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Monday, April 15, 2013

Murder, murder and more murder...

     I have a huge library.  It is intrinsic to me.  Whenever I’ve been, in all the places I have lived, books are the first thing that I start accumulating, even before clothes, or food!  Culinary mysteries are one of my favorite genres.  Since I am in a culinary state of mind lately, I selected as this week’s read Appetite for Murder by Francophile Cecille Lamalle (http://www.amazon.com/Appetite-Murder-Culinary-Mystery-Mysteries/dp/0446607622/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1336794783&sr=8-3). 
Ms. Lamalle is a cook, food editor and recipe developer, and her familiarity with the food industry is palpable almost from the beginning of the story.  Set in Van Buren county, in the outskirts of Albany, in New York state, Appetite for Murder is an interesting compendium of culinary secrets, ephemera, even recipes, of the first kind; all wrapped up in a nice, juicy mystery.

     The first thing I noticed about the story is the abundance of characters.  So much so, that half way through the book, I had to start over because I no longer knew who was who and what their part in the story was.  There is, of course, our Frenchman Chef and amateur sleuth Charles “Charly” Poisson.  Original from the Jura mountains in France - the land of les vins jeune - he now owns “La Fermette” (or "The Farmhouse"), an upscale restaurant that, although labeled first class by everyone in the story, as well as the review that precedes it, I find quite ordinary in its menu choices.  Apple and pecan pies for dessert, sandwiches à la Americaine (not the nice French baguettes made with succulent country paté and fresh vegetables), hamburgers and just simple Gravlax in a French restaurant??  I would not consider “La Fermette” as a high end dining establishment for one minute, especially if one thinks of the original "La Fermette Marbeuf" in Paris, a restaurant that appears to be the model for Ms. Poisson's.


The original La Fermette Marbeuf.  Who wouldn't want to dine here?

     Ms. Poisson serves this menu following the suggestion of his favourite customer, an interesting character belonging to the mob by the name of Walter Maxwell, in order to make a living.  Sad, I must say, especially because no respectable Frenchman would sacrifice the quintessential food qualities and rituals of France to merely fit in anywhere, especially among banal gangsters in America.  Nonetheless, Ms. Poisson runs a highly profitable business. 

     Narrative-wise, this is one is a confusing, albeit rather entertaining, book.  There are several different events taking place at the same time.  The first body is found by Charly himself, one day in early October, while on a hunt for oyster mushrooms, which he would later use in a most excellent soup (and one which I intend to try this coming Autumn).  He finds the body of a very well-dressed woman, wearing an expensive Hermès scarf, buried in the rich humus of his land.  But this is not the only case currently on the curricula of the small Van Buren County Police.  Someone has been burning the barns of the local farmers, one by one, for the past several months, and the Police still do not have a clue on who the arsonist is.  Then one of Charly’s customers, a rich lady by the name of Honoria Wells, gets attacked – twice, once by her money-hungry boyfriend and later by… someone who shoots her while lounging in her living room.  This same sniper targets our French Chef as well – twice, but he miraculously escapes.
View of the bar area, which presumably was the inspiration for Charly Poisson's restaurant.
     In the meantime, a mischievous child is murdered, the barn burnings continue, and a cleaning lady disappears.  Is it all connected? Ostensibly so.  And the interesting part is, that unlike in most mysteries, the reader is shown the culprit from the moment the crimes are committed.  The reason one is compelled to continue reading is for the pure pleasure of seeing the characters come to their own realizations about the events in the story and, mostly, for the delightful leçons de la cuisine imparted by Charly throughout.  His favoritism for Bach flower remedies, his chewing of garlic for a strong heart and other eccentricities our Chef has make this an engaging book.

     I decided to test the recipe for Salmon Rillettes, which I came to find was sloppily written.  Properly made though, it makes for a very nice appetizer.  I chose to serve it in my Emile Henry terrine, which I found at a discount in Williams-Sonoma, and considerably added to its presentation glamour.  For 4 to 6 servings gather:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound skinned salmon fillets, very finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. vodka
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. dill, chopped
  • Pinch of brown sugar
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • Dash or two of Tabasco sauce
Preparation:

     Steamed the salmon fillets for 8 minutes, turning them once at half time.  Then chop them and combine with remaining ingredients, tossing gently with 2 forks.  Press into a terrine dish and let the flavours marry in the refrigerator 5 to 6 hours, or preferably overnight.  Serve with rounds of toasted baguette and butter.  A crisp Chablis accompanies this appetizer very well.


     Now if I could only be the consultant for that menu…

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