Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not a mint julep

I'm not as involved with horse sports as I used to be (maybe I should make that "obsessed by") but I do at least try to make room for Kentucky Derby Day. This is a challenge because Derby Day is generally a week or two before the World Series of Birding, when birds are starting to arrive in earnest and scouting time is at an ever-increasing premium. This year, however, I managed to do my scouting in the morning and headed home afterward for the race and a good meal. Both race and meal turned out better than I could have hoped.

The meal was "Roasted Cornish Hens" (or hen in this case) from Ha Roda's A Vietnamese Kitchen (see my book review for Food, Bound) here. This was a simple marinate-and-roast recipe; the main quirk was covering the hen with foil during the roasting process in order to keep it moist and to contain the marinade flavor.

I took a small roasting pan, lined it with foil and put the thawed hen inside. The hen was marinated in the pan for three hours, with a turn of the fowl every hour. The marinade was composed of three tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce, two tablespoons hoisin sauce, a tablespoon of chopped ginger, two tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar, a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce, a teaspoon of chopped garlic, quarter of a cup of water and a sprinkling of cracked black pepper.

After the marination was done, I pulled the hen out of the fridge to sit at room temperature for half an hour. Then it was time to set the oven to 350 degrees F, add the hen and roast for 40 minutes. After baking for 40 minutes, I pulled the hen out, brushed it with a solution of one teaspoon honey and one tablespoon water, turned the oven to broil and returned the hen to the oven for 20 minutes, uncovered.

I've roasted Cornish game hens before, but this was by far the best result (not that the others were chopped liver, either). Maybe it was because the hen was covered with foil for the roasting part of the program. The meat was moist but not underdone; the skin was brown but not too crisp. The extra marinade pooled around the hen but did not burn during the baking process; I poured it off and saved it. This was very tasty and I'm sure I'll be making it again. Actually, I think "delectable" is really the word. It was one of those meals that works out so well it earns a place in the gallery of red-letter meals.

Enhancing my enjoyment of the meal was the result of the race. As I said above, I haven't been paying as much attention to horse sports in recent years. As a result, I hadn't realized that Michael Matz was now training racehorses. I remember Michael Matz as an Olympic show jumper and member of the U. S. Equestrian Team. He was a favorite, partly because he started riding relatively late and did not come from the stereotypical horsey family with tons of money. He gained further note by his actions in the wake of a plane crash in 1989, when he helped three unaccompanied children from the plane, then went back in to pull out a baby. Most of the country didn't know who he was before the crash, but it was nice to learn that he was a good human being, as well as being a good rider. You can read more about Matz's history in this article from The Blood-Horse.

Life went on and I became a birder (albeit a birder who casts lingering looks at any horses we may pass while on birding trips). I hadn't thought about Michael Matz recently, but that changed when I turned on the Derby broadcast and discovered that he was Barbaro's trainer. Normally, I wait for the post parade to pick a favorite. Not this time. If Michael Matz had a horse in the race, his horse was my rooting interest.

Barbaro went on to win the race in decisive and downright elegant fashion. The field was widely considered to be very strong, so that made his victory even sweeter. In the wake of that, probably the skimpiest TV dinner would've tasted like dinner at a gourmet restaurant. Luckily enough, I had a meal that was far better than that.

I love it when life comes together that way, even if for a brief shining moment only.

No comments: