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I went through an inexplicable bout of insomnia when I was 10, prompting my parents to install a TV in my room. Part of me was like, “score.” But a larger part really just wanted to sleep. The only programming on at those hours was the Food Network, but super-old shows like Essence of Emeril, Taste with David Rosengarten and like, every single episode of Julia Child’s The French Chef, ever. Eventually I’d drift off around 4 a.m. to dreams of custard or something. 

Clearly those days stuck with me. I remember specific episodes, which definitely influenced the food obsession I’ve fashioned into a job. One of those shows was Two Fat Ladies, a horrifying display of every stereotype that has ever existed with regards to the British and their cuisine. The food those two fat ladies made looked more or less inedible — and scary as heck to boot. There was a fish head. Sticking out of a pie. In a scary dank old cellar kitchen with appliances made out of rocks in the middle of nowhere in rural England. But I watched, shivering, anyway. 

The ladies always started the same way, “a little bit of butter,” which was more or less a fist-sized knob no matter what they were making. Some innards, more butter, pastry dough, beef, tallow. Eventually, they had a dish. When they made Beef Wellington, I paid close attention as the fist-sized knob of butter they began with was used to cook finely chopped mushrooms and fresh herbs into duxelles, a French preparation that I’m always compelled to make when I have an excess of mushrooms. Or even just the right amount. I could very well have meant to make mushroom sauce for steak, and easily end up making duxelles for pizza, pasta, a burger, a sandwich, you name it.

Whatever mushrooms go on, sub in duxelles, which as I said, is just a bunch of butter, a bunch of finely chopped mushrooms and some fresh herbs and salt, maybe a splash of white wine if you’re feeling fancy.

Here’s something else they did with duxelles. It’s a Beef Wellington sandwich-Frankenstein thing they called a shooter’s sandwich.

  1. Make a ton of duxelles. Whatever you don’t manage to use freezes nicely and goes on everything. I’d rim a cocktail glass with the stuff. 
  2. Grill two enormous steaks medium-rare.
  3. Slice the top two inches off a a giant loaf of bread and hollow out from the top, reserving the “bread cap.”
  4. Stuff one of the steaks into the bottom of the hollowed-out bread, then add a layer of cooked bacon, the ton of duxelles, the other steak and the bread cap.
  5. Wrap it tightly in thick paper and weigh it down with something that weighs at least as much as a Fat Lady. No, don’t do that, you’ll kill your sandwich, it’ll be flat mush. 20 pounds should suffice. 
  6. Unwrap, slice and serve after two or so hours of pressing. 

Crazy, right? Epic Mealtime-style shenanigans from two very polite, fat old English ladies. Needless to say, after witnessing that business I fell right asleep, exhausted from mentally processing the very possibility. 

Here’s another classic Two Fat Ladies episode, where deviled kidneys are prepared for a hearty English breakfast.

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