Saturday, October 09, 2010

CHATTER 30 What's in a Name

English is a great language. It includes an immense number of words. It's full of oddities and lends itself wonderfully to every nuance of expression from poetry to puns. Derived from Latin it has substantial contributions from many other languages. Many things are referred to by the name of the person first given credit for describing them, deserving or not. Usually this presents no great problem. There is no doubt what Pythagoras' theory is or exactly what Bell's palsy refers to but when it comes to gastronomy all this breaks down.
Chefs take it upon themselves to modify recipes at will but still retain the previous name of the dish. Furthermore it is rare to find an attribution to the origin of a recipe even if it is known. It helps if the recipe is actually named after a place e.g Weiner Schnitzel or after a person e.g. beef Stroganoff.
In Austria Weiner schnitzel is defined by law and must be made of veal but anywhere else in the world this legislation does not apply. Presumably deriving from the German word schnit, cut, it also has some relation to the English cutlet. Scnitzel may be, but usually isn't, referred to as Weiner style or similar. More often it is called after the meat used e.g. chicken schnitzel but frequently it appears on menus as Weiner schnitzel with meat some considerable age beyond veal. There is fairly general agreement as to prepare and cook scnitzel. Stroganoff is another matter.The first recipe for it appeared in a classic Russian cook book about 1860. It contained cubes of meat, sour cream and mustard but had no onion, no tomato and no mushroom. This has gradually changed over the years so that most recipes include mushroom and onion and some include tomato paste or even ketchup. Now it appears, courtesy of Masterchef in Australia at least, to have taken another leap using the classic Hungarian ingredient sweet paprika. Almost the only standard ingredient is the shaved meat and that wasn' t even in the original recipe. Julie Goodwin, winner of the competition last year, has a recipe on the I'net which even includes paprika and Worcester sauce.
It's time people called things what they are. If it's Joe Blows variation on a dish let's call it that.

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