Tag Archives: culture

Momo Moments in the East Village

31 Jul

Cafe Himalaya

“What made you choose this place?” I asked Eugene as our group convened at the Cafe Himalaya in the East Village.

“We’ve never had Himalayan food before,” was his response.

“Himalayan food?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean, Tibetan and Nepali food,” I said, pointing to what was written under the restaurant’s awning and on the menu.

“No Himalayan,” Eugene corrected me.

“But isn’t Himalayan food from Tibet and Nepal?” I queried.

“It is?”

“And didn’t you, several years ago, choose a place called Himalayan Yak?”

Eugene was perplexed. “I did?”

“Yes you did,” I said. “You don’t remember?”

He was lost for a moment and then waved his hand derisively. “How do you expect me to remember these things,” he snapped before quickly proceeding to bury his face in his menu.

This was our second attempt to get to the Cafe Himalaya. Our first, the previous week, was cancelled due to flooding on the Westchester roads. Everyone but Rick was available the following week so rescheduling was easy.

Seating was tight at the Cafe Himalaya. Zio was wedged so tightly between Mike from Yonkers and Eugene it was as if he was encased in a swarthy sausage casing. It didn’t help that the humidity was high and the lone air conditioner was struggling above the constantly opened front door.

Not much help there.

Not much help there.

Business was brisk, both outgoing and at the tables. Our harried waitress didn’t waste any time arriving at our table with pencil and pad in hand ready to take our order. Though we did visit a “Himalayan” place several years ago, Himalayan Yak (Yak Under the Tracks) did not have momos (dumplings) on the menu. Cafe Himalaya did, however, and we ordered two, one, pan-fried and stuffed with potato and the other, steamed and filled with ground chicken and herbs.

The café’s most popular dishes were written on the blackboard above the entrance to the kitchen and most of us ordered from there including myself when I ordered the tsel dofu, or vegetables and tofu in a spicy sauce.

Where the rest of us pointed to what we wanted on the menu or recited the corresponding number, Mike from Yonkers, in his best Tibetan, barked “Shapta,” to the waitress as she came to him for his order. But either she didn’t hear or she just wasn’t used to someone actually reciting the food they wanted to order.

“Shapta,” he repeated in a louder voice and this time she understood.

The momos came out first; the “tsel” or vegetarian, in my opinion, the better of the two. The chicken momo was an acquired taste and one I could not find it in myself to acquire. Despite our typically overwhelming hunger, there were momos left on our plates—a sign that at Himalaya Café the momos were mediocre.

Steamed chicken momos

Steamed chicken momos

When our entrees began to arrive the waitress called out “shapta.” I knew I didn’t order the shapta but no one was responding. She said it again and Mike from Yonkers waved his hand. “Shapta over here,” he said and she placed the platter of spicy, thinly sliced beef in front of him.

While Mike from Yonkers was examining his shapta, Eugene was quickly devouring the chicken curry, reminiscent, of Indian chicken curry but with the addition of yogurt giving the sauce a pinkish hue.

“How’s the Himalayan chicken curry,” I asked Eugene, not daring to sample any myself lest I risk getting speared by his rapidly plunging fork.

“It’s good,” he mumbled half-heartedly and then went back to silently devouring his food.

Shapta anyone?

Shapta anyone?

I wasn’t sure what it was Gerry ordered but noticed the pieces of white meat chicken and an abundance of broccoli.

“Chicken and broccoli?” I inquired

“Something like that,” Gerry said after a taste.

Zio’s  “chili chicken” pieces of thin, fried boneless chicken and vegetables, was, from my sampling, very much like Mike from Yonkers’ shapta; the same vegetable and sauce. Though advertised as spicy both dishes benefited by the additional zest provided by the restaurant’s hot sauce.

Spicy Dofu

Spicy Dofu

Crowds were beginning to mingle outside the tiny restaurant. Eyes were on our coveted table. I kept pace with the others as we made quick work of our meals.  Mike from Yonkers, however, crowds be damned, deliberately picked at his shapta, spooning small bits onto a few kernels of Basmati rice before shoveling it into his mouth. It was getting hotter inside the restaurant. Customers waiting for tables were hovering over ours.

