x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Suffering from the culinary heebie jeebies

Sometimes there are universally wrong answers. No matter how you like your steak cooked, grainy liver and dried-out roasts are never a happy occasion.

It's nearing dawn on election day in the US as I type. But by the time this column is printed, I'll either be slamming coffee at my desk like it's any other day or I'll be twisted up in bed linens, shaking my fist at the ceiling. Whether you like your orange juice with or without pulp, your egg yolks runny or firm, your peanut butter smooth or crunchy - these are matters as personally divisive as certain political ones. And in a society obsessed with one-upmanship, I love all questions to which there are no wrong answers.

And sometimes there are universally wrong answers. No matter how you like your steak cooked, grainy liver and dried-out roasts are never a happy occasion.

What about rabbit? I'd always liked to eat it and a few days ago, I had the pleasure of working with it for the first time. We butchered two whole rabbits - rubbing salt and sugar into raw meat to cure it is a uniquely pleasurable act - and lowered the pieces into oil, perfumed with garlic and thyme, to make confit. The rabbit livers were thrown in a pan with butter and shallots, then blended with cream and strained to make rabbit liver mousse (I used Julia Child's recipe for chicken liver mousse, substituting rabbit for chicken). When the confit was ready, I pulled it from the bones, separating the tender ribbons along the flank for rillettes, the tight, white meat of the loins for salads and the deep, gamey thighs for rabbit carnitas.

My greatest weakness in the kitchen is plating. I've traditionally blamed this on being too architecturally challenged to build sandcastles and too blind to drive after dark, but the reality is that I just don't find it very interesting. Instead, I obsess over finding the right synergy of textures. With the potted meats, we served crostini, fragile as lace, which had been brushed with confit oil before toasting. Alongside that, a tart tangle of shallots in a fresh apple relish, a smear of Kozlik's triple crunch whole-grain mustard and a few snappy miniature pickles, because I prefer them to cornichons.

The jelly that had congealed around the confit would be saved for another day, because despite their love of boba milk tea, many Americans remain finicky about jelly surprises - particularly those involving meat.

When we were in the seventh grade, the mother of my friend Tamara baked some frozen chicken nuggets to feed us while we watched Demonic Toys for the 4,000th time. A few chews into snack time, Tamara gagged and spat into her hand. "I just chewed on some gristle!" she announced, "and it was horrible." Gristle, whatever it was, sounded awful. I asked her what it was, and when she told me, I felt totally ashamed. Gristle had been my favourite part.

Personally, I like my gummi bears frozen, my egg whites set, and I find filet mignon too mushy to be interesting. These preferences are highly specific and also highly subjective, so while I don't like ice cream once it starts to melt, you might shudder at the animated wobbliness of mayo, the sponginess of undercooked mushrooms, or the fact that sucking on a mango pit leaves crazy orange muppet hair hanging from your teeth.


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