Sunday, May 27, 2007

Surprising Chinatown

What to with a long Memorial Day weekend? I fancied taking the opportunity to chain myself to the kitchen in front of a large AC unit and whirring fan for 3 days, rolling up my sleeves and really getting down to some serious cooking. But what would I cook? I considered something unusual seeing as I had plenty of time on my hands. A trip to Chinatown might be cool, they are well known for selling 'weird' shit. As I jumped on the F train north to East Broadway I was imagining some crisply cooked goose, maybe something big and bloody to throw on the barbie, or perhaps a medley of seafood, shellfish and lots of sauce Vierge or tarragon butter. In the blistering heat, I headed from the subway west along Canal, enjoying the bustle of one of NY's busiest streets.

What was once part of a thriving Italian community, Mott Street, north off Canal, is now festooned with Chinese markets, most of them selling green produce or fresh fish. I did poke around in a few shops, eyeing the bored looking fish in tanks and oggling feisty lobsters in glass cages vying for space. One shop had a bucket outside full of live frogs, and I thought at one moment I might make some golden fried grenouille. But I just wasn't feeling the fish or amphibia, and I stumbled back south across Canal to Bayard Street, home of some solid butcher shops. I headed straight for Bayard Meat Market, a first rate and incredibly low cost meat vendor. I saw some pork loin, which I thought could be a great thing to barbecue, but it looked a bit 'wet' and that turned me off. They had some virtuous beef fillets also, but I denied their presence in the shopping trolley as I'd been eating a lot of cow as of late. I couldn't resist purchasing some of those splendid little red sausages called lop cheung, and piled high next to these were some salted duck legs. I'd never even seen these things before so they went in the bag too, for consumption at a later date or raw on the subway home. I was also tempted by the dried quail, but I had no idea what I would do with that. I paid the nice lady at the till a dn headed out again into the hot sun. I was very tempted to duck into one of the many noodle shops for a chilled beer and some pig knuckles to chew on, but I remained focused and I promised myslef suitable rewards when my main task was completed.

When I hit the junction of Bayard and Elizabeth, I spotted a butcher I hadn't seen before. The plastic sign was peeling off the brick, but I could make out the words 'Han May Meat'. An old Chinese woman manned the counter and bid me good day in Chinese (I think) as I entered. My eyes flicked down to the counter to see if here I could buy anything worthy of a long weekend's attentions. And holy shit, did I find it. Resting near the back, in 2 quart containers, I found pig's blood! Finding this had been a personal quest of mine. Numerous Google searches had produced nothing and pleading calls to my local Brooklyn meat emporiums had yielded nothing to date. I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough.

The bucket of blood had a pink stained label on it reading $2. What a fucking bargain. As I paid, I also saw a sign in Chinese and English, thankfully, advertising caul fat. Now that can be tough to locate too, so I had a bag of that, for something a la crepinette. There was no doubt, I was in the zone now and feeling a swell of bravado I also asked her for one of the large plump-looking rear pigs trotters. My mind was racing with the possibilities. Black pudding! Crispy stuffed pig's feet! meaty stuff wrapped in fat! YES! I think all in all I spent about $8. Incredible, no?

My reward came in the form of two hastily quaffed Kronenbourgs, from the cold beaded bar taps at Les Enfants Terribles on Canal Street, where Chinatown turns into the LES, and right next to my F train stop. It was a welcome break from the heat and I now know 2 placed in NYC that have my favourite beer on tap. The music was prety good too, and a brief glance at the menu looked interesting. Perhaps a visit to sample to the food would be a good idea.

I knew my huge trotter would need bathing for 24 hours, so I chucked it in a big pail of water when I got home and, sweating, I rounded up the ingredients for a full-bodied, rich and devillishly porky black pudding. I scoured my cookbook collection for suitable recipes. My first stop was Fergus Henderson's incredible 'The Whole Beast - Nose To Tail Eating'. He calls it blood cake and dishes up the pudding with fried eggs. I did look at two others also for further inspiration. The Bible contained countless variations for black pudding/boudin noir and I also thumbed through porn-heavy Boulevard and found a sound variation by an Irish chap called John Desmond. His BP recipe used a 7 cup dish for the final baking. I did have a 7-cup terrine dish by Pyrex so it seemed that my weights and measures should match the Boulevard recipe roughly, but I did make lots of substitutions.

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