Tag Archives: tripe

A story about swine that doesn’t mention flu

The problem with cuts of meat in America is that they’re so damn large, you have to invite around thirteen people around in order to get through everything. And with The Special One’s family all being caught up with other things this weekend, that left just the four of us to consume an entire pork shoulder. Which is particularly difficult when one of you is a vegetarian.

Of course, I say that I was cooking a pork shoulder, but here in the States, I am forced to say that I had got my hands on some Boston butt. Just to be clear for the purposes of those in the UK, I had not been indulging in appropriate posterior fondling with Barbara Walters, contrary to what you might read in the National Enquirer this week. Instead I was cooking with a cut of meat that usually gets used for barbecue in the US – slow cooked with plenty of smoke, to give you the tenderest bit of pork that you can imagine.

As it was, I don’t possess a smoker, so I had to settle for roasting the meat at a low temperature for seven hours. And it was pretty damn good even if I do say so myself. I even made my own barbecue sauce. Sadly I used enough vinegar to flood a small village in Wales, and my attempts to present the sauce as ‘tangy’ were greeted with sneers. And pursed lips and squinted eyes, if I’m honest.

The cooking extravaganza hadn’t begun well, after I showed The Special One the naked butt. Again, I’m still talking about the pork, folks, so please try to stay with me. Like all good bits of pork, the skin still showed a few pieces of hair, as I believe that getting out the Gillette Mach 3 was probably the last thing on the pig’s mind when he woke up and read “Monday – fieldtrip to abbatoir, Tuesday – no plans” in his schedule for that week. But while the occasional chicken feather seems OK to her, The Special One apparently draws the line at stubble in her meat products.

The fact is that Americans like meat, and many of them can deal with fat, but the vast majority of them would scatter to the four winds if asked to eat any of the more challenging parts of your average animal. The Special One still rails in horror at the idea of black pudding (or blood pudding as she still insists on calling it, just to ensure that she can never give in to its magical ways), and I’m guessing that haggis is off the menu after we saw a programme detailing its manufacture. I’ve seen the occasional mention of tripe in the US, but am yet to meet anyone who has tried it, while liver and kidney is much less prevalent over here than in the UK.

But what drives me most beserk is the unwillingness to eat pig skin. To me, crackling pork skin – heavily salted, and crisped up to bubbly perfection – is probably the best reason to eat pork in the first place. Back in my bachelor days, I was known to roast the occasional joint of pork just because I knew that I would be able to have crackling. And don’t even get me started on my love for pork scratchings, or the look of horror when I told The Special One that the tiny foil packets contained just salty pig skin and fat.

Pork skin is conspicuous by its absence in America. Most bacon comes rindless, and pork chops are trimmed to within an inch of their (former) lives. ‘Suckling pig’ in a restaurant I recently ate at had all of the porky goodness, but none of the porcine epidermis. I went home happy, but marginally disappointed about the opportunity that had been denied to me.

As it was, yesterday’s slow roasting meant that the skin wasn’t suitable for eating anyway, and besides, the sight of three people vomiting at the table as I ate might have been too much for me. The search for crackling continues.

E-coli all ye faithful

I’d like to think that I’m not all that particular about my food. I’m pretty adventurous in my eating habits, and will happily (if sometimes squeamishly) tuck into strange parts of strange animals if they’re proferred in my general direction. Blood, guts and entrails are all happily welcomed on the Brit Out Of Water menu, even if I do draw the line at tripe. Put simply, I’m not a picky eater – invite me to your house and I’ll eat whatever is put infront of me.

As it happens, the few things that I don’t particularly like to eat are central to the American way of life. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t generally eat eggs. This means that on the average breakfast menu in a diner, the only item that I can sometimes bring myself to eat is the menu itself. It’s fine if you put steak sauce all over it, to be honest, although I’ve had to give up laminated menus because of high blood pressure.

I don’t eat beetroot. I don’t desperately enjoy (although will still eat) bitter greens like broccoli rabe. And while not unique to the United States, I’d rather put pureed head lice on my burger than ketchup. Apart from that though, I’m the most laid back eater you’ll ever find.

Where my culinary openness ends though is with an American tradition that shakes me to my core, and causes me to shudder at the mere thought. It’s only in season for a short period each year thankfully, but during that time you can find yourself in food hell at least once a week. Turning it down isn’t an option, unless you want to adopt an air of anti-festivity that would make Bernard Madoff look like the people’s champion by comparison.

