Sunday, December 23, 2007

Talking Meat

In case you don't have time for a long post today, the punchline (money shot?) is "nudgels of giving wobbly pig's trotter captured in a splendid jelly."


It began with ribs. S and I arrived home at the same time last night, him from work and me from hanging with the moms at C's house, where we consumed wine and chocolate--I believe there were cheese and crackers before I arrived, but I was late because I'd forgotten, when I said "yes, how exciting, would love to hang with the moms tonight," that we were having Lucy et al over for pizza and ice cream sundaes as the final birthday celebration, but it all worked out, and my evening's comestibles consisted of pizza, salad, sundae, wine, and chocolate. No ribs.

S always eats when he gets home, leftovers from our dinner, or food he brings home from the restaurant, or a sandwich because we always have bread, cheese, and some kind of meat (I say some kind because I have no idea about the meat, as will become clear). Last night it was a slice of pizza left over from our dinner and a rack of ribs he brought home from the restaurant.

I am, perhaps, the most low-key vegetarian on the planet. Nobody even remembers--or knows--that I'm a vegetarian except my family, K, and J. I don't even have much of a rationale for being a vegetarian: I don't care about killing animals, and while I have vague instincts that being a vegetarian is healthier and better for the environment, I don't really have the information to take a stand. I just always knew that eventually I would be a vegetarian, and then when I was sixteen I became a vegetarian, and I have been ever since, to the point that now it's a fundamental habit. I also do not make more claims for my vegetarianism than it deserves (I don't even particularly claim my vegetarianism): I eat fish, I don't care if there's chicken broth in the soup, I've been known to eat the stuffing from inside the turkey.

All that said, meat--the stuff that comes off cows, sheep, and pigs--is something I do not eat. It has no appeal to me, but at the same time it exerts a kind of fascination. Which is how I came to be staring at S's ribs last night, wondering what it would be like to eat them, and finding it impossible to imagine, since to eat something, or even imagine eating something, one must want to eat it, and I simply didn't, even though word on the street is that S's ribs are to die for.

Nevertheless, I became very interested in those ribs, as I looked at their pale pink textured edge, with the whitish/brownish bone sticking out the end. Were they beef or pork? Pork. What kind of ribs? St. Louis. What's the difference between different kinds of ribs? That led us to The River Cottage Meat Book (yes, we own it), pictures of pigs and cows, a handmade (by me) diagram of a pig skeleton, and the difference between spare (on the bottom) and baby back (on the top, attached to the spine) ribs. Which led to the difference between chops and ribs (chops are ribs with more meat on them, basically), as well as rib roasts, and joints, all discussion illustrated by the book. Which led to further discussion of the exploits of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is clearly quite maniacal, as his looks suggest.

Along the way, I wondered if he was the guy with the offal restaurant by the market near Guildhall, which was truly all I remembered, though St. John rang a vague bell. When I googled "offal London" (the computer had been brought into play by this point), I discovered that St. John was indeed the name of the restaurant, and I was thinking of Fergus Henderson (and when I googled his book Beyond Nose to Tail, I was delighted to find that the third item listed was a post of Jenny's).

To my surprise, S had never heard of Fergus Henderson, so we checked out the restaurant website, which has a nicely terse menu that isn't really all that off(al)-putting. Then, of course, we had to explore Unctuous Potential, because how could you not, with a name like that? It turns out that Unctuous Potential is "nudgels of giving wobbly pig's trotter captured in a splendid jelly," which kind of blew my mind, and at that point I realized I'd had enough of meat, and it was time to go to bed.


Jenny Davidson said...

My friend Nico and I have a longstanding & ongoing correspondence about this sort of meat, he sends me "unctuous" links very regularly! It sounds as though you spent an enjoyable and profitable evening contemplating these matters...

postacademic said...

I LOVE the River Cottage Cafe cookbook - where Hugh tells you how to build a chicken coop, catch fresh water eels, slaughter a pig, etc. Google "Meat Paper" and NY Times: some San Francisco writers have published two issues of a very cool journal about meat (reviewed in the Times last week I think). S. might like it - if it is too unctuous and slithery for you!