Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kitchen adventures. hearts of darkness.

One summer night, a few years ago, we had dinner at Rover’s, one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. I had asked the chef to do something a little different for us, but I was unprepared for how gleefully he rose to the challenge. (Let me just say that Thierry Rautureau, the chef/owner of Rover's, is extremely funny and charming, but more than that, he is the person I would ask to cook my last meal on earth). I will spare you all the gruesome details, but essentially, I had said that our party would eat any part of any animal he could imagine, and he totally went for it.

After a series of dishes that I won't describe, our main course arrived, various, er, parts of lamb arranged gracefully on the plate. There were some slices of lamb loin, incredibly tender and juicy, but what I remember most is the little heap of sliced lamb hearts, slightly chewy, intensely flavored without being tough or gamy. I particularly recall this part of the dish because I remember seeing that gleam in my father’s eye and having the sinking realization that he was already thinking about how to recreate such a dish at home.

The difference between my parents can be illustrated thusly: my mother will experiment with vegetables and tofu in ways that you can't even begin to imagine. She will watch Iron Chef (the original Japanese one) and be inspired by some sort of edible, tube-shaped fungus (which came dried and which you soaked in water until it was pliable; it looked a bit like a vegetarian sausage casing), recreating what can only be described as mushroom sausage. (The tube-shaped mushroom was stuffed with a mixture of shiitake and enoki mushrooms, along with tofu and various other things I can't remember, and gently braised in chicken stock). My father, on the other hand, will experiment with whatever meats (that is to say, animal parts) he can find at the butcher, inspired by dishes he's had in various restaurants. Or rather, he will bring it home for me to experiment with.

Some time later, my father came home with an innocent-looking little package wrapped in brown paper, from the butcher in the Pike Place Market. Here, he said, let's try this. Uh-oh. Here we go. I have never come in close contact with a human heart before, but a lamb heart does not look all that different from what I imagine a human heart looks like. The hearts emerged from the butcher paper, dark and shaped like small, curled fists, dripping ominously into the sink, and I felt like a murderer as I quickly sliced them. It was some of the fastest knifework I've ever done, and when I put down my knife my hands were shaking.

The sliced hearts were sautéed with slivers of ginger and scallion, a drizzle of soy sauce, and a sprinkling of sesame oil, and they were delicious. But I felt as though I had passed over to the dark side.

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