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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pigs in blankets


The Kings of the Cocktail Hour Once Again

Published: August 30, 2006

PIGS in blankets? “They’re back with a vengeance!” said Sean Driscoll, an owner of the silver-tray catering company Glorious Food in Manhattan. Though they never disappeared from the bar mitzvah circuit (where they are often called franks in jackets, the way Katz’s Delicatessen, being kosher, labels them), they had been disparaged as a cliché for too many years. The classiest caterers kept their distance.

But now you can forget caviar and sushi. Without pigs in blankets, it seems, no black tie cocktail hour is complete. They are more than acceptable; they are again being seen for what they are: perfect finger food, delicious and surrounded by the same aura of affection enjoyed by all comfort foods.

Mr. Driscoll’s company served them in June for a formal garden party at the Museum of Modern Art and for 4,000 people at the Robin Hood Foundation benefit. Waiters passed them in July at a party for the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y.

“They’re acceptable guilt food,” he said. “They’re not like buying a hot dog from a street vendor, and besides, the pastry is a good blotter for alcohol.”

Helene Cisek, the catering director for Eli’s Vinegar Factory, said that pigs in blankets are always the first things to be “gobbled up” and that for catered parties they always plan to have extras on hand.

Sometimes the blanket itself is more like a fine quilt. The franks might be tucked into flaky puff pastry by establishments like Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel, and his catering company, Feast & Fêtes. At Daniel, guests can pluck pigs in blankets from an elaborate puff pastry dome that is fitted with holes to hold the tidbits.

Marcy Blum, a wedding and party planner, said they had become essential at parties again, like at the black tie wedding last week at Cipriani Wall Street.

And Serena Bass, the English caterer, said: “We might be talking about hors d’oeuvres made of quail and moulard duck breast something or other, and the client will clutch her neck and ask, almost sotto voce, whether they could possibly have pigs in blankets. It’s almost embarrassing because it’s all anybody wants. We literally serve them all the time.”

Ms. Bass makes hers with kosher cocktail franks, dusts the puff pastry with poppy seeds and varies the standard pot of Gulden’s mustard with dips like quince paste and homemade barbecue sauce. They were on the menu for a house party she catered for Microsoft last week in the Hamptons.

A few weeks ago they were even served at a reception after a memorial service for a member of the board at Lincoln Center. “The family requested them because the deceased loved them,” said José Fong, the director of catering for Restaurant Associates, which handled the event.

Because some still see them as trite, variations can make the difference. Nisa Lee, a caterer in Pelham, N.Y., who specializes in Thai, Moroccan and other international cuisines, said she liked to put a modern spin on them by using duck sausage, chorizo and andouille and by wrapping them in phyllo or wonton skins. “They’re a big hit, no matter what,” she said.

The concept of pigs in blankets, that is, sausage meat in pastry, is familiar, in one form or another, in many cuisines. Saucisson en croûte in France, toad in the hole in England and even pot stickers in China and empanadas in Argentina are examples. They are close cousins to American pretzel dogs and corn dogs. Some say the American version originated in the South, where they are usually wrapped in biscuit dough.

One more sign of their popularity is that Dufour Pastry Kitchens, which has been in business for 21 years making and selling frozen hors d’oeuvres in all-butter puff pastry, will add pigs in blankets to the line. The company never used meat products before.

One summer, when I went up to see my sister, I had to fix lunch. Now, fixing lunch for kids is no mean trick. Read the New Yorker to see. Vegeterian curry isn't gonna cut it. So my sister had hotdogs, a can of dinner rolls, beans and a working oven.

So I cooked the franks, let them cool off, wrapped them in dough and baked them. They loved them. I simply didn't have any idea of what they would eat, so I told them what this was, fixed it, and they loved it. Well, my niece didn't like the beans that went with it, but they both ate the pigs in a blanket.

I think it's a great kid food with good portion control and can even make things like tofu franks palatable, with some mustard, of course. I think the commercial version tends to be greasy. If it was something I was making, I'd probably go with pork sausage or kielbasa, and I'd make them a little bigger.

As appetizers go, I really like mini quiche and stuffed mushrooms as well.

posted by Steve @ 12:58:00 AM

12:58:00 AM

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