Someone served me a creamy chicken dish recently. I asked what it was and they said chicken tetrazini.
I asked what were the four zinis, and they didn’t know. No one has been able to answer this question yet. I thought maybe Dear Crabby would know.
In an ideal world, every Dear Crabby submission would be a unique product of careful, reflective consideration and genuine inquiry.
They would be questions of moral ambiguity, requiring not just analysis but self-exploration, allowing me (and by extension this column’s readers) an opportunity to challenge our beliefs. That way we could all grow together, our opinions evolving and improving through rigorous intellectual and spiritual interrogation.
Instead, I get “Hey, uh, what are the four zinis?”
Surely it would have been faster and easier to just Google this. But here we are.
The answer is that the “tetra” in question is not a numerical prefix at all. It’s part of a surname. The dish, which you’ve misspelled, was named for turn-of-the-century opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. There’s some dispute as to its exact origin — City College of San Francisco culinary studies expert Andrea Niosi attributes the dish’s invention to either Chef Pavani at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York around 1912 or Chef Arbogast at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco around 1908 — but it’s definitely named for Luisa Tetrazzini.
I didn’t know this when I woke up today. I looked it up because of your question. It took about a minute. Then I spent an additional five or 10 minutes listening to online recordings of Tetrazzini (the singer, not the food). She’s great. I’d definitely name a pasta dish after her.
I also spent a little time reading about her life. She sounds like a genuinely lovely person, despite her sometimes contentious rivalry with Australian soprano Nellie Melba.
About that Nellie Melba: While she sometimes lost singing gigs to Tetrazzini, who was 10 years her junior, she far outdistanced Tetrazzini when it came to having foods named after her. There are four: Peach Melba, an ice cream dessert; Melba sauce, made from raspberries and red currants; Melba toast, those dry crackers everyone’s grandparents used to buy; and Melba garniture, tomatoes stuffed with chicken, truffles and mushrooms.
They were all invented by the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in Paris. The Savoy, of course, was home to the American Bar, which boasted barman Harry Craddock, the inventor of the White Lady, the Southside Fizz and the Corpse Reviver No. 2.
Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book” is still in print. I have a copy. It’s fantastic. I’m going to pull it off the shelf right now and make a drink. I’ve earned one answering this question.
Hope that helps.