Sunday, January 26, 2014

Le sot sauvage


Sometimes, you know, you let the family fend for itself for dinner. (I declare sometimes they prefer it. Yay! microwaved hot dogs on a paper plate! And then we can do what we want.)

In my case, fending meant a sandwich of last night's leftover roast chicken, on nice store-bought wheat bread -- I say, wheat bread -- with mayonnaise and a little salt. And potato chips. And a little glass of 2007 Sutter Home sauvignon blanc, at something like $8.99 a one-and-a-half liter (jug) bottle.

In spite of all this ordinariness there is something important about a leftover roast chicken, or indeed about any roast chicken, and that is that of course you will want to find in it, if you have not done so already, the delicacies: the oysters. Madeleine Kamman, in The New Making of a Cook, explains. The "oysters" of any poultry are "the delicious little nuggets of meat located in the two depressions of the lower backbone located just above the tail. ... in French they carry the descriptive name of sot-l'y-laisse, meaning 'a fool leaves it there.' " (Our English word sot, meaning drunkard, derives from this French word for fool.)

It's a bit tricky to photograph the back end of a chicken, upside down, so as to get a look at the depressions where the oysters are, without all of it looking kind of repulsive. But here goes. The hollow on the left has already been harvested; over the small ridge of bone to its right is the remaining oyster.



You may savor these on their own when the chicken is hot from the oven, if you don't mind being quietly selfish about it and not sharing them with the family. They are so tender and scrumptious that hiding them in a sandwich next day seems an injustice. Madeleine Kamman recommends saving the oysters from any chicken, turkey, or duck before cooking the whole bird, and freezing them until you have enough to make a stew just of sot-l'y-laisse. I've never had the patience for that yet.

As for the Sutter Home jug sauvignon blanc? It was rather agreeable. Karen MacNeil in The Wine Bible writes that what you are looking for in a sauvignon blanc is bound up in the meaning of that French word, too -- sauvignon, from sauvage, "wild." She says, "it's a fitting name for a vine that, if left to its own devices,would grow with riotous abandon. Riotous can also describe sauvignon's flavors. These are not nicely tamed tastes. Instead, straw, hay, grass, meadow, smoke, green tea, green herbs, and gunflint charge around in your mouth with wonderful intensity."

Wonderful intensity does not jibe too well with "rather agreeable." My notes, in which I try to capture first impressions, mention kiwi, white grape, apple -- the burnt-popcorn afterburn of oak (?) -- acidity. Perhaps Sutter Home's California climate and rich soil lead, as so often they do, only to flaccid wines from this noble grape that otherwise thrives in chillier Bordeaux and especially in the Loire valley (where it makes Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume) and in New Zealand. MacNeil points out that "many California winemakers go out of their way to downplay" sauvignon's character, fermenting it in oak barrels and generally striving to create a soft, "fig and melon," chardonnay-style wine. Why? Because the American wine drinker does not want to taste in his glass the ultimate efflorescence of a good sauvignon blanc, and that, it seems, sometimes actually approaches cat pee. She is not the only authority to use this descriptor. They all do it. Sauvignon blanc is fun that way. I must pause to wonder -- how did wine writers describe the wine in a more genteel age, when no one in his senses used such vulgarity in print? Is this what "gooseberries" used to mean (another sauvignon simile)?

A final, small note of trivia about those oysters. In the enchanting movie Amelie, the middle-aged man to whom Amelie first acts as a guardian angel is shown doing what he loves best, buying and roasting a chicken once a week, and once a week faithfully digging down into it -- a cumbersome approach, surely -- for the precious oysters. At the end, he happily shares them with a new-found grandson. Really, he's sauvaged-ly generous.

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