In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I was determined to tackle new Irish cuisine.
I ended up inventing Jewish food.
I guess it’s not just the corned beef that the two ethnic cuisines have in common.
Having stumbled down the path of the unpredictable, I feel no responsibility to provide a nice Celtic-influenced rock band or such. Instead, it’s time for Beth Ditto because I’m still in the mood for electronica and I need a sultry chick to enliven my shattered nerves. Ditto — ordinarily the lead singer of Gossip — has a new four-song EP out, and if you want to know what I’m talking about, you need to just go buy it. Really truly. Impulse purchases of this nature are what iTunes is for.
If you’re determined to be skeptical, go to Ditto’s official site and listen to the video of “I Wrote the Book,” the official single from the EP, while we deal summarily with trout. (I don’t care if it looks like salmon. The store said it was trout.) The trout requires all of 20 minutes in a 350 oven, so depending on your speed with potato mashing, you probably don’t want to start this before the pancake-like substances above.
I friggin’ love this song.
It’s not just the smoky vocals. I’ve been trying to think who Beth Ditto reminds me of, and it’s not a disco artist, despite her EP being produced by Simian Mobile Disco. It’s the Pet Shop Boys. Mind you, Pet Shop Boys always claim to be disco, but then everybody smiles ruefully at Neil Tennant and mutters about synthpop. In fact, Ditto’s EP has a dance beat and the characteristic disco cymbals; but it also has the darker feel that I associate with much of the Pet Shop Boys’ repertoire.
Also, Beth Ditto is just plain hot. (Anybody who mentions that she’s not a size two — no potato pancakes for you! Go suck a celery stick. “Hot” is an attitude. She’s got it. Should the appeal be lost on you, the video is also well-stocked with buff male bodies. I think she got them wholesale. Despite all her play with them, she prefers girls, reminding us that the role an artist plays in the video is, after all, art and not life.)
The fish. Right. The fish. Cut up enough green onion to spread suggestively on the filet, then sprinkle with the zest of a lemon. Now comes the fun part! Slice a lemon thinly and use it to cover the entire fish filet. (The filet is already in a Pyrex pan, not floating an inch above the cutting board.) I was wanting a way to bake a fish filet, and every recipe that didn’t rely on skin to protect the delicate flesh used cream sauce instead. Then it struck me that lemons would probably provide sufficient moisture. And (glance ahead to the future!) they do! Into the oven it goes.
Now you need to go buy the EP so you understand what happens next.
The original logic behind this meal was that Irish cuisine is not defined by corned beef and cabbage. There’s a nouvelle movement that emphasizes fresh ingredients and modern cooking techniques. In this vein, I got the bright idea of updating boxty with my favorite white yams.
You’ll note there’s not a yam to be seen for miles. All boxty recipes are basically alike: 1 part mashed to 1 part grated to 1 part flour to 1 part buttermilk, plus a modest amount of baking soda. Done with yams, this formed a horrific goop that refused to cook through at any heat. We’re talking an hour of raw yamminess on the stove top.
If you’ve made it to “Good Night, Good Morning,” we have video game-like sound effects. Disco-like music is always improved by beeps and boops.
On the advice of justforme, I tried a more conventional approach to potato pancakes. She recommended Yukon gold potatoes, which inevitably Fresh & Sleazy didn’t have. So I bought the waxiest potatoes going. JFM’s ratio of mashed to grated is roughly 2 to 5. Do not take the number of potatoes shown as canonical, as I kept adjusting based on how things seemed to be going. Just think 2:5.
What you see in the bowl is mashed potatoes, grated potatoes (okay, I ran them through the food processor), half of a very large onion (also run through food processor), and a sprinkle of nutmeg just the hell of it.
I also friggin’ love “Open Heart Surgery,” partly for its faintly Queen feeling of menace and partly for its use of open-heart surgery as a metaphor for intimacy and trust in a way that leaves the Leona Lewis botched-appendectomy song in the dust. Plus there’s a fine economics question:
If girls like you and girls like me
Are really a dime a dozen
Then why are we in such a high demand?
At this point, I wasn’t sure if the recommended three eggs were truly the right proportion of egginess. But I figured the worst thing that could happen is that the pseudo-boxties had scrambled eggy bits, and after the prior night’s disaster, this was not a particularly alarming prospect. (We note in passing that Irish peasant cuisine apparently was low on eggs. Where were the chickens?)
Wash your hands and mush it all together. This is when I discovered that my approach to mashing the mashed might qualify as “rustic,” if “rustic” means lumpy. Squish harder!
The ethereal yet forceful vocals on “Do You Need Someone” keep mesmerizing me, to the point that on four listens, I have no idea what the song is about, other than that it’s not happy stuff. Disco-osity is much improved for me when the artist explores experiences other than dancing at the club. This may be a seduction song, but it’s much more real to the complexity of human emotions than Britney Spears’ recent efforts in that direction.
Get a pan very, very hot and be generous with the oil. Splat! In goes the batter. Flatten it. Fry. Flip. Fry. The picture trio of pancakes is the one set that retained structural integrity upon being flipped, so my pancake technique needs work. These have to be eaten hot unless your frying technique is far superior to mine, as they go limp fairly quickly.
Mmmm… These are not the world’s greatest potato pancakes (and they’re frankly latkes rather than boxty), but they’ll do. The trout proves to be my major success: it’s moist and lemony. The only improvement to the trout would be to add capers, though honestly, I’d end up picking half of them off.
Checking out the Guardian’s interview with Ditto, I realized who else she reminds me of. Ditto is who Katy Perry would be if she was a hell of a lot more interesting, more feminist, and more able to sing. Notice that, as well as talking intelligently about freaks and geeks, Ditto can extend a note and can handle a song that isn’t “gasp – boom – gasp – boom.”
She can do all these things live, too. Here’s Ditto as lead singer of Gossip.