“It’s time, Mike,” Eugene bellowed from Zio’s opposite side.

“All right, I’m done,” Mike from Yonkers announced, putting down his fork.

Our bill was quickly brought to us with the final result well under our $20 per person budget.

The view from our table.

The view from our table.

We sprawled out onto Houston Street and as we did, a group of eager Tibetan and/or Nepali food aficionados swooped in and took over our table for four where we had fit five. The momos weighed heavily in my belly. Sweat marks had formed under the armpits of Zio’s stylish extra extra large t-shirt. “Good job, Eugene,” he said. “But I have a question.”

“What’s that?”

“Do you have to wait for a table in Nepal?”

Eugene had no answer of course, but we could all clearly agree that our group of intrepid, yet slovenly diners, during our now 12 year run,  had yet to wait for a table anywhere in our cheap eats hot zone that encompassed, among other places, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers, and yes, even the rarefied streets of the East Village.

Cafe Himalaya

78 E. 1st St.

East Village

126th St Soul

23 May

soul3

To answer the question above: Yes, I am feeling hungry. My question is: Can my hunger be satisfied without conditions?

Today’s Special: Chicken and Waffles

4 Mar

Like you’ve never had them before.

chixwaf

Neckbones’ Rum Diary: The Polar Vortex Rum Route

27 Jan

Polar Vortex rum

We had been informed by those who know about such things that a Polar Vortex had descended on the city.  All I knew that it was very cold as I emerged from my car on barren 134th Street just off the Bruckner Boulevard. I was in what is known as the “Mott Haven” section of the Bronx. I know it as the south Bronx.

The wind was howling as I pushed open the non-descript heavy steel door and made my way up two flights to the world headquarters of the Tirado Distillery. I could hear music playing behind a closed door—disco from the 1970’s. I knocked. The music stopped. Dr. Renee Hernandez, the owner of, according to Dr. Hernandez, the Bronx’s first distillery since prohibition, was expecting me.

The Tirado Distillery sign

The Tirado Distillery door sign

The heat was on in the brightly lit room where folding tables and chairs held samples of the products made at the Tirado Distillery, but I was still cold. I was more familiar with rum among palm trees and sugar cane fields; often being whisked beach side to warm weather distilleries. Now, however, I was exploring that same spirit on grimy city streets within the grips of a polar vortex. I tried to keep an open mind as Dr. Hernandez offered me tasting sips of his products. I started with the corn whiskey.

“It’s organic,” Dr. Hernandez told me. “We get the corn from farms upstate.”

I winced at the taste, not that it was bad , but that I wasn’t quite ready for the bracing jolt it gave me.

“Bronx moonshine,” Dr. Hernandez called it. “It goes great in a ‘sex on the beach,’” he said.

I looked at him. He had to go and mention the beach?

I next tried the black rum. It was hearty; heavy-bodied in the style of what is known as Navy rums.

“I like to mix it with passion fruit juice,” Dr. Hernandez told me and I couldn’t argue. It needed something to cut its denseness.

“Where do you get your molasses for the rum,” I inquired. “Puerto Rico? The Dominican Republic? Jamaica?”

“New Jersey,” he answered.

I nodded, but said nothing.

“From International Molasses,” he added.

I understood but didn’t inquire further as to where New Jersey’s International Molasses got their molasses.

Finally I sampled the distillery’s “Maple Delight,” a blend of whiskey with a hint of local New York maple sugar. Surprisingly smooth, the Maple Delight was my favorite in the Tirado Distillery repertoire.

The sips had taken the chill off and Dr. Hernandez took me into the production facility down the hall which featured rows of plastic buckets used for fermentation, a few small stainless steel stills and boxes of empty bottles ready to be filled and labeled. From the loft-like facility, you could see the flickering lights of Manhattan.

Tirado's fermentation tanks.

