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Devonian Avenue: Trilobite season at Dirk's!

Devonian Avenue: Trilobite season at Dirk's!
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  • Devonian Avenue: Trilobite season at Dirk's!

    Post #1 - April 1st, 2006, 12:15 am
    Post #1 - April 1st, 2006, 12:15 am Post #1 - April 1st, 2006, 12:15 am
    Image

    One of my favorite books about food, though it's rare that I actually get a chance to cook the things in it, is Piers Egmont de Hoyden’s The Evolution of Cuisine, From Cambrian to Recent Times (1961). De Hoyden was one of those colorful characters of the period between the wars, explorer, globetrotting reporter (Istanbul correspondent for, of all things, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer), professional faro player, hunting companion of everyone from Kemal Ataturk to Tallulah Bankhead, and occasional dabbler in military adventures which invariably ended badly for whoever paid him (which may have been the intention of whoever was really paying him).

    Culinarily, de Hoyden was writing at a time when much of the world was still uncharted territory, and it was by no means uncommon for a food that had been presumed extinct for 65 million years to turn up in, say, a South African fish market, as the coelacanth did in 1938. Perhaps bored with the sameness of international (for which read classical French) cuisine in the hotels and restaurants of the day, de Hoyden set out to rediscover and reconstruct historical and even prehistoric cuisine, traveling the world in order to sample delicacies otherwise unknown to the palate of modern man. Not only did he taste and describe dishes such as okapi, ninki-nanka, and Przewalski’s horse which practically no one else has ever eaten, before or since, but his vast and discerning background as a worldwide connoisseur allowed him to make well-informed guesses as to how these rare creatures would have been prepared and served in ancient times. As he writes in the introduction to The Evolution of Cuisine, in a passage that strikingly anticipates many of today’s chefs such as Alice Waters with its preference for local ingredients:

    P. E. de Hoyden wrote:Their lives may well have been nasty, brutish and short, in Hobbes’ famous equation; yet precisely because their provender was so limited to what grew immediately at hand, they enjoyed a sympathy with what nature offered which produced diets of a balance and harmony almost unknown today... Cuisine is yet an art rather than a science, yet like a science, it follows certain ineluctable rules, and given a fixed set of local fauna and vegetative materiél, the proper and taste-pleasing dishes which would have been constructed from those preconditions are as obvious and assured as the channels into which a river, once dammed, will flow.


    Image
    De Hoyden on expedition in Tanzania, 1940.

    What's interesting about reading de Hoyden, despite the sometimes musty prose, is this palpable sense of a lost world, and the spirit of adventure he has for eating things few even know exist. Some of these things he was plainly able to try (the mammoths found frozen in pristine condition in Siberia, for instance), some of them are more dubious (one wishes in vain for a "before" photograph of, say, Yeti amandine or giant squid a la Grecque), and some he almost certainly must be hypothesizing about, based on modern-day descendants of presumably similar flavor (such as Megatherium chops in conifer sauce or Allosaurus George V). But always his encyclopedic knowledge of both prehistoric life and fine dining combines to make absolutely delectable-sounding dishes out of anything he talks about, no matter how early it is on the evolutionary scale-- as well as what wine would go best with it, and which fork one should use to eat it.

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    * * *

    So it should be no surprise that I immediately thought of de Hoyden when I was passing by Dirk’s on Tuesday and saw this on the board:

    Image

    Trilobites! One of many rare sea creatures de Hoyden discusses; I entered Dirk’s excited, but hardly surprised, that trilobite had turned up after all this time. As perhaps the most numerous species of the Cambrian through Permian eras, it has long been suspected that at least a few species of trilobites survived the Permian extinction in some dark corner of the sea, and indeed reports of trilobite-like creatures have turned up from Asia and South America on numerous occasions over the years. But it was a surprise to learn that these had turned up almost in our own backyard:

    Image

    Dirk explained that these were cave trilobites which had been found in saltwater aquifers near the proving grounds of the Nevada desert. At $30 per pound, I hesitated. It was a substantial investment to make when I wasn’t even sure how to cook them (Dirk’s suggestion of sushi was less appealing to me, at least for my first time). But he assured me that as proto-crustaceans, they would work very well cooked in a manner similar to lobster. Simple and delicious, he said.