There’s no place for potluck dinners in this day and age, if you ask me.

For the uninitiated, the potluck dinner sees all attendees bring a dish of their choosing to the event, for everybody to share and enjoy. It’s an impressive display of community which generally happens around the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday seasons, although the seriously unhinged have been known to try it at other points during the year. And to be fair, the principle is good, allowing the party host to engage in festive frivolities without the stress and strain of making food for dozens of people.

But the problem isn’t in the principle, it’s in the execution.

For a start, unless the potluck is organised to within an inch of its life, it can lead to some unholy combinations. I mean, pumpkin curry has its place, but it’s not on the same plate as roast chicken. Of course, there’s always somebody who brings their old family recipe for stuffing, made largely from dust and toenail clippings. And who needs eighteen different types of pumpkin pie, given that even one plate of the noxious substance would be enough to keep me dry retching for at least a week?

More to the point though, it’s the lack of clarity on the food hygiene standards of eighty three different people that sets me on edge. Let’s face it, these events are only called ‘potluck’ as it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get away without a serious dose of food poisoning. I mean, I know that I cook in clean pans and don’t use carrots that have been dropped on the floor to be licked by the cats, but that’s not to say that everybody is so fastidious. As I stare into the gloop of a lukewarm turkey gravy cooked by Andy Onymous, I’m not thinking “mmm, look at that glorious deep and flavourful stock” but “I wonder if he had a cold when he cooked this?”

I spend most of my time at potluck parties standing around the thing that I’ve cooked, or that’s been catered by the host. I know caterers are more than capable of their own crimes against domestic health, but at least I haven’t sat watching them pick their nose on eight separate occasions in the three days leading up to the event.

Still, the potlucks are all over for another year, and it’s home cooking all the way from here on in. I hope The In-Laws are looking forward to black pudding, that’s all I can say.

The true cost of avoiding homesickness

The Special One is more British than she cares to let on. Sure, she might externally appear to be an ‘h’ dropping, zucchini munching, country invading, milkshake swilling gas guzzler, but cut just under the surface and she bleeds HP Sauce.

Now, part of that is that My Esteemed Mother-in-Law’s mother was English, and resolutely maintained her British citizenship through years of living in the deep south. But really The Special One’s Britishness comes from her love of condiments. Whether it’s Branston Pickle, Maldon Sea Salt or mint sauce, she can’t get enough of the things that the British add to their food in a desperate attempt to make it taste of something edible.

Slowly though, I’m introducing her to more and more British products. PG Tips – as mentioned recently – was an easy one, and Ribena wasn’t exactly tough. I expected mushy peas to be more of a struggle than they actually proved to be, while Cornish pasties were the unexpected hit of the winter of 2006. Black pudding is still a bridge too far though, and the less said about tripe the better. Cold cow’s stomach in vinegar doesn’t appear to do the trick for The Special One, for some reason.

One thing that she’s particularly partial to is English sausage. Quieten down at the back, and stop sniggering. Proper meaty British bangers are a world apart from the fat laden patties that she occasionally had with gravy and ‘biscuits’ (or ‘tasteless sugar free scones’, as I generally call them) in her youth. And having been a vegan for some considerable time, there’s now nothing she likes more than minced pig sinew in a crispy shell.

Close to my office is Myers of Keswick, a British ‘corner shop’ serving the rather large expat community (and Anglophiles) in New York City. I can’t actually let The Special One go there anymore. Partly because she insists on pronouncing it “Myers of Kezwick,” but mostly because she would come back with a lifetime’s supply of Mr Kipling’s Bakewell Tarts if given half a chance.

So today I ventured there alone to stock up with essential items. ‘Essential’ if your idea of essential is Curly Wurly’s and three pounds of Cumberland sausages, obviously. And a bumper box of PG Tips, some HP and Branston, a chicken and mushroom pie and a bag of Twiglets. What more could a man ask for? Apart from maybe a spicy curry Pot Noodle and a bag of pork scratchings.

I reckon if I’d bought that shopping in the UK, it’d probably have cost me about 15 quid or so, depending on the quality of the sausages. Head 3458 miles west, and the price suddenly escalates to 64 dollars. Clearly the dollar is worth next-to-nothing, but that’s one hell of a price to pay for some creature comforts. As a great philosopher once wrote, “Man cannot live on Branston alone.” But after that shopping trip, we’ll probably have to give it a go.