Tirado’s fermentation tanks.

“We only produce around 300 bottles a year and concentrate on making our products clean and smooth. You won’t get a hangover from our rum or whiskey.” Dr. Hernandez proudly proclaimed.

I thanked him for the personalized tour and made my way back out into the cold. I got into my car and turned up the heat. The last time I made the rum rounds was on the island of Martinique. There are eleven rum distilleries on that French Caribbean island and the local tourist board promotes visiting them with what they call “la route des rhums.” Here in frigid New York, after Tirado Distillery, I had two more to visit. Would my escapade qualify as a route des rhums?

One of the distillery's on Martinique "route des rhums."

One of the distillery’s on Martinique’s “route des rhums.”

My next stop was Brooklyn and I soon found myself in an industrial, truck-crammed area similar to Mott Haven. I was in Williamsburg—or was it Bushwick—searching for my destination TNE (The Nobel Experiment)NYC, the distillery that makes another New York-produced rum called Owney’s. And I soon found it—the TNE NYC painted in big bold black letters above a graffiti-strewn steel door.

The door to TNE's headquarters.

The door to TNE’s headquarters.

On one of my tropical, beach-centric rum assignments many years ago I met Owen Tulloch, the master blender for J. Wray & Nephew’s Appleton Estate rums in Jamaica. At the time, the esteemed Mr. Tulloch was grooming his young associate, Joy Spence, in both the scientific and the sensory ways of blending fine rums. Soon after we met, Mr. Tulloch retired and Ms Spence became the spirit industry’s first female master blender.

Now, almost twenty years later, many miles north of the Caribbean during—I have to say it again— a polar vortex, I was greeted by Bridget Firtle, the CEO and founder of TNE who is not only another female master blender of fine rum, but one who also operates every physical aspect of the rum making process as well as distribution. The Noble Experiment is literally a one-woman show.

What can you say about a young, up and coming Wall Street and hedge fund mover and shaker who gives up that potentially very lucrative, yet soulless career for one that , albeit risky, actually enriches others’ (speaking of my own) lives by following her passion and creating a beloved (by me) hand-crafted spirit in her polar vortex-challenged hometown? That is what Bridget Firtle has done and some might think that maybe inhaling too many alcoholic vapors might have compromised her career choice decision while others, me included, applaud her for chasing her dream.

The Noble Experiment, so named as a nod to one of the terms associated with Prohibition when rum running was the rage, was housed in an open, airy room where towering mashing tanks and copper pot stills glittered in the natural light that poured through the big windows. The machinery looked imposing to me, but Ms. Firtle learned to handle them all expertly enough to churn out 23,000 bottles in her initial 2012 batch, and to also earn Owney’s Rum, named in another nod to the Prohibition Era after notorious bootlegger, Cotton Club owner, and gangster, Owney Madden, a silver medal at the 2013 New York International Spirit’s Competition.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridgit Firtle.

Some of the machinery at the TNE Distillery run by Bridget Firtle.

Fortified with sugar cane molasses from Florida and Louisiana and made with that same coveted New York water that is credited with making New York bagels and pizza so good, Owney’s is a smooth white rum. The sip offered me at the handsome wood burnished bar in the lobby of the distillery reflected that distinctive water; clean enough to enjoy on the rocks with a wedge of lime or, even better, as the soul of a classic daiquiri. Firtle’s own experiment is not only noble, but very impressive and though Wall Street might be the “poorer” for losing her talents, the New York rum establishment, such as it is, is much richer for it.

Polar Vortex Rum

I wasn’t far from the next stop in my urban rum route, also in Brooklyn, and even though I found my way to Red Hook, I wasn’t really sure exactly where I was going and what I was going to see. My interest was in Cacao Prieto rum, but did that mean I needed to go to the Widow Jane bourbon factory that was associated with Cacao Prieto, which was also, as its name connotes, a chocolate making enterprise. I noticed the colorful mural of workers harvesting sugar cane on the wall of a warehouse. I knew I had to be close and then around the corner saw the old brick building with the prominent “Cacao Prieto” sign on it. I was where I wanted to be. At least I thought I was.

