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Hold the bacon

Working from home, we’ve been cooking a lot more over this last year. It’s just so much easier to start dinner going in the late afternoon — get the skirt steak marinating, start browning up some mushrooms– than when you are stuck in a cubicle across town, obvs. In 2011, we dramatically reduced our restaurant meals and burned through our home cooking repertoire in the process. Not that I don’t still roll my eyes in ecstasy for Esteban’s spaghetti sauce, but the man doesn’t want to make it once a week (which is what I would like, because HOT DAMN). This means digging out the cookbooks, trolling the food blogs and haunting Pinterest like the freaking Grey Lady.

For Christmas, my bff Jake gave me the Momofuku cookbook. I’m a super fan of pork buns, you see, and Momofuku has reportedly one of the finest pork buns in all the land. I inhaled the book over the Christmas downtime and zeroed in on the entire pork ouevre. The Momofuku pork buns required quite a bit of prep, including procuring a slab of pork belly. Green Bay, as you know, is not exactly the hot bed of culinary trends, so in order to get pork belly, I had to special order it from the good meat place, and basically tell them that when they got fresh pork belly, they needed to save me a slab and DON’T turn it into bacon. The good ladies at the good meat place were confused and asked me repeatedly “You don’t want it like bacon, right? Slab of bacon? No?”  No! Pork belly! After explaining that I wanted it uncut but I wanted the skin taken off, I had completed the ishy details of the entire endeavor. I was bolstered with Top Chef fantasies that Collichio was going to taste my amazing pork belly and say “Bix, you are the winner of a weekend for two in Aspen.” Or at very least the pie showdown in Celebration, Florida, because let’s be honest here — a weekend of nonstop pie action? That I won, so I kind of had to go to? Yes please.

It took two days to get the call from the good meat place, and another two days for me to have time to create the rub and slow roast the beast. So that was the weekend of New Year’s, when I opened the vac-packed giant slab of pork belly and started getting to work with the rub. Except… what’s this?

There was a nub. A fleshy white fat nub of cartilage there on the fat layer of the pork belly. Weird, I thought. Well, I wasn’t going to actually use the fat layer anyway once it was cooked, so no big deal. Then I spotted another one. And then another one. And then a fourth.

And then I realized that they were all in a straight line.

You guys, it was the pig’s nipples.

The pig’s nipples.

Nipples.

To my credit, I braved the horror movie music that was playing in the background and sliced off the strip that contained the ROW OF NIPPLES, but then felt guilty about being so squeamish and tucked it into the roasting pan anyway. Then I cooked the fucker at 250 degrees all the blessed day, every minute getting more and more disgusted by the smells permeating the house. The smells of roasting nipples.

When it was finished, I dutifully drained the fat and saved it in a jar, as David Chang had assured me it would be great for all kinds of things. And I tried a tiny piece of the non-nippular area of the pork belly. Cognitively, I knew that it was delicious. That if I had a time machine, I could go back to earlier in 2011 and I would have raved about the meat bacon melty magic in my mouth. But outside of my brain, my entire being was saying one word and that word was “NO!”

I haven’t eaten pork since the Nipple Incident. Needless to say, I didn’t make pork buns and ended up tossing the entire mess, including that jar of NIPPLE FAT that David Chang said would be great for frying eggs and maybe other nipple-worthy fare. I don’t even know why the nipple thing bugged me so much. It’s not that I don’t know that pigs have nipples. It’s not even that I haven’t eaten even more disgusting things than that (Cock’s comb, much? Cow’s thalamus gland? Freaking brain cheese? Guilty as charged.) It was just an impression, a visceral reaction that I can’t get past. It’s been five months. I don’t miss it in the slightest. I do miss the easiness of cooking. I can’t make things that call for proscuitto or pancetta, for instance, and we have cut down on doing take out ribs (although I find that brisket is a more-than-adequate substitution for any pork BBQ). And when we do go to restaurants, ordering is a bit more difficult because people want to put bacon in pretty much everything. (PS. Chili doesn’t need bacon! Just let chili be chili, damn it!)

Unlike the vegetarians who are vegetarian except for bacon, I have no pork cravings whatsoever. Esteban assures me that I’ll eat pork again, but it is starting to feel like it’s a prayer against my porkless future. This does remind me of when I was a vegetarian during my twenties. It didn’t happen because of moral or ethics, or even the ecological implications of eating meat– it was all because of a natural aversion. Meat stopped smelling delicious and started smelling ooky.

I still eat other things with nipples, though, like the aforementioned beef. I’m cool with lamb. It’s just the pork thing.

Apparently nipples are a game changer. Remember that in your future dealings with nipples. You’ve been warned.

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9 Comments

  1. Poolagirl wrote:

    As a vegetarian since 1975 (yes, I am old), I found this completely entertaining! There are pig nipples (and other bits) in hot dogs too. Good for you for swearing off pork. Your arteries will thank you – and so will the pigs. Good going!

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  2. Annette R. wrote:

    Very glad i’m not a very ambitious cook right now. I don’t need or want to know about the nipples and seeing them-just NO! I love the pork and I would hate to have an aversion. I got sick on stuffed eggplant after gallbladder surgery about a decade ago and haven’t touched it since. It was my stupidity because I was on a low fat no or minimal dairy diet and it was stuffed with cheese. Hello barf the guts out! I just wasn’t thinking when I ordered it. Poor piggie nips! I have never given up meat and doubt I could. Hope your aversion resolves itself.

    You rock that blue feather hair accessory. VERY pretty!

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  3. kat wrote:

    Actually, some of us just don’t like/want pork products in any of our food. I live in the south- you can’t even freakin’ order greenbeans because they throw some ham in there somehow. AND unless you specifically ask, Is there ham in that? it doesn’t occur to them to tell you that.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  4. WendyBix wrote:

    Even when I was eating pork, I got offended whenever my vegetables showed up with bacon. Why are they always trying to take healthy things and make them less healthy? I mean, I get bacon on potato skins or in baked beans, but GREEN BEANS? These things must stop.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  5. WendyBix wrote:

    I’m sorry Annette! But I hope that didn’t sour you on cooking adventures. I’ve had so many wins compared to this one minor loss.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  6. WendyBix wrote:

    Poola, you’re also very fortunate to live in a vegetarian-friendly state! Even when I was eating meat in all forms, I deferred to vegetarian dining in CA more often than not, just because it was pretty much possible everywhere.

    (Ok, except at dim sum, oyster bars and Bouchon, where meat was eaten and loved in many forms)

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  7. WendyBix wrote:

    Also, my mom-in-rock June made that hair accessory to match my shoes (which obviously aren’t visible in that photo). She’s so freaking talented. Seriously. She actually hand-beaded that center part, and then steamed the white feathers so that they’d follow the curve of my skull. BRILLIANT!

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Lauren wrote:

    I have trouble eating any meat that bears any resemblance to the animal it used to be (like if I get a chicken wing that has a spot where you can imagine the feathers were attached at one point) so I’m pretty sure seeing nipples would push me over the edge into permanent vegetarianism.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink
  9. joy wrote:

    So funny. I laughed out loud and even giggled. haven’t done that in a while. Thank you.

    Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

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