Why Hello There, and Welcome to Kitchen Catastrophe, the home of your heartburn since 2016. Today’s recipe is what some might call a “paradigm shift” in meal design, and others would call “completely normal”. This is Savory French Toast.
Fording The River
FRENCH TOAST. The savory kind. Yes, today’s dish is one that touches on a phenomenon I’ll hopefully be discussing more on Thursday, assuming I don’t accidentally suck out all the marrow of the matter in this one while fumbling to find what I want to discuss. I confess, I’m rather behind on this post: My schedule for today was originally free after 5 pm, but we ended up having to move a D&D session from Saturday to accommodate a friend watching the performance of a Yodelling Dominatrix, a pair of words I had never WANTED to see together, but now find oddly compelling in their unity.
Food has a lot of “Things I didn’t think to mix, but now I can’t stop thinking about it” combinations.
AND THAT is the crux of Thursday’s post and today’s recipe: the unforeseen attraction. There’s a quote, often used by ‘economic disruptors’, which is the phrase you use for “guy with a dumb idea” when that dumb idea makes millions of dollars. Like how billionaires are only “eccentric”, never “crazy”. (Rich people buy all the good adjectives) The quote is from Henry Ford, and it’s “If I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have told me ‘faster horses’.” A powerful message for following one’s own path, giving people what they didn’t know they wanted. Of course, Henry Ford never said that, as he was busy getting his presidential run ENDORSED BY ADOLF HITLER in the Chicago Tribune. (The 20’s were a WILD time.)
Here’s Ford getting a medal for the economic boon his factories were in Germany, from Nazis, mere months before the invasion of Poland.
I’m sure anyone with critical training could find some poignant metaphor about the modern economy in the fact that all these guys keep using a made-up quote to explain why THEIR silly idea succeeded instead of yours, allowing them to quietly dismiss all the other projects their venture capitalists backed that aren’t worth anything today, but I’m a food blog, so I’m just here for the craft services.
The point is that so often in food we’re allowed revelatory experiences: ‘Eureka’ moments as something we’d have never considered on our own comes crashing into our minds, changing forever how we see the world of food we consume. This…might be that kind of dish to you? Honestly, while it was a super cool IDEA, in execution, it comes up a little…well, let’s save that for later. For now, let’s talk about French Toast in general.
Smile, You’ve Got French’s
Is that still their jingle? I have to assume they’ve gotten a new one in the last decade. Wait, I’m distracting myself. Let’s get to the main event, and the most important part: French Toast isn’t French. I’ll wait for a moment for your shocked murmurs and gasps to calm down.
Yeah, it turns out that the idea behind French Toast is pretty old. How old? Well, some say that a recipe for a French Toast-style dish of can be found as far back as Apicius, a Roman cookbook from the 1st Century AD, also known as “400 Years before the word ‘France’ was invented.” The people who say that are CORRECT, which I know because I own a translation of Apicius, and just looked it up.
Because, let’s be frank, if there was one guy you knew who had translated Roman cookbooks, it was going to be me.
Turns out that “Bread, but with eggs and sweetness” is a pretty long-running idea. So, if it was invented in Rome, why call it “French”? Well, that’s complicated. See, for a long while, it was called…basically whatever you wanted. The French themselves call it pain perdu, or “Lost Bread”, because they used the method to salvage bread that had gone stale. In America, it was called “German toast”, “Spanish toast”…“eggy Bread”, because apparently someone let their four-year-old name the dish, and more.
There’s a long-running story that the dish is named after a guy named Joseph French in New York, who put the dish on his menu, but was, and this is legitimately part of the story, not well-educated, so he forgot the ‘s’ and apostrophe. That’s the story. This one guy invented the name, but he’s dumb as bricks, so who cares?
To be fair, this supposedly took place in 1724, so it’s not like the public school system was particularly robust.
The general belief: around the time that French Toast took off in America, France was having a bit of a cultural heyday. (Which, to be fair, it still is in many regards. )So calling something “French Toast” probably just let people charge a little extra, and claim it was higher-class. That’s why they’re called “French doors”, for instance. The style was invented in England, and then renamed to squeeze a little more money out of buyers.
So, how do you make French Toast, a sweet Breakfast treat, into something savory? The answer may surprise you.
Serving Up Something Special
You flavor the egg wash.
That’s it. Turns out if you just put spices in the liquid you soak the bread in, it FLAVORS THE BREAD. Which is the point I wanted to relate this to the Not-Henry-Ford quote, and Thursday’s post, which will be about “twisting” recipes. I had honestly NEVER considered that, if it tastes sweet because of the cinnamon and sugar you put in the eggs, then you can logically put ANYTHING in there, and it will taste like that.
Logically, this opens the gates to a wide variety of options. Cumin and Chili Powder could lead to Taco Toast, topped with Salsa. Curry Powder, chiles, and Turmeric could make Indian Toast. However, since this was a first foray into the genre, I stayed simple: I made Parmesan Herb French Toast.
Components shown here, with a weird emphasis on the herbs in question.