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    I went back and forth, nearly buying a red snapper instead, but finally I decided, what, I was going to wait another 245 million years? If I didn’t buy them now, and he didn’t get any more in, I’d always regret it. De Hoyden would look down on me from the great brasserie in the sky, shaking his head at my timidity. I took both, paying almost $90 for what I figured would be the experience not merely of a lifetime, but of an epoch.

    Image

    As we prepared to wrap them up, the living creatures started to wake up away from the bed of ice, and Dirk set one of them on the floor. Even sluggish as the creature was, it was thrilling to watch its row after row of tiny appendages move in unison to propel the trilobite toward escape.

    Image

    Once home, though, I was presented with a dilemma. De Hoyden had three recipes for trilobite-- trilobite ordovician-style, trilobites on the half-shell with glossopteris aspic, and trilobites Gondwanaland-- and in all three he expresses intense opposition to exactly what I had been considering, serving them lobster-style with butter and lemon, since of course neither citrus fruits nor mammals capable of producing dairy had come into existence by the time trilobites disappeared. I scoured my neighborhood for some coniferous plants and managed to pull together enough fronds to make a decent broth and to set in the pot for boiling the trilobites. De Hoyden's typical accompaniment was crinoid stems, chopped and lightly sauteed in palm oil, which is reasonably close to the vegetable oils found then. Just in case no one liked the trilobite, I also made green beans and a potato galette. As I set the wriggling trilobites into the lobster pot, I hoped they weren't the last of their kind-- it would have been a shame to have lasted this long, only to go extinct in my kitchen!

    The flesh came easily out of the shells after cooking, and plated nicely.

    Image

    And was followed by a fern-infused creme brulee.

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    So how did the family like the trilobites? The texture was somewhere between lobster and scallop, less firm, but more than merely squishy. It has an oyster-like flavor of the sea, and also a sweetness which the slightly bitter crinoid stems set off nicely. At these prices I wouldn't eat trilobite every day, but if Dirk gets them again next season, I'd certainly think about giving them another try, perhaps with one of de Hoyden's other recipes. Oh, and the kids ate theirs with a historically-inappropriate ketchup, and liked it just fine:

    Image

    Thanks, Piers, for the recipe, and thanks to Dirk's for giving me the chance to try trilobite for the first time in 245 million years.

    Dirk's Fish
    2070 N. Clybourn
    773-404-3475
    http://www.dirksfish.com/dirks/whatsnew.htm
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #2 - April 1st, 2006, 9:44 am
    Post #2 - April 1st, 2006, 9:44 am Post #2 - April 1st, 2006, 9:44 am
    Hey isnt today April 1st, Nice one.
  • Post #3 - April 1st, 2006, 12:28 pm
    Post #3 - April 1st, 2006, 12:28 pm Post #3 - April 1st, 2006, 12:28 pm
    Are you in with SushiGaijin in this hoax?

    http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=7793
  • Post #4 - April 1st, 2006, 12:36 pm
    Post #4 - April 1st, 2006, 12:36 pm Post #4 - April 1st, 2006, 12:36 pm
    Nancy Sexton wrote:Are you in with SushiGaijin in this hoax?

    http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=7793

    Hoax? The above looks delicious, as did Sushi Gaijin's dish at Volo. In fact, I going to Dirk's in a couple of minutes for Trilobites.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #5 - April 1st, 2006, 2:45 pm
    Post #5 - April 1st, 2006, 2:45 pm Post #5 - April 1st, 2006, 2:45 pm
    Hoax? With all this photographic evidence? I suppose this is a hoax too then:

    http://www.dirksfish.com/dirks/whatsnew.htm

    The truth is out there, folks.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #6 - April 1st, 2006, 8:19 pm
    Post #6 - April 1st, 2006, 8:19 pm Post #6 - April 1st, 2006, 8:19 pm
    Im glad u enjoyed them! :D Haha! April Fools!!!!!
    fooddevil
  • Post #7 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:29 am
    Post #7 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:29 am Post #7 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:29 am
    HI,

    Interesting to note there are Trilobite recipes where they suggest the following:

    *If trilobites are out of season or extinct in your area, shrimp or crawfish may be substitued.


