anyway, it was my birthday last weekend, and someone very near and dear to me who understands such things offered to cook me up a giant batch of one of the most perfect foods on the entire planet to celebrate. mais oui!!! absolument!!! so we trundled into my automobile, (for who wouldn't offer someone who prefers not to drive a ride to drive to get the ingredients for one of the most perfect foods on the entire planet), and headed on over to the ghetto basket for some grocery love.
anarchy and chaos.
it's the day before the hurricane, and the demoula's parking lot is packed full, the overflow spots we like to steal along the city pool parking area are all full, and there are dozens more jalopy's and poorly maintained ford tauri circling the area like buzzards waiting for fresh parking meat. the walkways are jammed with people with jammed shopping carts, and it's pretty clear that entering that maelstrom was an investment of time, patience and possibly property, life and limb, that only the most fully committed and desperate among us would calculate to make. and, this time, instead of being on foot, i'm in my fully air-conditioned automobile, with premium sound system (thanks, car-risma!) and complete with travel companionship and conversation. so, off to hannafords!!! of course we could have chosen another demoulas, and i do more frequently than not, either down in chelmsford, or up in hudson, nh when i'm up that way scoring beer at sam's club. but it was my birthday, and if you've never experienced the produce, deli and other specialty sections of a hannafords supermarket, you haven't yet seen what you're missing. why shouldn't we go there and pick up some goodies for the birthday boy. so it's off to rogers street with a happy whistle on our lips and more than a little saliva brewing to keep it wet.
to her credit, my personal chef suggested on the way that we may be disappointed at hannafords, but what does the grocery novice understand about such things? if they carry it at the ghetto basket, where they carry so very little, (it's one of the most peculiarly-stocked demoulas you'll ever visit, with so many items ignored that you or i or anyone else raised on a real grocery store would scratch our heads not to find), why wouldn't they carry it at one of the best-provisioned hypermarkets around? because, dear readers, it's pork belly, and pork belly, as was pointed out by my personal chef, is "poor people food".
i was raised on the offal (i've often mused on the word's homonym as it was prepared by my cooking-impaired grandmother, not to be confused with my cooking-savant grandmother on the other side) of farmer's market butchery, and knew and know tripe, sweetbreads, brain, kidneys, and all manner of other animal innards that most people, i know, retch just a little to even think about. yes, a lot of it is as bad and worse than you imagine, (especially when prepared boiled with cabbage, which seemed to be about the only way my cooking-impaired grandmother knew how to do it), but i'm here to tell you that, properly prepared, beef tongue is one of the most savory cuts on the animal, (and go to phien's kitchen for theirs if you want one superlative and outstanding example), and pork belly stands alone as the sine qua non of prepared meats. yeah, i know, you've been told by the omaha people that it's filet mignon, but, seriously, is there anything you know that's better tasting than bacon, and if they're slabbing off huge chunks of it and calling it pork belly, why wouldn't you want them to break you off a giant piece? seriously--they cure stuff from sheep, cows, chickens, goats, turkeys and almost everything else that walks or crawls upon the earth and call it "whatever-bacon", but only the pig-based variety needs no qualifier at all--"bacon" is exactly what you know it is. and it's goo-o-o-ood.
so, back to the butcher counter at hannaford's. pork belly. do you have any pork belly. "no, i checked with my manager, we're out of it right now", and with the look that tells you that "right now" means "all the time", and "nobody asks for that here--what are you, some kind of poor person?" it's exactly to me like the old stories they tell of lobsters washing up all over the beaches of new england in colonial days, mixed in with the seaweed like so many party favors, yet being tossed into the hole for fertilizer when planting other stuff because only the poor and desperate would actually boil 'em up or roast them for food.
people are crazy.
we drove to the demoula's on rogers street and laid in about ten pounds of the magic stuff, and, good thing, because almost double the actually invited number of folks crashed the little dinner party that was being planned so i could enjoy a sit-down plateful of all my favorite stuff, and we had to send out for a tray full of boneless wings from wings over lowell (we went with the "concorde" with "cruising altitude" for heat) to keep the hordes satisfied so there's actually be enough of stuff to go around. (who does that--crashes a dinner party and doesn't even bring food?) the USDA defines "bacon" as "the cured belly of a swine carcass", and i would not have hesitated to remind everyone of the legal definition phrasing if it came right down to it, but, as it stood, "pork belly" was enough to scare away enough of the philistines so that i could get a good pile of the stuff, though today i'm rueing the lack of leftovers and thinking that, next year, i'm going to be much clearer with the invitees about the privilege they're being offered, and how important it will be to respect that.
compliments to the chef, and a great big raspberry to the pretentious folks at hannafords who just don't get it.