If it’s been a while since you made French Toast, let me remind you of the process: you make an egg-wash, dip slices of bread in it, and then cook them. It’s a very simple process. So simple, in fact, that I openly refused to actually consult a recipe for the procedure. Well, I did that for two reasons: Firstly, because it’s a simple but flashy way to feel like I’m in full control of a recipe, and also because my hand was consistently full while making the dish.
As you might guess from the change in counter-tops, I am not at my normal home at the moment, but working in Leavenworth for Oktoberfest, staying with my friend Joe Seguin, owner of the Krampus Kave. And Joe’s home has several persistent pets that require attention. A young cat, barely more than a large kitten, named Tefnut, for instance, who will without hesitation start eating your groceries THROUGH the bag if you let her near it. As well as a parrot named Loretta who gets quite cross if left out of Kitchen-based antics.
I spent a week feeding and caring for this bird back in July, and only recently has she deigned to allow me to carry her from place to place.
So between grabbing Tefnut and dropping her off the counter, and trying to keep Loretta from screaming at me for ignoring her, AND taking pictures of the process, I had one hand in constant motion for a relatively simple supper of soaked bread. However, I had checked some guidelines, and come with a semblance of a recipe.
I bought pre-bagged French Bread, since it’s a white bread of a nice thickness that’s still soft. To coat 4 slices, I first settled on herbs. A minced clove of garlic, as well as the leaves from a sprig of thyme went into the plate first. IN a more formal venture, you’d want to use a casserole dish, shallow bowl, or some such. I simply used a deep plate rather than investigate for those components.
“How do I make this stationary object visually interesting? I KNOW, ANGLES!”
To those, I added a small handful (say, around ¼ cup) of grated Parmesan cheese. The long kind, not the kind you get in shakers with pizza. To this, I added 2 eggs, and about one-quarter to one-third cup of milk. I mixed it all together with a fork, and tossed the bread in.
Oh no, the angle’s getting steeper. I CAN’T CONTROL IT, RUN!
You flop that flimsy French bread over, and from there, a buttered pan on medium heat was the next step, and let me tell you: if it’s been a while since you made French toast, remember that it’s a quick process: the bread stays on one side for maybe 3 minutes. Basically, my process was “Coat bread in parmesan egg wash, place in pan. Coat second slice in wash, place in pan, flip first slice, repeat, removing first slice.”
And now we’re fully upside down. Great. I blame the cat.
I did find that the amount of Parmesan that stuck to the bread on its own was mildly surprising, but also ended up leaving more than a little cheese in the bottom of the egg-wash. I wonder if the process would be improved by sprinkling the Parmesan on each slice individually, but I didn’t have time to check, as I had to toss Tefnut down again, days away from the realization that I could just put her in another room while cooking, and shut the door.
In the end, the Toast looked remarkably like, well, French Toast.
Got the angle back under control, too. Just in time.
And I have to say, I was both disappointed and impressed with the flavor. I didn’t set aside any toppings for the process, so I ate it basically as-is, and honestly: It tasted like garlic bread. Like solid restaurant garlic-bread. Which was really cool, but also meant that I could probably work to up the herbs and cheese a little more. If I had made like, a little pasta sauce to pour over it, that would have probably been amazing. As it was, it was a really easy and successful first attempt at something wild and new, that just needed one last component, one last little oomph, to get to super-stardom. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Bread, eggs, and cheese are staples in Jon’s diet, and they don’t pay for themselves. To help support the site and his culinary creations, consider supporting us on Patreon, where our Patrons helped pick which post best fit this week’s theme of “Culinary Twists”. Right now, we’re totally covering the site’s technical costs through Patreon, and we’re looking at using future funds to do cool things like make videos, record audio, and generally improve our tech to deliver even better posts and tricks for you all. IF $1 a month is too high a cost, then just remember that jokes and stories thrive on being told: the more people who hear our message and read our recipes, the happier the world gets! (Hopefully.) So spread some joy by liking and sharing our social media content, showing our site to your friends, and just trying our recipes or talking about us! Go out there and fail better, friends!
THURSDAY: WE DISCUSS THE GENERAL THEME OF HOW “TWISTING” DISHES CAN HELP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY EXPLORE NEW CULINARY OPTIONS.
MONDAY: WE TAKE A DIFFERENT KIND OF CULINARY TWIST, IN A REVISITING OF KITCHEN CATASTROPHE POST-MORTEM, WHERE WE DISSECT A RECIPE THAT JUST PLAIN BOMBED. TODAY’S TOPIC: PARMESAN PESTO TWISTS.
PARMESAN HERB FRENCH TOAST
4 slices French bread, or other thick white bread
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
¼ cup milk
2 tbsps butter
1. Place a large skillet on a burner over medium heat. Create 4 ‘zones’: the bread, a shallow dish or container, the skillet, and another plate. Mix all ingredients except bread in butter in the dish or container. Add the butter to the skillet, and melt.
2. Take a slice of bread, and set in the egg-wash dish. Move around slightly, then flip, moving again. Place soaked slice into buttered pan. Repeat with remaining slices of bread.
3. Flip bread as needed, roughly once every 2-4 minutes. Once golden brown on both sides, remove from the skillet and set in the prepared plate. Serve warm.