Harvesting sugar can in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

Harvesting sugar cane in Red Hook during a Polar Vortex.

The doors were locked but a sign on it left a phone number to call to gain entry or to “knock loudly.” I knocked loudly. A man in worker coveralls opened up. I told him what my interest was. Another man, bearded and heavily tattooed with a roguish, Captain Jack Sparrow smile, introduced himself as Vince Oleson. “I’m a distiller,” he said.

A distiller at a rum distillery could certainly help me. And Mr. Oleson did. He took me past the American and French oak barrels, copper pot stills, through a small yard where live chickens roamed, and then to the fermentation tanks in a back room.  Oleson told me how the rum was made from organic sugar cane from Daniel Preston’s, the owner and founder of Cacao Prieto, family’s farm in the Dominican Republic where the cacao for the artisanal chocolate made at Cacao Prieto also came from. He explained how the water used was from the “Widow Jane” mine in the Catskills and packed with minerals adding even more depth to the finished product, and how the cacao beans were actually fermented with the white rum to create their signature and unique “Don Rafael Cacao Rum,” and “Don Esteban Cacao liqueur.”

I did a lot of nodding as Oleson schooled me in the Red Hook rum making process. It all sounded almost too impressive. No one ever emphasized the water during my various other Caribbean rum tours. No one blended organic cacao with organic sugar cane in Martinique, Jamaica, Barbados or any of the other rum-making islands I’d visited. But this was Brooklyn, home of the artisanal food movement: I should have known.

Polar Vortex Rum

After the tour, Oleson set me up at their tasting bar with samplings of a number Cacao Prieto’s rums including a small batch produced of what they call Widow Jane Rye rum, or rum aged in the oak barrels formerly used to age the company’s rye. The result was a subtle smoky flavor from the rye. “With this you could make a rum sazerac,” I said.

“Now that’s a great idea,” Oleson replied, again with the rougish, Jack Sparrow smile.

After that sip I was full of great ideas and it got even better when I sampled Cacao Prieto’s Don Rafael Cacao rum; the company’s smooth white rum infused with their own rich chocolate. But this wasn’t just chocolate, this was “cacao,” and the flavor was both intense and clean. Finally I sipped the white rum. Like Owney’s, it’s was fresh, fortified by that mineral-rich New York water and would work just fine on the rocks or in a lightly flavored drink like a daiquiri or even a French Caribbean Ti Punch.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

The Cacao Prieto Tasting Bar.

I let Mr. Oleson get back to work. There were rums to distill. My self guided route des rhums was over and I was stuck in traffic on the BQE. The windshield of my car was beginning to ice and I turned on the defroster. Now that my hometown had its own burgeoning rum making industry did I really need to travel all the way to those lush, warm tropical islands to experience what had been lacking here? As I pondered that question, there was more blather on the radio about the polar vortex.  By the time I crossed the Kosciusko Bridge into Queens, I pondered it no more.

On the Polar Vortex rum route.

The scenic Polar Vortex rum route.

Tirado Distillery
755 W. 134th St.
The Bronx
tiradorum.com

The Noble Experiment
23 Meadow Street,
Brooklyn
tneynyc.com

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
cacaoprieto.com

The Happiest of All Hours: Bronx Beer Hall

12 Nov

Bronx Beer Hall

“Happy hour is two for one,” the bartender, a woman in a black “Bronx Beer Hall” t-shirt told us as we settled into chairs at the bar in the relatively quiet Arthur Avenue Retail Market where the Bronx Beer Hall was located.

Despite the calm inside, Eugene was having trouble hearing. “Whats’ that?” he asked the bartender while bending over the bar, his hand cupped over his ear in a feeble attempt to hear her.

I was with the Westchester contingent; Gerry and Eugene of the Adventures in Chow City group for a pre-meal drink before one of our interim dinners at a restaurant a block up on 187th Street.

