February is usually a weak month for cooking magazines. Post-indulgence, low-fat foods and warming winter braises absorb most January issues; March looks forward to spring. But February is stuck in a heart-shaped rut, with nothing but pink peppercorns and molten chocolate cakes in Valentine’s Day menus a deux.
Saveur is the only mag on the newsstand to buck the cuddly-Cupid juggernaut, offering instead its annual Saveur 100 list.
As always, the sublime coexists with the ridiculous on the idiosyncratic list. There seems to be a mandate for the magazine—known for its shunning of celebrity chefs in lieu of a round-the-world quest for authenticity—to climb down from its high horse once a year to champion the foods of the little people. “With its wafer of silky griddle-steamed beef … the White Castle classic [slider] is really more of a confection, a kind of meat petit four,” writes the Grub Report’s Josh Ozersky with tongue (we hope) firmly in cheek. Other writers chime in with paeans to canned peas (“dressed with a drizzle of olive oil,” natch), Chinese take-out (complete with sticky packets of corn-syruped duck sauce), and the white food (like milk, mashed potatoes, and white bread) beloved by two out of three picky toddlers everywhere.
Still, in between the white bread and the dopey filler (like old spoons, “relaxing while cooking,” and “eating straight from the pan”), there are some intriguing finds. Such as amba, a piquant neon-orange condiment favored by Iraqi Jews and made from pickled mango, fenugreek, and turmeric; sour-spicy-sweet Thai tamarind candies; sharbat rooh afza, a rose-infused Indian syrup; and Canadian-bred bluefoot chickens that rival the famous birds of Bresse. Best of all is Dae Jang Geum, a 54-episode Korean TV series detailing the trials and tribulations of a 16th-century female chef in the imperial palace. Hello, Netflix?