for the small appetite

I’ve been collecting little bits of papers, restaurant bills, recipe reminders and other culinary snippets for more than a year now, but was never quite ready to make the plunge. Things are settling, though:

After a fulfilled Postdoc in Southampton, I’ve changed scenery again,

moving away from here:

back to here:

(to be fair, the pictures were taken at different times of the year. But note that the first picture is black-and-white, while the second one is in full color)

I’m now in the last phase of writing up my research, which slowly lifts the lid off other plans that have been hissing and steaming in the background: the time has come to remember all the things yummy I encountered in the past two years. Or not so yummy…

Out of chronology, merely because it’s highest on my pile, I will return to the old military city of Kristianstad (where for reasons unknown all the restaurants that I have reviewed earlier have now vanished).

So there I was again on a Saturday evening, trying to find a place to eat in a city that is in the midst of constructing new government quarters. Half the town center, or more precise, the entire rådhuskvarteret, except its facades (because the renaissance character of the city must be underlined, says the City’s chief architectural designer), has been torn down. In its stead there is now a pit of great squareness, deepness and blackness.

After a slight detour around the abyss (why does all this remind me of the Lord of the Rings?), our company located the promising bistro Aptit (Appetite) in the venerable Kronhuset on the main square of the city. On entering, one is greeted by a friendly and competent waitress and invited to white tables with a decent setup of glasses, well lighted, and without too much musical interference. To sit there and converse is in fact possible.

My company of three orders various kinds of fish, and I choose the breast of corn-fed chicken. The southern province of Skåne has some excellent chicken farms and I am curious.

What I get is a nicely looking arrangement of chicken, Madeira sauce, quartered, deep-fried potato and some veggies. I should however mention the size of the portion, which consists of about half a side of a medium-sized chicken breast, with its skin, a tablespoon and-a-half of brown sauce, the equivalent of one and a half medium-large potato and about half a cup of greenery (at the point of writing I see that they offer a grilled corncob instead. Logical, in April…). Some random comparisons: a regular fish and chips over the counter at Bitterne triangle in Southampton is about three times as much in volume and a fifth of the price of my chicken (and almost inedible, it must be said). In American terms (whether we like it or not), we’re talking here about an appetizer-sized portion at its smallest; in Germany, it would be an item from the children’s menu. A large organic chicken from the store for two thirds of the price of my portion contains easily eight times the meat I’m having on my plate, plus wings, bones for soup and scraps for Rillettes. Swedish gastronomy, in short, is most of all about economy.

My company being jolly about the nice atmosphere and happy with their fish, I decide to make a friendly face and to chew thoroughly. It is a helpful trick.

I know these breasts of corn-fed chicken with their skin from the grocery store. My curiosity extends in fact to how it has been prepared, because there is that hitch with the skin: if you grill the breast until the skin is crisp, the meat gets too dry. Conversely, if you sauté or grill the meat to perfection, the skin stays soft and pale, and quite unattractively goose-pimpely.

As it turns out, the kitchen gang of Aptit is more interested in getting the meat right, but cares little about the lacking appeal of the skin, which in its limpness turns out to be pretty superfluous, reminding me awkwardly of well-meant Sunday experiments by inexperienced home cooks. I am not learning anything new, in other words. The quality of the meat in itself, however, is excellent.

How is the sauce? It should not be too challenging to produce a splash of Madeira sauce when you just have created bits of grilled or sauteed chicken. You already have the cooking residues, you may need to add some stock or fond, but not much, some butter, cream – well, and a dash of Madeira, one would guess. For the best result, some tweaking with a few further ingredients may be required, until a rich and satisfying taste has been achieved. The procedure and ingredients can be tested and standardized before an item is put on the menu.

What here apparently got standardized instead seems to be some I-learned-this-at-restaurant-school approach, with an unbalanced and bland result. Whoever is responsible seems to have not much of an idea about how to achieve the fullness and depth of a great sauce (not so hard if one actually concentrates while making it), and no concept of how a sauce can enhance the experience of the meat with which it is served. So here’s the flop – one that none of the garnishes can help to save: the sauce simply doesn’t fly at all, and it stays so no matter how carefully I chew my tiny portion.

Maybe it was not so smart to order a humble breast of chicken in a restaurant that boasts offering only freshly cooked, locally produced, organic ingredients, produces its own béarnaise sauce to accompany well-hung steak, and has two different kinds of fresh fish permanently on the menu. I don’t know. I would think that that even a poor organic corn-fed chicken deserves a little more attention.

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