New York Cookbook

It’s the time of year when I recommend a book for Christmas giving. This year it’s by Molly O’Neill. Ex-New Yorker John Sgammato, who lent me the book, says we are lucky to live within easy traveling distance of New York City, which is, of course, the capital of the world. I’m not going to argue, and if you read the book, you won’t either. In fact you’ll probably take a car, bus, train, or plane, to New York City soon.

The book has blurbs on stores, restaurants, and people who help make the New York food scene the most varied on the planet. This is a tome to curl up with. When you arrive in the Big Apple, there’ll be dozens of spots you want to hit.

Of course you can prepare the recipes at home. You’ll find a salmon rillettes as served at the Four Seasons, Edna Lewis’s way of cooking greens, Abe Moskowitz’s homemade bagels, firefighter Frank Gambino’s “firehouse” veal and eggplant parmigiana, and Eileen Lin Fei Lo’s Peking Duck Even if you’re not sure you want to make your own Peking Duck, it’s fun to read how it’s done.

One of the main reasons I go to the Big Apple is to food shop, but the next best thing is to send for things and O’Neill provides a list of purveyors who ship. The book was published in 1992 and sooner or later we’ll need a new addition. I noticed that Paprikas Weiss is listed as a mail order source. I loved that place. They once rushed my wife a piece of candied Angelica a few short days before Christmas. To go there was to wander in a central European spice shop of the past. I was heartbroken when they closed.

I don’t say this to pan the book as it stands now. Most of the restaurants, church fairs, street festivals bakeries, gourmet stores and ethnic groceries are still exactly as described. It’s impossible to pick up the book without being drawn toward New York. You could picture the great city in terms of department stores, concert halls, theater, jazz clubs, tall buildings, business, or dozens of other ways, but seeing it as a the greatest eating town in the world gives you an insight into the wondrous diversity of its people.

The New York Cookbook teaches you how to make knishes from Brighton Beach and Japanese eel hand rolls. It could be an international cookbook, but it’s all right there in one city. You can go from Italy to China just by crossing the street and India isn’t a long walk away.

Speaking of walking, the book has a long list of food walks describing grocery stores, take out joints, and other attractions. For me, any walk in Manhattan is a food walk, but I’m excited to read what I’ve been missing. This will draw me out into the other boroughs for wonders I haven’t as yet encountered.

There’s a section about festivals at which people celebrate their culture and of course cook their favorite foods. In New York there are German, Irish, Italian, Philipino, Hungarian, Jewish, Latin American, African American, French, and Ukrainian festivals listed with the dates they occur.

With all these recipes, there are bound to be some you want to try. My wife has been making a delicious New York steakhouse chopped salad that is becoming standard in our home. I’m dying to try Gail Paige-Bowman’s grandmother’s recipe for chopped liver, and, although I though I made pretty good chicken soup, I read that doesn't rise to the level of a religious experience unless you include chicken feet.

Not living in New York, I might have a little trouble finding chicken feet. A young woman behind the meat counter in a local supermarket told me there is no such thing as chicken backs and necks, and I overheard her telling her coworkers about this weird guy. I’m not about to ring the bell and ask for feet. Still I’m questing after that grail, and I may someday ride Amtrak back from the capital of the world carrying a butcher paper package of chicken feet.

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