Everything old is always new again in the food world. We’re drinking espresso martinis and eating baked Alaska. We’re dining under Tiffany lamps and hitching up our flare low-rise jeans before taking a flash photo of the bar nuts at Bemelmans. So if the retro and the slightly cringe is chic, then riddle me this: Why on earth aren’t I being served every piece of bone-in meat with an adorable little paper hat on it? Who must I slay to be presented with a drumstick fit for a king?
I first became enraged by what I was missing when friends posted photos of themselves on honeymoon in Austria, where they were served fried chicken adorned with manchettes, or the little paper frills traditionally attached to the exposed bones of a piece of cooked meat. These frills have the practical use of keeping meat grease off your hands while you carve and eat your dinner, and honestly, now is the perfect time to start using them. I’m a big proponent of eating with your hands, but COVID is still happening, and sometimes you want an extra layer of protection. Or you’ve just slathered your hands in sanitizer and want to avoid accidentally tasting the bitter sting of rubbing alcohol as you lick your fingers.
Practicality is enough to embrace the tradition, but the main thing about manchettes is they also make it look like your food is wearing a little chef’s hat or a paper crown, which is adorable. And not adorable like those dumplings meant to look like pigs, but like you’re Wile E. Coyote drooling over your imagined ideal of roast roadrunner. A roast bird or crown of lamb adorned with manchettes is food that should be served under a silver cloche on a white tablecloth while a string quartet plays in the background. It’s food that comes topped with a too-delicate curl of parsley, or on a doily. Anything cute and exorbitant and unnecessary.
I could make this about how, as the pandemic straggles along and bill after bill targets the most basic needs of the most vulnerable, so many of us have cut our lives down to what feels absolutely necessary, and we should embrace joy and silliness and all that. And yes that’s true enough. But really, I just think manchettes look funny and I’m shocked chefs with campier sensibilities haven’t picked them up yet — or for that matter, home chefs getting back into the dinner party game. What are you waiting for? Probably for paper costs to go down (right now manchettes are about $5 for 8), but I’ll be here when they do!