Tuesday, May 20, 2008


In Bibilical times during The Creation, it was common to remove bits of oneself and use that bit to create a new life. The Lord knicked one of Adam’s ribs and created the lovely, if easily led, Eve. (If he tried to knick one of Adam’s ribs now, the young lad from Buffalo would erupt in anger. He doesn’t like to share his barbeque with anybody.) Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord said, “If thou desirest to eat, and the eating of flesh delight thee, kill and eat according to the blessing of the Lord, which he hath given thee, in thy cities”.

Well the eating of flesh certainly delights the regulars of Thursday Club, and no doubt this was the central tenet when Houman considered what to present on his maiden endeavour. When I first met the big fella, I was discussing with him the potential outcome of a green card application, and we inevitably got on to the subject of food. “Yeah, I spent all weekend roasting veal bones to make stock,” he said. Only a true gastronaut would attempt that. I was impressed. I invited him to come and eat with the club, and he loved it.

On this particular evening, the Lord had blessed Houman with an impressive half pig, probably from Heaven itself, and our newest member didn’t have too much trouble thinking what to do with it. With a cheekily nicknamed ‘Pork Slope’ theme, tonight he was determined to take us unwavering on a porcine odyssey.

Houman is of Persian blood, and if I ever doubted whether he would eat pork or not, I need never have been concerned:

  • Apfel Greibenschmalz (apple and onion caramelized in pork fat)
  • Pork rillettes (using belly and shoulder)
  • Cassoulet (pork and duck confit)
  • Khoreshteh Karafs (a traditional Persian stew of pork with celery and parsley)
  • Mac & Cheese (with bacon, gruyere, parmesan, cheddar)
  • Something light for dessert: Dark chocolate mousse!

With only four brave souls in attendance and a mountain of pork to get through, we each had our work cut out. I thought the mood was light and upbeat as we convened at Houman’s, and what I initially sensed to be an air of excitement turned out to be nerve-jangling apprehension. We were about to attempt to eat our own weight in pork.

While we sipped wine and chattered nervously in the lounge, in the dining room our host dished out stout amounts of rillettes, the greibenschmalz and tore up some warmed baguettes. Pete mentioned that he brought the torchon of foie gras we didn’t finish last week with him, which only added to our fear as Houman made it another part of the appetizer course(s). Once we all sat at the table and looked at our fatty foes square in their greasy eyes, the air of menace was supplanted by resigned sighs and calm determination. If all this pork and fat was indeed going to kill us tonight, we were at least going to die fighting.

Things were spread on crusty bread. Wine corks were popped. The greibenschmalz reminded me of an apple yoghurt, except that this one had suspicions of pork sausage to it, a sort of mild bacon ‘laciness’ - A brilliantly sinful mouthful. The rillettes had been deliberately underseasoned I think, so chef could correct it at the last moment and sprinkle the glistening meaty shards with a flurry of salt crystals. So rich, so perfect, the mixture of lean and fat, undeniably porky and another delight to the palate. The foie, as good as it was 2 weeks ago, had somehow managed to get even better as it aged. The evening had started off with a range of smooth textures and flavours, and Houman’s pork showcase had only just begun.

I was equally impressed when our host stated that for the next course, a stunning cassoulet, he’d confited the duck himself. It’s an expensive thing to do unless you have membership to the DFA (Duck Fat Association) which gives its members a gallon of free duck fat every week for life. (I did wonder what the gamey smelling barrels in Houman’s kitchen were.) Anyway, he’d cooked some silky duck legs in their own juice, and inserted one each into individual cassoles containing white beans, pork belly and pork sausage. A prolonged baking at a low heat had created a deliciously crisp crust, while underneath the beans had collapsed in their own aromatic skins and made a wonderfully unctuous and rich porky slurry. A cassoulet made with such finesse won’t last long, and I couldn’t stop eating it. I washed mine down with a bottle of Belgium’s sultriest ale - Duvel.

The big fella had chance to show us an Iranian dish next – Khoreshteh – karafs – A delicious stew of pork with celery and parsley. Chunks of pork shoulder, like everything else we had eaten tonight, had been treated to a long and slow cooking method, making the pork surrender its structural integrity to the heat, the delicate fingers of meat only held together by highly adhesive fat, congealing juice and unseen Van der Waals forces. This stuff was superbly tender, like eating a plateful of shredded silk, the sauce deeply flavoured but brightened by the addition of lemon juice and extra fresh parsley.

We were right to be nervous at the beginning of the meal. By now, four courses in, bellies were stretched to that point known as the elastic limit, where a single extra mouthful could prove disastrous. Cigarettes were suggested, and more wine, while we digested what we’d eaten so far and feared the two courses we were still to eat – Mac & cheese with bacon, and about a pint of chocolate mousse each.

I couldn’t eat my macaroni cheese. I was just too full. I did admire the ochre-hued cheesy crust (which managed to be crisp and elastic at the same time) and gooey pasta speckled with smoked bacon, but I could only inhale it. Grant and Pete soldiered on proudly, stuffing forkful after forkful into their faces, looking in disbelief as I sat staring at my portion. They would regret it later on when they tried to walk the few blocks to the pub.

The chocolate mousse was really a decent chocolate mousse, but by now things had gone too far. I was glad I turned up hungry and managed to get in four platefuls of extraordinary pork. I didn’t think I could do anything else justice, but foolishly slaved away with spoon and tongue until there was no trace of mousse left in the glass.

The pork had been the star and Houman treated us to a meal we won’t forget for some time. And to think I wondered whether he even ate the stuff.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin