My Dinner with Hannibal
Savoring aromatic literature
Is it wrong to feel hungry while reading about Dr. Hannibal Lecter cooking slices of human brain?
I had to put down Thomas Harris’s Hannibal and go to the fridge for a snack. That’s how appetizing the episode is.
Sure, the idea of DOJ Deputy Assistant Inspector General Paul Krendler duct-taped to a chair with the top of his skull removed is a bit . . . macabre. But the description of the Lecter’s cooking technique is rich in sensory imagery: the “goodly knob of Charante butter” browning in the copper saucepan, the parsley and thyme infusion he makes Krendler drink beforehand, the shallots and minced caper berries he adds to the hot butter.
Yummy, no? Here’s a particularly tasty snippet:
With splendid dexterity, the doctor brought the firmed slices to a plate, dredged them lightly in seasoned flour, and then in fresh brioche crumbs.
He grated a fresh black truffle into his sauce and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Quickly he sautéed the slices until they were just brown on each side.
“Smells great!” Krendler said.
Hannibal is a very smelly book. There are scenes—as when Lecter licks the steering wheel of Clarice Starling’s empty Mustang—where scent is central. There are others—such as Lecter’s visit to the Farmacia di Santa Novella in Florence or his taking in the odor of excited crowds at the Atrocious Torture Instruments exhibit—where it forms the backdrop. The book is saturated in scent and it is Harris’s talent that none of it feels forced or stagey.
On balance, getting hungry reading the brain cooking scene is the highest compliment a reader can give.