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.
- 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.
- Grill two enormous steaks medium-rare.
- Slice the top two inches off a a giant loaf of bread and hollow out from the top, reserving the “bread cap.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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