František PON.: Kočkám chutná kaviár



(excerpt from the book)

Cats love to help out

Cats don’t just complicate the cooking process merely with their refined culinary tastes, but chiefly by their very presence in the kitchen. You have to watch what you drop on the floor and carefully observe what your cats do with it. It’s not easy. For example, on the whole, a piece of beef which finds its way onto the floor will not remain there very long. Master has a particularly unpleasant habit. The morsels he finds especially tasty, and beef is one of them, he conveys to the kitchen table where he can eat them in peace. In the worse case, he’ll set out his meal on unpaid bills, important letters or official documents; in the better case he’ll deposit his piece of meat on the open pages of a magazine. And we’ve got tiled floors all over the house especially because of the cats.

Another tricky aspect of feline assistance in the kitchen is the wholly unpredictable movement of bits of food around the flat. The majority of what we throw in the kitchen bin is exceedingly attractive to cats, or at least it arouses their interest. Bacon rind, the cellophane skin from frankfurters, an empty tin of oily sardines or a plastic bag still containing the blood from a hunk of meat – these are just some of the items you’ll find in the kitchen, scattered around to slip on, trip over, they’ll be left on a chair, or even in your bed. Many years’ experience cooking with cats around has taught us to take out the rubbish into the hall immediately. Apart from the kitchen door, we also have to check how secure the outside door is, because an equally determined mob of cats is lurking outside, just as they are inside. And there are many more of them outside; they have more persistent methods and their sprint to the goal is awe-inspiring.

Shared cooking ventures, however, also bring risks for the cats themselves. The most frequent accident is getting trodden on. This happens at least once a week. Feline crowding is so erratic that you just can’t avoid it. The pained yelp of a cat whose tail you have inadvertently trodden on, is terrifying and it always has the same effect. It makes me furious. Instead of apologising politely, blowing on the injury and cuddling him in my arms, I start cursing and even try to kick the poor animal. It’s a strange mix of emotions. You scold yourself inwardly for not being more careful, you feel sorry for your cat and you’re afraid you might have harmed him; on the other hand, you’re annoyed that such clever and experienced cats as these don’t take enough care. But I have to admit that, almost immediately after my outburst, I drop everything to go and have a look to see how the cat has survived the incident. Thankfully, so far, always intact, but that burning gaze they cast in my direction is insupportable.

Much worse is when I drop a sharp knife, a meat-beater or a heavy, damp breadboard. These are moments of pure dread. Fortunately, it only happens exceptionally, and the cats’ reflexes have always averted disaster up to now. It is also risky to carry a saucepan of boiling water around the flat, like when I have to quickly cool down some stewed fruit I’ve just boiled. The cats are extremely interested in where I’m taking the pot and what I intend doing with it, so they all follow me and get under my feet. Pouring out coffee isn’t without its hazards, either. After nearly scalding Coconut’s inquisitive face several times when he shoved his nose in my coffee cup, I now pour out the coffee in the kitchen.

And here’s a comment on a more cosmetic note: Cats are generally the cleanest of tenants but, considering the breadth of their interests, it does happen sometimes that they casually hop over a floury rolling pin and leave their prints in the dough rolled out beneath it, or pad across the kitchen table that’s just had something spilled on it. Before they manage to lick their paws, they catch sight of something very important on the clean table cloth in the dining area, or on an unfinished painting. But you can’t keep track of these things and there’s nothing for it but to humbly wipe away their mucky paw prints.

Closely observed beef

You can’t say the word “meat” out loud in the presence of cats. The psychologically less resilient and more dense ones, like Sherlock, immediately start slavering, and the more unobtrusive and intelligent of them, such as Faust, purr softly and gaze intently. Our outdoor cats would just bite your finger off. Meat is a spell which can completely take control of a cat’s mind, and if you know how to deal with it, you have the feeling, at least for a while, that you’ve got the upper hand. But it only seems that way. When I buy meat of any kind, especially beef, if I take my eyes off it for a second, it’s the cats who definitely have the upper hand.

