Grandma Zimmern taught me to cook by osmosis. On weekends, my dad would sometimes drop me off at her house and ask me to be good while she babysat me. We had nothing in common on the face of things. She was 75, I was six. But when she put me on the stool in the little cramped kitchen of 411 West End Avenue, I watched her turn into a young Ginger Rogers, whirling around the kitchen, churning out amazing food for 15 people like it was child's play. All of her Jewish grandmother comfort-food classics are stellar, from chopped liver and tongue to matzo ball soup and brisket. She was an ace in the kitchen, rendering her own chicken fat for her recipes and giving me the poultry cracklings to snack on when they were crispy and the fat was clear and golden. I am convinced that Sean Brock is partially reincarnated from Grandma. Just my theory.
When Grandma entertained, she made small Pepperidge Farm bread circles with a juice glass as cookie cutter, spread them with butter and topped each with a curled anchovy. That was her idea of fancy. We would sit down to the table and nosh on a relish tray, with some chopped liver. Once a year, as a prelude to her main course, she would send one of these tomato aspics out, to the delight of the cheering Zimmern family.
Now this kind of dish is old-school in every sense, but I swear it is making a comeback, and you should get on the bandwagon before you are labeled a culinary poseur by all of your friends.--Andrew Zimmern