    It is rather pleasant to have an exotic food stuff compared to lobster, shrimp or crawfish rather than the ubiquitous chicken.

    Wonderful that your children will eat anything put before them.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #8 - April 2nd, 2006, 7:41 am
    Post #8 - April 2nd, 2006, 7:41 am Post #8 - April 2nd, 2006, 7:41 am
    Wonderful that your children will eat anything put before them.


    With ketchup, and the threat of dessert withheld, that is...

    Liam is still at the age where we often have this conversation:

    "You have to eat three bites."

    "No, four, because I'm four."

    That's why I won't let him buy a used car.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #9 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:01 pm
    Post #9 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:01 pm Post #9 - April 2nd, 2006, 12:01 pm
    It actually looked like a VERY NICE hoax. Quite enjoyable.

    Just looks like you can take a wrench to their eyes. Husband can't quite remember the name but there are some kind of bolts with ball bearings in them, he's quite certain that's what the eyes are made of...

    Besides, why didn't the Discovery thing about the Nevada caves mention anything bigger than spiders and caterpillars.

    Nancy
  • Post #10 - April 2nd, 2006, 1:34 pm
    Post #10 - April 2nd, 2006, 1:34 pm Post #10 - April 2nd, 2006, 1:34 pm
    Nancy Sexton wrote:It actually looked like a VERY NICE hoax. Quite enjoyable.


    Definately NOT a hoax. I really enjoyed my quail and trilobyte at Volo last night! I didn't eat the eyes though. I agree, they are not very appetizing.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #11 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:10 pm
    Post #11 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:10 pm Post #11 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:10 pm
    Mike,

    Does de Hoyden give any recipes for Archaeoraptor liaoningensis which definetely would taste like chicken?

    -ramon
  • Post #12 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:38 pm
    Post #12 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:38 pm Post #12 - April 2nd, 2006, 5:38 pm
    I think he said it tastes like ugly chicken.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #13 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:37 am
    Post #13 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:37 am Post #13 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:37 am
    Where can I find the book you quote, The Evolution of Cuisine: From Cambrian to Recent Times?? I cannot locate the book nor the author on google nor can I on any rare book websites.
  • Post #14 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:39 am
    Post #14 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:39 am Post #14 - April 3rd, 2006, 9:39 am
    I found my copy in the library of an abandoned lamasery while on expedition in the Islets of Langerhans. It's a very rare volume.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #15 - April 3rd, 2006, 10:50 am
    Post #15 - April 3rd, 2006, 10:50 am Post #15 - April 3rd, 2006, 10:50 am
    I've booked tickets for tomorrow. And am investing in scuba gear to find the trilobites which frequent the waters around the sacred isles protected by the Umfeces tribe.
  • Post #16 - April 3rd, 2006, 6:17 pm
    Post #16 - April 3rd, 2006, 6:17 pm Post #16 - April 3rd, 2006, 6:17 pm
    Well, I suppose this has run its course so it's time to roll the credits:

    Thanks to Dirk and the others at Dirk's Fish for taking my joke and running way beyond my expectations with it; I just hoped to take a couple of pictures of my trilobites in their case but within moments Dirk was making up a sign and looking up the Latin name for one species on the Internet. While there I picked up a gorgeous red snapper (which they prepped for me) and that's what we actually had for dinner that night, baked in a salt crust:

    Image
    "I'm a little freaked out by holding a fish."

    Image

    The kids thought that was really cool. (My picture of finished trilobite was some skate I made months ago, also from Dirk's.)

