Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beast Game

In a past London life I lived with my very good girlfriend Josie. Josie has a special and motivating gift, amongst many, of morphing all activities into competitions.  I think having an Olympic athlete as a father can result in this rare and special power, but regardless, if there is an act, let there be a challenge. And if there be a challenge, let me be the winner.  Living together, we made things happen. Well, one of us did, the other one sulked the loser’s sulk while the winner punched a meat carcass and tucked their track pants into their socks.
Our kitchen after The Fridge Game
The Fridge Game was Josie’s way of prompting my other housemate, Olivia and I into clearing from our bulging Electrolux (not a product endorsement, just a proper noun) those miscellaneous foodstuffs with unclear heritage and ownership.  Premise: Who ever cooked the best dish using the highest number and greatest volume of ingredients from the fridge wins.  Prize: Winner takes the glory, that’s all, and maybe a little extra space in the fridge. Proviso: Victory is subject to disqualification in the event of any illness directly resulting from ingredient heritage out dating recommended usage parameters. Is it just me or do competitions start to become a little less fun when three lawyers lay the ground rules? 

The Luggage Game was Josie’s way of expediting our airport departure time on mini-breaks.  The person who removes their bag from the luggage conveyor first is the winner, the others are all losers.  Obstruction, in any way (rugby tackle, impromptu blindfold, hot man decoy) of any player in pursuit of their bag is permitted.  Post holiday bruising has been more common than a tan to me in recent years.

Beef: The favourite...but the winner?
Since Josie moved home to Australia, we have had to content ourselves in pursuing the greatest and most intellectually rigorous of all our competitions. The Beast Game.  Which beast contributes the most to the world? Our world for this purpose is a fairly narrow concept. Our eyes, our mouths, our bellies.

Rungis, Paris.  The big beef!
Cows bring us milk, milk maids, beef, beef jerky, bone marrow, all dairy derivatives, nouns and slurs for human attribution – “you cow”, “such a heffer”, “what’s your beef”, tasteless bachelor furniture and floor rugs, the capital of Phillip Island and the perfect carpaccio accompaniment to truffle oil and parmesan. For that I am thankful. 

Poultry (for a chicken alone cannot challenge a cow, but we’ve all seen Birds, Hitchcock’s warning of the power of collective wings) brings us fillets (both meaty and gel like for a little extra lift), feathers, eggs in all proportions, claws, chicken salt, Kellogg’s branding, a menu item for unadventurous diners and iconic Christmas imagery (non-Jesus related).

Rungis, Paris: Poultry lined up waiting to be counted
It’s odd actually that fish and sea life never entered our duels.  Although while controversial consumption items like the whale may multi score well on contribution to world museum collections, the Darwinian short fallings of the soft-shell crab and it’s life of constant and crushing fear must surely damage any advancement of seafood in the debate.  Perhaps the current infatuation of chefs and foodies with tuna spinal marrow might be worth a punt with Josie next Skype session.

The one to watch: Seafood, the future challenger.
But Orwell, E.B. White, Josie and I all agree there is one winner. One superior beast prevails, perhaps not in variety, and perhaps not if you consider a vast number of the world’s population are prohibited from its consumption,  but in our hearts.  The Pig.

Pork belly, chorizo, pork crackling, bacon, salami, Iberico ham, if pigs could fly, trotters, bacon Cheetos, piglets, suckling pig, Babe, hog roasts, Pumba, bush pigs, pig outs, pig nose, “You pig!” (Risso, Grease, 1978), Porky’s, telling porkies, pork pies, what a porker!, pig tails, three little pigs, pork chops, lardo, sausages…oh sausages, how could I forget sausages.  Bacon….bacon!!! You get my point, all proudly presented by our good friend the swine. Pigs bring home the bacon (oh, Dad!).

Porteno - The perfect pig!
I’m not a religious person, but I do believe my devotion to this delicious beast reveals a path for me through every city in which I live or visit.  In London, to Brawn for pork rillettes and any number of cured and seared contortions of the oink.  In Sydney, to Porteno for dripping, juicy and glass crisp serve of asador slow roasted sucking pig.  In Paris, to L’avant Comptior for a bowl of caramelised pork belly broken on my palette with a strong glass of Morgon. And most recently to New York…

The Meatball Shop - Naked Balls
At The Meatball Shop in the East Village, I devoured a bowl of spicy pork naked balls.  I respect not only the innuendo loaded menu options (and website sound effects which pronounce BALLS in a dirty disco voice across my office) but the low-key, bare brick, wear your own tattoos aesthetic the place effortlessly propagates.  Like a lot of restaurants in New York you understand the City really fosters independent personality and self-expression from its chefs and restaurateurs.  Heritage pork shoulder and hot pickled cherry peppers, doused in classic tomato sauces, lashed with parmesan and politely sided by seasonal vege, addictive, simple and worthy of your best elastic-waisted pants…or a tattoo of your best elastic waisted pants inscribed where your real paints should otherwise be.

Momofuku Ssam: Steamed Pork Buns
While my failure to navigate the time space continuum with grace meant I had to defer my Porchetta roast rolled pork sandwich until next time, my belly was on site for David Chang’s pork belly at Momofuku Ssam Bar. David hates bloggers, is famed for his ‘meteoric rise’ in the international restaurant scene, is a leader in iPad food publishing and…really…I’m all about his buns…pork…I mean pork buns.
Sweet, sticky, fatty, pork belly floating between the cheeks of an inexplicably light steamed bun - glossed with hoi sin, Sriracha, pickles and spring onions.  This wasn’t even an “I would marry this pork bun” kind of situation.  As I said, I’m not religious, I wasn’t waiting until we got married!

Buns with something to prove...
If you can’t get to New York for Momofuku, buy David Chang and Peter Meehan’s book, Momofuku, and make them yourself. Read the book too.  The determination, navigation of luck (of all varieties), stoic self-belief and ‘chef as rock star’ persona of David weave in and out of all Momofuku’s best dishes. If you don’t like to purchase or read, cheat and find the recipe here…then learn to enjoy reading and join a read-a-thon. 
Devour Ssam Diet Steamed Pork Buns
As for my buns: texture was right, colour not quite, pork…well, I was forced to slim it down to fillet at the behest of my guests.  Flavour paid the price (belly is always, always better) but it still worked.  If you do the same, just roll, tie, oil and season the fillet, sear and finish in the oven until still pink – this is a quick process, don’t kill it! The United States Department of Agriculture guidelines now dictate that pork is safe for consumption at 145°F/63°C so get used to it! Without undermining my stance on pork, I also prepared a marinated steak version which I think may actually have been better.  But then I remembered how odd udders are and went back to championing pork.  

Momofuku Ssam: Bev Eggleston’s pork shoulder steak – ramps, hominy, queso oaxaca
I’m thinking when Josie arrives for her next Euro trip I’ll surprise her at the baggage carousel in Gaga style hoof boots and a meat dress. I’ll take her down before she reaches her bag and then take her home for pork buns...and a side dish incorporating every single item in my refrigerator. Yep, that sounds balanced.  Win!


p.s. If you liked this post, read this: Bacon, we have a problem.

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