December 15, 2010

I want to disown the whole "baby" class of metaphors I deployed in my last posting about the corned beef. They all seemed to lead in an unsavory direction. This doesn’t mean I won’t be discussing the meat in question. I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater…oops!

At any rate, I retrieved the 21 day old corned beef from the depths and at first blush…well there was no first blush. In fact, it looked spectacularly nondescript. Not pink at all. Just like a pedestrian brown piece of meat. That’s right, distinctly shoelike. What’s the good of nitrates without the cosmetic effect? Apart from a few minor virtues like stimying botulism bacteria. I mean, why else did Coco Chanel once say  " I wish my blusher could do to your shameless faces what sodium nitrate does to the charcuterie. Zut, alors, je ne regrette rein!"

For what it’s worth, the deeply internal portion of the meat did retain some pinkness. Whether that was due to the nitrates or just its inwardness, I cannot say. Anyway, it was so unprepossessing that not only did Annie Leibovitz call off the shoot but she kept the retainer. There’s a word for people like her. I haven’t a clue as to what it might be, but I’m sure there is one. Angular?

As for minor matter of the object’s flavor. I carved off a few slices, steamed them, and spread them on our bakery’s deli rye dressed with brown mustard. I closed my eyes so as not to see the disquieting brownness of it poking out at the sandwich’s perimeter and bit.

Instantly that pickled cow flesh transported me back NOT to the Lower East Side, which was where I had booked it to take me, but to my grandmother’s shtetl. There were Cossacks everywhere and screaming mothers holding up their babies and beseeching the ravagers to take the infants but please please please spare the beef.

I know, I know. Food historians, (yes, there is such a sad profession) are going to object that in the old country Jews didn’t eat corned beef. But I didn’t say that the shtetl was in the old country or, as cartographers call it, Hades. Actually it was the Bronx that the shtetl in question clung to despite the best efforts of a coalition of irate vegetarians and public health authorities wielding crowbars to dislodge it and "Cossacks" was the word my grandmother used for the Irish.   So eat your words, food historians. Ha!  And you critics of run on sentences, you can eat my words.  Double Ha!! And you humorists who insist on one punchline per joke, you can...nah, your lives are sad enough already. There's no way I could make them worse, even if I wanted to. And I do want to.

At any rate, not even the high production values of my vision could distract me from the flavor of the corned beef. It tasted absolutely genuine. As though the atmosphere of a deli had solidified into meat. All I needed was a bottle of Cel-Ray to make the moment perfect. But I had to settle for ginger ale. I expect my readers (both of you – and especially you, Mom) to nominate me for a MacArthur genius fellowship at the least for the brilliant work I have accomplished here under adverse circumstances.

A very limited amount is available at the restaurant. It’s not listed on the menu but if you know the password – may_I_have_a_corned_beef_ sandwich_please? – the staff will probably surrender the item. And if they ask you what kind of bread do you want it on, forgive them. They know not what they do. Durn Buddhists.

Next stop, Pastrami.




November 21, 2010

It’s only right and proper that I launch this blog with a baptism. In this case, the baby is a 2.95 kilo piece of beef brisket that is being transformed into a deli style corned beef even as I write. And if I go on writing for another 15 days the process will be just complete.

If I had to assign this child to a particular sect, it would, I suppose, be Baptist, since this ritual/recipe calls for total immersion of the little one. Maybe extreme Baptism since the submersion lasts for 21 days straight with no respites for naptime.

I just hope my example doesn’t inspire some desperate TV producers to model a reality show with actual infants plopped into a prolonged submarine existence. But should it comes to that pass, I pray that, at the least, they provide the contestants with scuba tanks.

Anyway, once the brisket has been pickled in my very proprietary blend of brine, spices, and sodium nitrate…. Uh-oh, I can feel the hackles of some of my readers rising at the citation of something that sounds suspiciously and unfairly like what it is, a nitrate. My only defense is that I could have used potassium nitrate, otherwise know as saltpeter, instead. So lower your hackles. (And while you’re at it, why don’t you try dusting them off from time to time?)

Everyone knows that potassium nitrate is the evil twin of sodium nitrate. What they may not know is that sodium nitrate is the more evil twin. Well, at any rate, the more effective twin at killing bacteria. Which is why the FDA banned the use of potassium nitrate for curing meats and insists on sodium nitrate instead. That’s the USA’s FDA I’m referring to. I suspect that the Thai FDA (yes, Virginia, there is a Thai FDA) considers corned beef some kind of pet food.

Today, little Alpo has begun to develop a beguiling aroma. Something like sour pickles but exactly like a NY deli. I haven’t had the nerve to dredge her up for a visual inspection so this development is encouraging.