“She said it’s two-for-one,” I said to Eugene in a voice loud and clear enough so he could hear me.

“Buy one beer and you get the second free,” the bartender, who we later learned was a senior at nearby Fordham University, explained.

I was very familiar with the happy hour concept as was Gerry and, I’m sure, so was Eugene. Maybe it was the cavernous indoor market that made it hard for Eugene to hear. Or maybe it was just that he was old and nature was taking its course. I wasn’t far behind him in age, but I could hear the bartender clearly as well as the falsetto singing voice of Anthony Gourdine, also known as “Little Anthony,” as “I’m on the Outside (Looking In),” played in the background.

 

 

The beers on tap were mostly Bronx-made, which made me, even without tasting one, very happy. Some were made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company while others were from the City Island Beer Company.

One of the day’s specials was the “Kingsbridge Kolsch” made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company. I was given a sample and immediately after tasting the fragrant icy blonde I ordered a pint. “I’ll have one of those also,” Eugene told the bartender.

“Big Apple Cider,” Gerry said to her, also one of the blackboard specials.

“Cider?” I had never known Gerry to order cider, hard or not.

“It’s supposed to be good for gout,” he said.

I didn’t want to know more than that.

Kingsbridge Kolsch

Kingsbridge Kolsch

The beer was cold and delicious. We chatted with the bartender who, with the exception of only two other customers, had only our group to attend to.

“You get a lot of Fordham students in here?” I asked knowing the proximity to the Fordham campus and recalling my own now very distant college days and how loyal I was to the two-for-one institutions near my university.

She shook her head with a smile. “No, we are the only place around here that actually cards them.”

“You didn’t card us,” Eugene said, feigning outrage.

She smiled at his quip and then said, “We get people who come in here shopping. A lot of old people. Seniors…you know.”

Gerry looked at me. I looked at him. Was she going there to be funny or did she not know any better. Either way there was no need to dwell further on the Bronx Beer Hall demographic. My beer was empty. It was time for the second of the two for one.

I glanced at the t-shirts for sale in the t-shirt booth next to the bar. Most were Italian-themed with stereotypical slogans like “fuhgeddaboudit” and “Leave the gun, take the cannolis.” There was a whiff of tobacco coming from the adjacent cigar factory, La Casa Grande Tobacco Company. Our bartender wanted to know if we were interested in food from Mike’s Deli, one of the most popular spots within the market. We declined, telling her we were eating at a nearby restaurant.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

While we sipped the delicious Bronx beers, Eugene began reminiscing about the “old days,” back in White Plains and if we knew so and so who was once very pretty but, “you should see her now.”  And then he started talking about his recent 40th high school reunion including listing off several names of people unable to attend due to the fact that they were no longer alive.

I drained my second pint while over the loudspeakers in the now almost deserted market, the Crests were singing “Trouble in Paradise.” Another two-for-one round of Kingsbridge Kolsch was a temptation. I hadn’t eaten; more beer on an empty stomach would be a serious mistake.

Beer among the sausages.

Beer among the sausages.

“Where’s the bathroom in this place,” Eugene wondered out loud.

“I was gonna ask the same question,” Gerry said.

I looked at my empty glass; only a thin foamy head remained on the bottom of it. If I have learned anything over the years, it was to know my limitations.

“Follow me” I said

And that was that.

The Bronx Beer Hall
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
2344 Arthur Avenue
Bronx

 

 

Bread Update

6 Nov

I do my best at Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries to keep you informed on vital gastronomic matters here in New York and around the globe.  For anyone in need of bread, I came across this cryptic message.

Bread alertAs I research this developing story, stay tuned for further bread updates.

 

Pizza Interloper on Arthur Avenue

27 Sep

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, once a prominently exclusive Italian/American neighborhood, has over the past couple of decades, opened its welcoming arms to immigrants from other countries, in particular Albanians.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

You will also now find Mexican and Japanese restaurants nestled side by side and close to both an Italian cheese store and a dried sausage place where they co-exist peacefully.

arthur

But Arthur Avenue can be fickle about newcomers. Several years ago, McDonald’s made an attempt to infiltrate the block. Thankfully they were soundly rejected.

