Karen and I have been filling up our eReaders with free classics, forgotten novels, new releases, and classic pulp. After re-reading all of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, I just started working my way through Ian Fleming’s James Bonds.
You can really feel the passage of time, reading these 60 years on. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond stays at the Astor Hotel in New York (torn down in 1968). He rejoices that Felix Leiter is taking him to an air-conditioned restaurant: Sardi’s. Back in 1956, not all restaurants were.
Bond’s gracious host Felix proceeds to order Bond a special meal.
“â€¦ I’ve taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola,” said Leiter. “This is one of the best places in town for beef, and Brizzola’s the best cut of that, straight cut across the bone. Roasted and then broiled. Suit you?” …
The smoked salmon was from Nova Scotia, and a poor substitute for the product of Scotland, but the Brizzola was all that Leiter said, so tender that Bond could cut it with a fork.
These days, of course, a fellow can look up Brizzola on the Internet, and not just wonder at Ian Fleming’s savoir faire versus one’s own ignorance.
And one finds that one is not alone in wondering about this mysterious dish.
Peter Morwood writes:
Bond writer Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion describes it as a fictional invention by Fleming. One thing it certainly is not, was the only Italian form of meat with a similar name that I was able to find. Bresaola, though looking and sounding close to Brizzola, is neither roasted nor broiled but air dried and served in thin slices as an antipasto starter or snack.
This could have been on Sardi’s menu along with some other beef main course, and Fleming mixed them up. He did that in several books, with food, wine and even guns (but carried off his mistakes with such verve that these are the Bondian aspects he’s supposed to have been most knowledgeable about!) I suspect we’re back to that fir-cone situation, where Fleming was told something he’d never heard of before, and described it in terms that seemed most familiar to him. …
The Brizzola business of double-cooking made me think of that memorable dinner, not only roasting beef, but broiling it afterwards. One would think that would end up with seriously overcooked meat, but from Bond’s reaction, it clearly did no such thing. More to the point, a consultation of our cookbooks â€“ we have about 400, after the last cull â€“ suggest that “broiling” isn’t just a way to cook food, but also to finish it after another, longer cooking method. You can see the elements falling into place…
Then I encountered an Italian dish called Brasato di Manzo al Barolo, which is beef braised in (very good) red wine, then served in thick slices â€“ tranches, to use the old term. The slices are thick enough to pass under a seriously-hot commercial broiler to produce a burnt, crunchy finish without actually cooking the slice of braised meat any further, and whether this was done to the proper recipe or not, it sounded like a feasible way for a restaurant to put its individual spin on the dish.
Besides describing unfamiliar things in familiar terms, Ian Fleming, bless his little cotton socks, had (according to at least a couple of observers) no head for drink, and as a result his “research meals” for James Bond novels were often something of a mishmash of incorrect or illegible notes. I’ve even seen one source suggesting that Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” Martini â€“ which apparently contradicts the way in which every martini was made prior to that â€“ was a result of Fleming sampling far too many martinis, getting the method wrong, and then sticking to his guns afterwards. It doesn’t hurt that in his essay How to Write a Thriller he elaborates on how someone going against the grain like that makes for a more interesting character, which works for me. The only place it doesn’t work is that such behaviour makes said character stand out and become memorable â€“ both characteristics that a spy would do well to avoid.
It seemed to me that we’d found at least one likely candidate for “Brizzola.” Diane had other suggestions; that it might originally have been a deliberately-underdone rib roast cut between the ribs into individual portions like really large T-bone steaks, and finished on or under a grill. Alternately, it could have been a London broil sliced and finished in the same way, which is what I did to a fine piece of rump steak the other night, for my birthday dinner.
The meat had been marinating since Monday in olive oil, red wine, red wine vinegar, oregano, cracked pepper and crushed garlic. It was then slow roasted, frequently basted with the marinade, then cut into four thick slices and whizzed under the grill. Luckily our kitchen cooker has a very enthusiastic grill, if it’s allowed to preheat properly, so the end result was delicious.
And yes, you can cut it with a fork…!