In The King and I , Yul Brynner plays the King of Siam. Accused of being a barbarian, he decides to stage an elaborate banquet in order to prove to visiting Brits that this is not so. He serves traditionally English food to charm the British ambassador, eaten Western-style with knives and forks. After the guests are gone, he pensively sits at the banqueting table with a rice bowl and chopsticks, eating alone. Joined by Anna, played by the very British Deborah Kerr, he suddenly announces, “The fork is a foolhardy instrument, you pick up food, and it leaks!”
Off-screen, Yul was a cosmopolitan man and was equally at home eating with chopsticks or cutlery. There is no doubt that he was a gourmet chef and loved to cook. His ancestry was a combination of Gypsy, Swiss and Mongolian and these three cuisines influenced his tastes and preferences. Widely travelled from a young age, Yul collected recipes and combined them with some family favourites in an eponymous cookbook. The slipcover features a photo of Yul portraying the King of Siam and the strapline promises “Food Fit for the King and You.”
There are lots of delicious recipes between the pages of Yul’s cookbook and he writes eloquently of his culinary influences in introductions to each of the seven chapters. He describes a childhood spent in China, teenage years travelling through France with a gypsy troupe, an enduring love of Russian food, his “magic” dish of Swiss Fondue, the French cuisine that captured his heart and the food of his beloved Thailand (formerly Siam of course). He was a truly urbane man and encouraged his fans to sample dishes from all around the world. Dishes he proposes include Lotus Blossom Spare Ribs, Thai Ginger Fish, Coquilles St Jacques, Swiss Cinnamon Chicken and Green Tea Ice Cream.
Many celebrity chefs employ ghost-writers who are never acknowledged. I think it says something about Yul that his collection of recipes includes his co-writer’s name on the cover. As Susan Reed puts it in the introduction to the book: “every time you use any recipe from this collection you’ll be dining with Yul Brynner.”
It’s National Potato Day on August 19th and nestled in Yul’s Russian Cuisine chapter is this great potato recipe. I think it’s the caraway seeds that make this dish something special. If you would like a potato-based drink too, you could consider doing as Yul advises, and have some vodka with them. Budem zdorovy!
Potatoes Baked with Sour Cream
3 cups peeled, sliced white potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon dill
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
Bring 6-8 cups salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are softened but not cooked through. Drain water off potatoes and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt butter in a skillet. Sauté onions. Put sour cream in a bowl; add cooked onion, butter and egg, stir. Add dill, caraway seeds, salt and pepper to the sour cream mixture, stir again.
Lightly butter a casserole dish. Layer potatoes and the sour cream mixture, ending with sour cream. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the sour cream, and if desired, sprinkle cheese on top of the crumbs. Dot with butter, and bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the dish goes through all the layers easily. (Serves 4)
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Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters.