Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chester Arthur's Midnight White House Feasts

As president, Chester Arthur hosted many elegant state dinners and often stayed up socializing with his guests as late as two or three o’clock in the morning. Biographers say that he also liked to take his friends on midnight tours of the White House. Because of his nocturnal ways, Arthur was often late to his morning meetings and his habitual tardiness led one critic to say, “President Arthur never did today what he could put off until tomorrow.”

Sadly, President Arthur died a year and a half after leaving office. Most historians agree that he died from kidney disease, although, at the time, many people believed that his decadent lifestyle contributed to his illness. Describing his culinary habits, one commentator observed:

Arthur’s illness is largely due to his life in the White House. He lived too high, exercised too little, and kept too late hours. He did not breakfast much before ten o’clock and his dinners did not begin until nine or ten in the evening. He often sat at the table until after midnight, where, though he was not a glutton, he consumed fine wines and terrapin and other rich food...President Arthur rode horseback for a time, but in spite of his doctor’s advice, he discontinued this, and grew heavier and heavier from lack of exercise...

Although no one knows exactly what caused President Arthur's illness, we do know that he was a true gourmet and relished such delicacies as mutton chops with a glass of claret or expensive champagne. An avid fisherman, he was also particularly fond of Terrapin Steak, which he preferred to serve with rich side dishes like fried Macaroni Pie with Oysters.

If President Arthur were here with us today, he surely would have also liked this rich and delicious recipe for Seafood Linguine with Mussels and Oysters from the Food Network's ever-energetic Emeril Lagasse:

2 tablespoons, plus 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound linguine
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 sliced red jalapenos
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Essence, divided, recipe follows
1 cup small diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 pound calamari, bodies diced into rings, with the tentacles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

Bring a large 1-gallon pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of the salt to the pot and place the pasta in it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and then transfer pasta to a large bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss to coat the pasta well, then set aside.

As the pasta cooks, set a 14-inch saute pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining olive oil. Once hot add the red jalapenos. Season the shrimp with 2 teaspoons of the Essence, add the shrimp to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook another minute. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside as you prepare the sauce.

Place the onions in the pan and cook until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and saute briefly before adding the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook the sauce briefly, then add the clams to the pan. Cover the pan and cook the clams for 1 minute, remove the lid, add the mussels to the pan and replace the cover.

Cook the mussels for 2 minutes, remove the lid and season the calamari with the remaining 1 teaspoon of Essence before adding them to the pan along with the seared shrimp and the pasta. Continue to cook the pasta, tossing to blend the pasta with the sauce, and season with the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, about 2 minutes. Garnish the pasta with the chopped parsley and cheese and serve.

FAST FACT: Nicknamed "Elegant Arthur" for his fastidious ways, President Arthur reportedly owned more than eighty suits and often changed his pants several times each day!