x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

1,001 Arabian Bites: Simplicity is not the only virtue when it comes to food

Sometimes your senses call out for a complicated experience.

I set out to write something in defence of simplicity. Hours later, all I had to show for my work was 12 knives in the sink and a rind of cheese. Though the scraps left on the plate were grey and bloomy, the loveliness within had contained all the lucid and luminous grace of Debussy. Now it’s all gone, and so are my former thoughts on simplicity. You don’t run through a dozen knives on a single wedge of cheese unless you’re prone to vacillation – or at least poor impulse control.

Délice de Bourgogne is my favourite cheese – today, anyway – and I’m pretty sure anyone presented with a dreamy, downy spoonful of it would fall similarly in love. A triple-cream cheese like no other, Délice de Bourgogne is the dairy version of the best friend you haven’t yet met, but recognise the moment you strike up a conversation. It’s bulked up with crème fraîche, giving it the fleeting, meltaway texture of butter. To me, it’s the perfect cheese – silky and luxurious as high thread-count linens. This morning, I killed a wedge of it, armed with nothing but a jar of honey, a hunk of stale ciabatta and a small knife. Try this at home.

I’m all for gilding the lily for good and right reasons, but simple pleasures are my weakness. This could mean an unadulterated slab of Délice de Bourgogne, or when I’m feeling threateningly vegan-esque after days of restraint, J Kenji Lopez-Alt’s magnificent Flood Burger. It’s the juiciest burger imaginable, made by freezing a couple of tablespoons of seared burger juices, obtained by coercing seared ground beef through a citrus press, then forming the burger patties around the frozen discs, so that they erupt when you sink your teeth in.

Our food-obsessed culture doesn’t hold back. When we say that we’ve eaten something “over the top” or “out of control”, we mean it kindly. Today’s food is shamelessly meta – a reference to itself and its legacy of inside jokes … about itself.

How will today’s chefs top the antics of yesterday’s? Like the Oscars or a Lady Gaga concert, the obsessed will tune in just to ogle the outfits. For food faddists, Boston’s Griddler’s Burgers and Dogs has provided an alternative to standing in line for hours in New York, hoping to secure a cronut or a Ramen Burger, two raging culinary hybrid-food trends.

Griddler’s Bronut is a fried egg-topped burger dunked in maple glaze and served on a doughnut shaped like a hamburger bun – as in, no hole. The most probable backstory behind slapping a patty on a pastry is that the diabetic soul singer Luther Vandross improvised the combination after running out of buns, although after his death, Paula Deen one-upped him by topping off the whole hot mess with a fried egg. A Lebanese burger joint in Queens, New York, is cooking up a halal version using turkey bacon.

It makes me nostalgic for the moment I discovered, after 10 years of only ordering In-N-Out burgers “double-double animal-style”, having been instructed that this was The Right and Just Way, that I liked them better plain old animal-style, with a single patty rather than two. I liked the simpler version better – and the ratios made more sense. It makes me nostalgic for a piece of plain old cheese.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico


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