The woman next to us was eating one.
My mother never cooked pork. It wasn’t a kosher thing, or maybe it was. We weren’t kosher. At the time, only the Orthodox were. A lot of the Conservatives were “phony kosher,” as in kosher at home, but outside, anything went. Kinda like if you keep your kid from candy and chocolate, they’re gonna go to their friend’s house and scarf it down while they watch TV incessantly, since you’ve banned it. The phony kosher people were the first to order lobster. But we did have shellfish in the house, but never pork, maybe my mother’s upbringing was shining through.
When it came to meat, which was a staple in the sixties, before everybody went vegetarian, never mind vegan, my father had a butcher. And my dad was proud of the steaks he brought home. That’s what they usually were. And he had a fish monger too. And my mother never cooked a steak in a frying pan, which blows my mind since the finest steakhouses prepare them that way. As a matter of fact, my mother didn’t even own a cast iron skillet, never mind oiling it. She’d broil meat in the oven. Until…
Summer, or when the sky was clear enough, even if it was January, and my dad would grill the steaks outside on the patio. In the Weber. This was pre-gas. And the thing with the Weber is if you turned the dials, you could save the charcoal briquets, they’d be starved of oxygen and go out, that was a sales pitch!
Shrimp was usually for my parents’ parties. And lobster…we ate all the time, it’s relatively cheap on the east coast. What you wanted was a stuffed one. Or maybe boiled. Or Thermidor. When you’re a kid, you try them all. And I was out one night with Doug’s family and I wondered, could I order the lobster? His dad insisted we all get it Fra Diavolo.
But not only did we not eat pork at home, we didn’t eat it out either. And we ate out quite a lot. It’s only in my later years that I’m into staying home. Nearly every Sunday night. Saturday night, we’d have hot dogs and burgers from the Rocket Drive-In. I remember dropping a burger in the snow. Well, I didn’t know I did this, but when it wasn’t in the bag, I walked out the front door and I found it, it was still pretty warm, I ate it. Saturday night my parents went out, always. Live in the suburbs and you know everybody, live in the city and everybody’s a casual acquaintance, you can be lonely. My parents had a gourmet group, theme parties. Actually, the Tempkins told us they have a gourmet group in Nashville, I’m jealous.
But usually Sunday night, we went for Chinese food. Occasionally to the Pepper Mill, a steakhouse on the Post Road, but usually West Lake, on Main Street in Westport. It was Cantonese.
This was long before Szechwan, now called Sichuan, hit New York. Certainly before Thai. And although people pooh-pooh Cantonese these days, it reminds me of my youth. The wonton soup. Dumplings with meat inside, and a few vegetables and… The reason I loved West Lake was because of the noodles. Fried flat and crispy, we’d load up the soup bowl with them. Oh, to be young and not worried about cholesterol.
And we always got lo mein as one of the main courses, my mother loves it to this day. Everybody in the family got to pick a dish. And I always wanted…
Now you’ve got to understand, ribs were exotic in Connecticut. You could get them at the Big Top, but other than that… There were no smokers, no pit-tenders, that came much later. The ribs at West Lake were spare ribs, red, which you dipped in duck sauce, which were delectable. I can taste them in my mind right now.
Like I said, my parents had no problem with pork, but that’s the only way I ate it, as ribs.
And then came the advertising campaign. THE OTHER WHITE MEAT! And the pictures…the problem with pork is it’s too white. As for chicken…
It used to be a staple for me. Even the round patty at Jack in the Box. But ten years ago, when I was diagnosed with CML and I started taking the Gleevec…certain foods didn’t sit right, and chicken was one of them. So now, I can’t eat most chicken. I mean I never order chicken out, that’s the loss of an opportunity, unless it’s one of those newfangled spicy joints popping up in L.A. via Memphis and Nashville, but there’s that nasty cholesterol factor once again. But they sell this chicken at Gelson’s. The breasts are HUGE! It’s called “Rosey” and it’s fabulous. Yes, I eat breasts. I used to only eat skin. Then I graduated to wings. Now I eat breasts too. But never dark meat. The thought of a thigh grosses me out. Did you read they’ve got a Brexit problem with chicken? No, that’s turkey. Same, but different. Anyway, the Britons like white and the continent likes dark and it works for the poultry growers, but now with Brexit they’re gonna be stuck with half the bird.
So now I occasionally eat pork.
Oh, I forgot, I LOVE sausage! Cooked, cold, summer… But some of that stuff in the breakfast buffets in Europe grosses me out. First and foremost, you’ve got to cook the sausage until it’s brown/burnt on the outside. Maybe I like that flavor more than the sausage itself. Maybe it’s being a Jew, our parents overcooked everything.
And I experiment with pork.
But I’ve got to be in the right mood.
I was in the mood for fish. I’d had a late lunch and this was an early dinner. But the fish portions were small and I saw that woman with the pork chop across the way and I decided to jump.
I started with oysters. There’s no oyster I won’t eat.
The salad was iffy.
And when the pork chop arrived, I wasn’t sure I was hungry enough to eat it.
And the dreaded white color when I sliced into it.
But the heavenly first bite, whew! It was like they’d candied the top. The menu said it was pear butter and sage, but I think they ladled on some cherry confection or something, the taste was delectable.
And usually pork chops are big and light in color. You can’t stop thinking of the Duroc when you eat it.
But this looked like a T-bone steak. Albeit with a round bone. And every bite got better and better.
It was billed as a “Cap on Sakura Pork Chop,” and it’s only now that I realize the cap on is the right cut and Sakura is a farm and…
I couldn’t stop eating it.
And these mushy root vegetables accompanying it were called sunchokes, and they were a great complement.
And I’m using the knife with the giant blade to cut slices and I’m savoring every bite and it suddenly occurs to me…
THIS IS THE BEST PORK CHOP I’VE EVER HAD!
And then I had to think about it, how many pork chops have I eaten in my life?
Not that many. But I know a good one from a bad one.
And then I started to think, my mother never made pork chops, and then the above memories came flashing back.