    Also thanks to Sushigaijin and Volo, who ran with the gag in their own direction and did a great job with it (that Nevada link was a great find). April Fool's, it's the holiday that keeps on giving!

    And finally, thanks to the real Piers Egmont de Hoyden.

    P.S. No hardware parts were used in the construction of clay trilobites.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #17 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:37 pm
    Post #17 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:37 pm Post #17 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:37 pm
    Thank you, Mike G, for creating an April 1 gift worthy of culinary infamy. I stack heaps of praise at your kitchen door step.

    I ask that you share a bit more, though. How did you create the trilobite replica? I know it was not manufactured. Whence came the name de Hoyden (the newspaper article)? The participation of Dirk's and Volo is unprecedented. Howst?

    I can go on, you know better than I the salient parts, we care about the answers.

    -ramon
  • Post #18 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:54 pm
    Post #18 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:54 pm Post #18 - April 3rd, 2006, 8:54 pm
    Ramon,

    Some mysteries are shrouded in the same fog as apparently claimed the life of Piers Egmont de Hoyden in 1964 while on an expedition in Peru to have buffalo pterodactyl wings.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #19 - April 4th, 2006, 10:25 pm
    Post #19 - April 4th, 2006, 10:25 pm Post #19 - April 4th, 2006, 10:25 pm
    Women fight for...Piers Egmont de Hoyden!

    http://members.aol.com/Tabarez/Fight.html
  • Post #20 - April 4th, 2006, 10:27 pm
    Post #20 - April 4th, 2006, 10:27 pm Post #20 - April 4th, 2006, 10:27 pm
    King's Thursday!

    He's a bit too intense for me!

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #21 - April 10th, 2006, 7:05 am
    Post #21 - April 10th, 2006, 7:05 am Post #21 - April 10th, 2006, 7:05 am
    This is NOT an April Fool's gag:

    I got an email from a guy in England who said the trilobite threads here had been passed along to him by a paleontologist friend. He is putting together an anthology of science fiction stories about extinct creatures surviving to the present day, to be titled Creatures That Time Forgot and published by PS Publishing in the UK on some almost geologically long time frame a few years from now. Anyway, he has asked me for the reprint rights to my original post, and so it will eventually appear in the same volume as stories by everyone from Conan Doyle and Ray Bradbury to... what else... Howard Waldrop's The Ugly Chickens.

    Mmm, ugly chicken...
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #22 - April 10th, 2006, 3:19 pm
    Post #22 - April 10th, 2006, 3:19 pm Post #22 - April 10th, 2006, 3:19 pm
    Damn! This is SOOOO exciting! It's now clear *exactly* how it was done. There are some exciting new meats in our future, that's absolutely for sure.
    http://www.economist.com/science/displa ... id=6740040

    Trilobites are clearly only the first step!!

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #23 - April 10th, 2006, 3:22 pm
    Post #23 - April 10th, 2006, 3:22 pm Post #23 - April 10th, 2006, 3:22 pm
    I met Paolo Fril once, when I was trying to authenticate some paintings by Fra Lipo Lo.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #24 - April 10th, 2006, 7:42 pm
    Post #24 - April 10th, 2006, 7:42 pm Post #24 - April 10th, 2006, 7:42 pm
    Mike G--

    What an amazing co-incidence!! My then-wife was quite an amateur of Fra Lipo Lo's work and the year that I post-docked at Oxford she tried to take a seminar from one of his disciples in iambic-pentametric perspective. Unfortunately, all the accolytes got there first and there was no room for her. What a pity.

    I suppose Dr. Fril put the arm on you for a contribution? He was always quite outré about that.

    BTW, after some sober second thoughts, I'm not so sure that Dr. Fril's techniques will always result in such breakthroughs as the trilobyte. Take for example, the griffon. Given its avian lineage on the maternal side, what would lead us from thinking that, perhaps, it wouldn't taste like... well, to be blunt, *chicken*??

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)

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