It’s been a while since I, your self-appointed geek chef, have bestowed any culinary oddities upon you, dear readers. I do hope you’ve managed to eat something in the meantime. This time, I’ll install a tap in Douglas Adams’ brain and serve up something cool and froody.
To say Douglas Adams was funny is like saying Bruce Lee was pretty good at punching people. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, overflowing with Adam’s innovative approach to space adventure and philosophical absurdity, is among the most beloved works of science fiction and a high water mark in humor writing. One could argue that Bruce Lee was the Douglas Adams of kung fu.
P.G. Wodehouse, the Pai Mei of British humor and a big influence on Adams, could make eating toast hilarious. Food, in the Hitchhikers’ series, is also used for comedic reasons, but beverages feature more prominently (would that be comedic or bebidic?). In most cases of the series’ food or drink his descriptions fall short of particulars of flavor or texture, presenting silly names but seldom much else. Novels, radio programs and screen adaptations were enough for Adams, it seems. A cookbook was not a priority.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe star menu item is sentient and suicidal beef, giving a whole new meaning to the words self-serving. But there’s really no way to make it at home without a genetics laboratory and a century or two to whip them up. I’ve opted instead for the Vegan Rhino Cutlet and two beverages. Drinks first.
The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (hereafter, PGGB) is the only beverage for which Adams provides a complete (and impossible) recipe. It goes as follows: Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit. Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V. Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzene is lost). Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it. Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qalactin Hypermint extract. Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Sprinkle Zamphuor. Add an olive. Drink . . . but . . . very carefully.
Other than an olive, none of these ingredients exist on Earth, or we’d have warranted a more colorful description than “mostly harmless.” Many attempts have been made to create an Earthly equivalent, but as is so often the case with scifi food and drink, the emphasis is not really on taste. The common method seems to be combining every bit of alcohol in your time zone and serving it with an olive. The effect is similar to a zero-gravity orgy with a rugby team. It’ll fuck you up fifteen ways. But flavor? Actual drinkability? Not so much.
For my take on the PGGB, I figured it should be delicious, strong, carbonated, slightly sweet and pretty odd. Despite the humorous list of ingredients Adams provides, I wanted to keep this fairly uncomplicated. I immediately thought of absinthe, given the “silver spoon” reference. Absinthe is potent, strange and now in many countries, legal. The downside of using absinthe is it is neither inexpensive nor commonplace. I didn’t relish the idea of going through a few bottles of Mata Hari at $70 or so each just to make a decent cocktail. I could have compromised and used Pastis, sort of absinthe’s less expensive stunt double. But I decided to make my own mock-absinthe for testing purposes, and get a bottle of the real stuff at the end. The fake stuff and the real don’t match perfectly when tasted one after the other; no question, the real stuff has far more complexity and depth of flavor. Far as I'm concerned, it's well worth the money. Still the fake ain’t bad as an absynthetic.
To make imitation absinthe, get one liter of vodka, 10 star anise, two tablespoons fennel seeds and a few green Skittles (optional). Crush the spices and add them to the vodka. Use cheap vodka. No need to break out the Grey Goose for anything involving Skittles. Let it steep at least 2 days, throw in the Skittles and give the bottle a quick swirl. Strain with cheesecloth and, if you want to, pour into a bottle upon which you’ve written “Le Fée Faux” with a fat green crayon.
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
1 ounce (or more) Absinthe, Pastis, or my fake stuff
1 ounce brandy
4 ounces chilled club soda
1 teaspoon cardamom-infused honey
Various oddities to garnish (see below)
To make cardamom honey, warm 1/4 cup honey to near-simmer and remove from heat. Open two cardamom pods and add to the honey. Let it steep until the honey is room temperature. This makes enough cardamom honey for a few drinks.
Mix alcohols and honey (careful not to add any seeds). Add club soda and stir gently. Is it the strongest drink in the universe? Hardly. But to quote Dave Chappelle, “It’ll get ya drunk!”
In the photo, for some reason it looks a lot lighter colored than it really was. Funny lighting, I guess. I’ve kept the presentation simple, but I think you can let your imagination run wild with this. Break out your strangest glassware, illuminate with submersible rave toys, garnish with dolphin-shaped swizzle sticks, you name it. You can serve it with an olive, for reasons of tradition, but under no circumstances mix it into the drink. And don’t forget your towel.
While working on the fake absinthe, I discovered something interesting. If you add two chopped prunes, a couple walnuts, a bay leaf, and a pinch of fennel seeds to four cups boiling water, allow it to steep for a few minutes, strain and drink, it tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
Vegan Rhino Cutlet
4 large Portabello mushrooms
1 green onion
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup red wine
Vegan can mean non-lacto-ovo vegetarian or of the Alpha Lyrae star system. I’m guessing Adams meant the latter, but either way it’s funny.
There are many foods which, to a vegan, taste meaty. To a carnivore, they taste nothing at all like meat. Best among the pseudomeats is the Portobello mushroom, which is flavorful and satisfying and you can eat it right in front of a PETA member without getting paint thrown on you.
To make a Vegan Rhino Cutlet, remove and discard the stems from 4 large Portobellos. Cut the edges to make it sorta kinda polyhedral. Lightly score the tops with a sharp knife to make small squares. This is purely to make it look a little more odd and less obviously mushroomy. Lightly brush the mushrooms with oil, place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes. While that cooks, dice the bits you cut off the mushrooms, add one minced green onion. In a small sauce pan, bring a cup of red wine to a simmer and add the mushroom and onion bits and sugar. Allow this to reduce by half at least. The mushrooms in the wine will absorb a great deal. When the mushrooms in the oven are done, scoop a tablespoon or so of the wine-shrooms put it in a little heap on a plate, adding the cutlet on top of it. This will help the cutlet-shroom buckle somewhat, making it look a bit more peculiar (plus, when you cut into it, the absorbed wine will bleed out onto the plate…a nice effect!). Drizzle some of the wine reduction over the cutlet and serve.
It looked lonely on the plate, so I added a cucumber salad. I mean, um, grated Arcturan Mega-Donkey. Yeah. All you do is peel a cucumber, then use the peeler to cut wide, thin slices. Do this all around, down to where the seeds start. Then cut the slices into vermicelli-like strands, toss with a splash of olive oil and about 1/2 a teaspoon minced picked ginger.
In the next Science Fiction Cuisine post, I’ll make something really surprising. That is, just as soon as I surprise myself with an idea for what to make.