Last time, they stole a lovely piece of raw meat I’d bought to make roast beef. It weighed a good kilo and a half, so it must have been a gang raid. When I finally found the chewed, grubby slab of meat among the flower pots on the window ledge, I realised that the meat must have gone through hell. Not only had the cats smeared the whole flat with it, but everywhere they had stopped, and their every attempt to tear off the most succulent morsel, had been marked by a little puddle of blood – on the floor, on the dining table, on the chairs and on the bed. They had roughed up what was once a comely piece of meat, and a good-sized portion of it was missing. The moment my anger had subsided, the cats came slinking out of their hiding places and gave a pretty good show of feigning hunger. I was just about to cut up the remaining part of the ruined beef to give to the outdoor cats. But they weren’t going to allow that if they could help it, even with full stomachs.

I most often forget about meat on the kitchen table when I take it out of the freezer to let it thaw. Coconut is the first to register the early signs of defrosting. What God took away of his ability to hear was amply substituted with a fine sense of smell, so when the icy slab of meat begins to give off the first molecule of fragrance, he jumps up on the table and massages the microtene bag with his paws until he finds his way in. It must be said that the damage to frozen meat is never as bad as what befalls fresh meat, since I generally manage to make it into the kitchen in time. I recommend, however, thawing out the meat in a saucepan with a lid or, even better, in another, sealed room. It’s safer.

The time has come around again when the inexperienced housewife goes to the butcher’s, she doesn’t know what meat to buy and is glad for advice. Something for a goulash perhaps, or a steak, or something to go with a sauce. I’d get the butcher to do the slicing as well, particularly for steaks. On the one hand, butchers have sharper knives than most home kitchens, and on the other, they usually know how to divide the meat into portions in such a way that it’s nicely cut across the fibre and, after cooking, it melts on the tongue like butter. Preparing beef is a bit more problematic; on the whole, whether it’s cooked, baked or heated in some other way, it does take a long time. Unless you’re planning to make a beef steak from real sirloin, that is.

Rillons from Touraine

Rillons from Touraine – Czech cracklings from Touraine – I discovered in a cookery book written at the beginning of last century by French epicurean and gastronome Edouard de Pomiane.

About 2 kg of streaky pork, 1/2 l white wine, pepper, salt.

For this I buy streaky pork without bones which I cut up into squares of roughly four centimetres. I salt them and give them a liberal sprinkling of pepper. Then I arrange the cubes in a earthenware pot and leave them in a cool place for at least 24 hours. The following day I tip the contents into a cooking pot, I pour on the white wine and warm it up on the stove, leaving the lid off. I stir the meat occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom; when the wine evaporates and the fat begins to dissolve, I turn down the heat. After about an hour and a half, the cubes turn golden and the rillons from Touraine are ready. I take out the scratchings and put them in a bowl and I pour the fat into a mug and put it in the fridge. This is important because the mystery of the delicious and balanced taste of these French cracklings lies in the fact that, together with the wine I add to the cubes of pork, I also add to the pot the mug of fat from the previous stewing. The European Union hygiene department would certainly have something to say about this, but what you cook at home is really none of their business. The pork scratchings should be allowed to cool before serving, but I can never hold out and I eat them with fresh bread while they’re still warm.

I cook rillons for my cats separately, and a little differently than I would for us. I melt a spoonful of unsalted and unpeppered fat on the pan. The off-cuts left over from making the cracklings I cut into small pieces and cook them on the fat. But not for too long, so that they don’t burn and so that they stay almost raw on the inside. Before the fat disappears, I take a knife and finely chop up two large spoonfuls of rolled oats on a chopping board. I then take the cooked scratchings out of the fat, I divide them into separate bowls, mash them with a fork, and sprinkle the finely chopped oats on top. When the food has cooled down and the excess fat has soaked into the oats, I add a little milk into each bowl and mix it all together.

Scratchings and fat certainly make for greasy food but, where cats are concerned, it’s not a mistake to give them some. All cats should get a certain amount of fat, naturally, with the exception of those overweight layabouts who live with their families as the only cat in the household, they loll about on the sofa, and their only concern is food. Our cats don’t have this problem, they don’t suffer from obesity and, since they live in a group, they get plenty of exercise, even in the flat. In small quantities, fats can be added directly to their bowls, for example, a teaspoon of olive oil or butter. This is particularly beneficial for older cats, like our Faust, who’s almost eighteen. According to the experts, fats don’t clog up a cat’s kidneys with waste matter and, what’s more, they break down a number of vitamins which cats are then better able to use. A greater supply of fat can also help if your pet has dry skin and suffers from cat dander. But I am only speaking about natural fats here; we don’t give artificial fats to our cats.

Excerpt from the book Cats Know Better
Excerpt from the book Cats Talk in Their Sleep