of my subject.
I could not allow myself too long a time to linger on the moment as I had a task to perform while the flesh was still fresh while the guests also await. A flush of ideas rushed into my head as I had begun to formulate the recipe at hand. I had been recited a set of instructions by my handler. I was to listen and only to respond with a nod if I understood. It was surprisingly short, leaving me enough room for culinary creativity but one of the main caveats was for the dish to keep the trotters which would pose a challenge.
When ever in doubt as to the age of the animal I tend to assume that it would be older and tougher during the cooking process. My handler had left me guessing to the age of the specimen, my questions were met with silence. No matter, that meant an opportunity for a more intimate inspection. Even as I could tell that the specimen felt that it came from someone... young. 20's? Or younger? I had to make my best guess. I needed to probe even further, to test the suppleness of the muscle. That would be needed... if... if my handler shouldn't mistake this process as some sort of excuse for lewdness onto the carcass... but I would be lying if I said I did not gain some sort of sexual gratification over the act. Whether or not it was decent or not, ultimately it was required for me to conjure a proper dish.
Now with this there is another slight problem in that because it is so lean it is possible to leave the meat dry. So the plan was a sort of pot roast, over a trivet of slowly cooking onions, which would release enough moisture to ‘almost braise’ the meat when cooked in the slow cooker, leaving more room for error. In the end, I decided on the slow-cooked "pot roast" for the best method to maintain even distribution during the cooking process of which the process is stated below.
Hindquarter Pot Roast with Brussel Sprouts and Onion Jam
- My first decision was to remove the tailbone, sacrum and the iliac crest including the area around the groin and perineum, leaving the limbs in two halves. I'd saved the bits of flesh for a different dish.
- To balance the cooking between the calf and the thigh, so they would both cook evenly in the slow-cooker due to the difference in thickness, I had an idea to obtain the bone meal or marrow from the thigh bone by removing it while leaving the ones in the lower legs untouched. First, I deboned the joint from the knee upwards and remove the whole femur. Sawing it into three parts, I boiled the bones separately in a large pot in low heat for 30 minutes with marrow exposed for stock. These would be reconstituted it into the dish after the marrow had been cooked.
- Then I prepared the following ingredients.
- brussel sprouts
- olive oil
- fennel seeds
- 3 pairs garlic cloves (halved)
- red currant jelly
- 4 large onions
These may seem too simple but I had decided that I need not overpower the flavors of this unique meat.
- As the bone broth is being prepared, I had chopped the onions into medium sized pieces and sautéed them in olive oil over a cast-iron skillet until the early stages of translucence.
- Meanwhile both pairs of boned thighs were unrolled and the inner surfaces were salted and seasoned with pepper and fennel seeds.
- With olive oil, I massaged the rest of the skin leaving no surface uncoated, giving particular attention to the crevices between the toes.
- When the bone and marrow broth is done I removed the thighbones pieces and re-attached them together with string that they become whole again. I had sawn off the aitch bone knob to leave one of the ends hollow and exposed to help cook the inside of the thigh during the slow-cooking. Then I rewrapped and rolled the thigh muscles back over the bone again before securing them with string and then bent into a kneeling position.
- The hindquarters was browned off – this can be done in a heavy bottomed pan – or as I did here by rolling the leg over a cast iron cooking surface on the grill.
- Once the onions were ready and the skin browned the slow-cooker was set and held at 130° Celsius the hindquarters were placed on top of a trivet of onions. The cooking at this stage should last for about 100 minutes.
- After this, I poured the bone marrow stock onto the onions and continued with the cooking for a further 120 minutes, topping up with stock as necessary.
- At this point too add some redcurrant jelly by stirring a cup and a half's worth into the soft onion and stock mix. The cooking should continue until the core temperature of the hindquarters reach around 75-78°C.
- The meat was then removed and wrapped in foil and transferred into a warm oven at 50°C to rest for around half an hour. The onion and jam mixture was then heated gently on the hob to drive off the excess liquid and also thicken the sauce.
- Finally, the hindquarters were placed on a wooden meat tray and arranged to be presented, moist and seductive. The meat was to be cut into generous slices and served with fried Brussel sprouts, whole halved garlic cloves and onion jam as I had recommended to the diners. And that was that!
Throughout the process, I had to observe through my keen sense of smell and touch to make sure that both the thigh and calves were cooking evenly. That was when the onion jam mixture comes in to prevent drying out.
I must tell you at this time, it was when I performed my greatest sin. There had been moments earlier, when once raw flesh burned and cooked, that a sweet and heady aroma begun to overpower the kitchen that it had compelled me to taste. It was required of me as chef to make sure the meat is as delicious as it should be edible. I had to try a taste of it at least to know if my endeavors had been successful!
Spare me any disapproving thought for I have long foregone any morals. You think I felt guilt? My career was over since the accident. I trained myself hard and well, but no restaurant would take me in. Who would give me a chance? None of them. So I do not owe them anything. The only ones who had given me this second chance were these devils.
It was during the halfway point of cooking, I pinched off and carved a small strip of pinkish thigh muscle, as I usually like my meat slightly more undercooked and it was excellent! It was moist, sweet and complex in taste. She had been deliciously soft and complemented the onion jam amazingly well as it did venison. Flavor from the fat was slightly more greasy and intense than I had expected which had given me some notes to rebalance the sweetness of the jam It was at this time I had the idea to balance the sweetness with the bitterness of the Brussel sprouts. I revelled in ecstasy and pure bliss, that I had a piece of someone inside me! Who was she? I could only guess. She would be a mystery who would forever haunt me, I'm sure until the end of my life. Perhaps some day when I would revisit my relationship with my benefactors, I could inquire as to the identity of the donor. Or perhaps some things should be left to mystery.
-- the end? --
ALTERNATIVE RENDERINGS (2 color alternate versions)