No love for McDonald's on Arthur Avenue.

No love for McDonald’s on Arthur Avenue.

And then a legendary downtown seafood joint, Umberto’s Clam House;  it’s legend born from the graphic and gruesome blood and tomato sauce murder of a famous mobster, tried to make it in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue on the site of what once was a live poultry store.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Umberto’s tenure on Arthur Avenue was longer than McDonald’s, but whether it was just because most people can’t name the mobster who was gunned down at the original Umberto’s it was so long ago, or that the ghosts of thousands of butchered chickens have cursed the location, it is now gone, replaced by a “Mediterranean” restaurant.

So today, with so many very good, established pizza options on the block…

IMG_4299

 

IMG_4302

IMG_4301

IMG_4291

 

 

Cafe al Mercato

Cafe al Mercato

…should Arthur Avenue accept this new interloper from downtown?

IMG_4288

Can another pizzeria survive on this glutenous stretch of landscape?  Will the display of co-allegiance to the Garden State forever diminish the reputation of this fabled establishment? And finally, will the restrictive and somewhat haughty “no slices” policy be amended to reflect the open door sensibilities of the neighborhood?

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

And the Answer is…

16 Sep

 

 

 

Melons

IMG_4227And more melons.

Melon BurgerEqual a “Melon” burger

At…

J.G. Melon

 

On Friday you were challenged with trying to Name That Place. I thought the photo hints gave away this 40-plus year old Upper East Side institution. But I was wrong. You were stumped.

And what of that famous burger? Where does it rank on your New York burger meter?

 

And the Answer is…

22 Apr

On Friday I presented a series of photos and hints to spur your New York food knowledge on in this month’s edition of Name That Place. It seems I stumped more of you than I thought based on the lack of correct answers.

Here now, in another series of photos, is the puzzle unraveled.

First I was brought tea.

IMG_3795Next came egg rolls unlike any others.

The "original" egg rolls

They call their egg rolls “Original.” 

egg roll

But even an original egg roll tastes better with duck sauce.

Bonus points if you can also identify what I'm about to stuff into my mouth.

Where else can you get such an “original” egg roll in New York but the…

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Nom Wah Tea Parlor: est. 1920, the oldest Dim Sum establishment in Chinatown.

Nom Wah TeaAnd the answer to this month’s Name That Place.

Nom Wah

 

 

Your Gravy is My Sauce: A Concession to the Dark Side

2 Apr

Sauce

Sauce

In the latter quarter of the previous century when I was in college, my dorm buddies and I had many bong and beer fueled discussions.  Subjects ranged from who was the better detective, Kojak or Baretta, what was the best bathroom reading—and why, Penthouse or Hustler, or which album, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Steely Dan’s “Aja,” or Earth Wind and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World,” would make it into the top five of best albums of all time list (see the photo below for my pick).

Most of the time, the discussions remained semi-civil. When the subject was the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it could get very heated. In the hot category, though not as hot as the Yankees-Red Sox discussions, was the debate over sauce or gravy. For some reason, for the Italian-Americans I roomed with, myself included, calling tomato sauce gravy, or vice versa ignited personal passions that boarded on the irrational.

My grandmother immigrated to the States when she was 22 and settled in New Jersey. The sauce she made each Sunday with braciole, meatballs, sausage or any other meats that were around was called sauce or, as she would say, “sugo rosso.” So  I am clearly in the tomato sauce corner and, really, until I got to college, never could have imagined that what my grandmother made each Sunday could be called anything but sauce, much less something so…um…earthy…as “gravy.”

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla.

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla, throw up both my hands…

In the gravy corner were my friends from Massachusetts and New Jersey. The sauce contingent seemed to be from Connecticut and New York, where I was from.  How, I asked when I heard it for the first time, can you put gravy on pasta? Gravy, I always knew as something brownish in color and layered on turkey, roast beef, or meat loaf. This was an affront to my Italian-American sensibilities. The corruption of a basic known culinary term. A gross misuse of nomenclature.

“If you’re really Italian, you call it gravy,” was the insult that was thrown back at me when I confessed my disgust at the vulgarity.

“All I know is that my Italian grandmother calls it sauce…” I insisted.

“You sure she’s Italian,” someone cracked.

At that, a bong might be tipped over. And beer was definitely spilled.

“Come to Worcester and my Nonna will make you a nice gravy,” someone from Mass joked.

“Should I bring the mashed potatoes?” I would shoot back.

Gravy

Gravy

The arguments were endless and had no resolution.

“Oh, and one more thing,” a bleary voice from the sauce crowd would chime in. “The Red Sox most definitely suck.”

And just like that, we were onto another of our favorite topics.

Since those days, I’ve still maintained my allegiance to calling sauce what it is…sauce.  But over the years I’ve mellowed. I am no longer appalled when I hear someone mistakenly label what my grandmother referred to as sauce as gravy. I get it. It’s what the ill bred were taught. It wasn’t their fault. They were just poorly misinformed about worldly culinary matters.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

As I said earlier, my Grandmother made Sunday sauce with an assortment of meats; pork, beef, sausage, etc. But on a very rare Sunday when none of the above were on hand, she would make the sauce with chicken. Chicken in a Sunday sauce might seem like an anathema, but if you’ve never tried it don’t knock it. The flavor from the chicken, different from the usual meats, gives the sauce heartiness equal to what you might get from red meats but with a slightly smoother taste. It works and not only as an enhancement to the sauce, but also as a way to enjoy the chicken which, after slowly cooked, remains amazingly moist, the sauce practically absorbed into the meat itself.

As part of my willingness to be more accepting to those not as cultured as I, I’ve decided to make a concession by naming what most definitely is a sauce, as gravy. I hereby extend my magnanimity to those I spent countless wasted hours trading insults with and present here, as I sit on my hands so I don’t hold my nose, my recipe for—Pasta with Chicken Gravy.

Ingredients:

3 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

4 chicken parts (I used two chicken thighs, and two drumsticks, skin on and bone-in)

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

Two tablespoons of olive oil

Quarter cup of red wine

1lb of dried pasta (rigatoni, penne, ziti, preferable)

Salt and pepper to taste

You can make this sauce on the stove top, in fact, it’s probably the best way. If you don’t have the time to stick around the kitchen for hours, a slow cooker works and that’s how I made mine for this recipe. The result, I learned, was equal to what you would accomplish on top of the stove.

In a large frying pan, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil.

Season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. Drop into the hot pan and brown on each side. About two minutes per side. Once the chicken is browned, put it to the side.

Browning the chicken.

Browning the chicken.

Pour the crushed tomatoes into the slow cooker

Throw the garlic into the same frying pan you used for the chicken and cook on medium heat until just lightly brown; two to three minutes. If the pan is dry, add the other tablespoon of oil.

Scrape the oil and garlic into the tomatoes in the slow cooker. Return the frying pan to the stove, turn on to medium-high heat, add about a quarter cup of red wine to deglaze the pan.  Cook for about five minutes tops or until the wine cooks down.

Pour whatever liquid and bits from the chicken and garlic remain into the tomatoes in the slow cooker.

Add the browned chicken to the slow cooker.

The "gravy" is now ready to be cooked very slow.

The “gravy” is now ready to be cooked very slow.

Turn on high for one hour and then set to low for about six hours.

After six hours, if the sauce is too thin for your taste, remove the top, turn to high and cook for another hour or so with the top off until the sauce forms your preferred consistency.

Remove the chicken pieces to a separate platter.

Chicken Gravy (3)

Serve the sauce…I mean gravy…over your favorite pasta.

Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Enjoy, take a look at what’s in the bowl and keep repeating to yourself: “I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy.” Say it enough and you might even believe it.

Pasta with chicken gravy

Pasta with chicken gravy

 

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