Homer Simpson: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa Simpson: No
Homer Simpson: Ham?
Lisa Simpson: No.
Homer Simpson: Pork chops?
Lisa Simpson: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer Simpson: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
Porky Pig is not one of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoon characters. He’s really only funny later in his career when he was teamed with Daffy Duck for a series of cartoons in which he played Daffy’s wiser and more philosophical sidekick. The highlight of his career as a second banana was probably the cartoon in which he played Friar Tuck to Daffy’s would-be Robin Hood. No, Porky Pig I don’t much care for. Pork of pig, however, I love.
If I was on death row and had to pick my last meal before the execution, my demand would be that my mother be allowed to cook it. The meal would consist of fried pork chops, collard greens, rice and gravy, brussel sprouts and fried sliced potatoes. Very healthy stuff, no doubt. And if I had to choose only one item from that menu, it would be the pork chops. I don’t care what anyone reading this thinks, my mother makes better pork chops than you’ve ever eaten in your life. They are truly food of the gods.
First she lets them thaw and lays them out on a paper towel until they are dry. She then covers both sides in flour and seasons them with pepper and salt–yes, she copiously adds salt to already ever-so-salty pork–before slapping them down in a pan full of bubbling hot oil. The oil, by the way, has to come from lard, not the bottled oil variety. Don’t ask me why, but you can tell the difference. Go figure.
She fries them to a golden brown after first cutting the slightest little slit up the meaty portion. If you don’t do this, then the pork chop will curl and you won’t get a perfect even fry. If I’m lucky there will be little bits of fried flour that retain the seasoning, umm-umm good! The taste of pork has never been topped in the history of pork preparation.
I kid you not, my mother’s pork chops are legendary. Everyone who eats them comes back asking for more. They are especially delicious when she finds the semi-thick chops with a healthy ribbon of fat around the edge, but she can work miracles with those ultra-thin chops as well as those super-thick, pigs-on-steroids chops that you occasionally come across. Seriously, they’re addictive. If I die of heart disease, the fault rests entirely on my mother and my inability to just say no to her pork chops. And you know what? If I knew I was going to die of heart disease, I probably would still go on eating them up until that fateful day. That’s just how good they are.
I’m not actually sure what part of the pig is technically the “chop.” I would be hard pressed to pick it out on one of those charts showing which segments of the pig are edible. But I sure do love the lowly little pig for having been blessed by God with having “chops.” I think the fact that they’ve been blessed with having chops elevates the pig to a certain level of greatness. And it’s not just that they have them, either, it’s what they do with them. I’ve tried lamb chops and they just left me chewing for an eternity. To quote a song from the British new wave group General Public, where is the tenderness? Lambs may be cuter than pigs–and actually I think I would argue that point–but when it comes to having great chops, there’s no contest. The pig is champ.
They call breakfast the most important meal of the day. Of course, one of the great mainstays of breakfast throughout the centuries has been bacon. Specifically, sugar-cured bacon, though I know there are many who prefer the hickory smoked variety and I’m not going to argue the merits. I mean both kinds are certainly better than this thing they’ve got now called turkey bacon. Ever tried it? Just once, no doubt. If you can stomach it, more power to you, but as for me, give me pork bacon or give me death. Does anything smell better in the morning than the aroma of freshly cooked bacon wafting through the house? I think we can almost all agree that the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven is the single best fragrance that can be manufactured in the kitchen, but I personally think that the scent of bacon runs a close second.
I’m one of those people who don’t like their bacon to be crispy. I like my bacon to be limp and unable to stick out straight when held by the end. The way I cook my bacon is to lay down the strips in the pan and fry it over a low heat so that it doesn’t get brittle on me. As the aroma begins to fill the house, I augment the effect by adding to it the exceptionally mouth-watering bouquet of Tabasco sauce. I pour about two teaspoons into the pan and let the bacon cook in a taste-tempting mixture of its own rendered fat and the famous hot sauce from Avery Island, Louisiana, which I purchase by the gallon. The result is simply to die for.
But it doesn’t end there. Take the bacon out, all limp and curling around the tines of the fork, and place it to the side. Then get a can of collard greens-or better yet some leftover fresh greens that my mother made a night or two before-and put them into the bacon grease/Tabasco mix. Fry well and you’ve got yourself the making of one memorable southern-fried meal. Can a horse make collard greens taste better? Can a dog? Can a lamb or a cow? I think not. The pig comes through again.
Turkey is the undisputed king of Thanksgiving. I admit it and I love the bird myself. But in our house, Thanksgiving isn’t complete unless there’s also a nicely baked ham. Now I know a lot of people go for the honey-baked variety or the glazed kind with the pineapple and cherry cooked on top, but I just like a simple hock of ham tossed into the oven and cooked until it’s in the pink. Ham is the only meat I eat that’s still pink after it’s been cooked. I don’t pay twelve dollars for eight ounces of steak that hasn’t even been cooked all the way, you know what I mean? And as for salmon and the other pink fish, well, frankly I prefer not to eat anything that expends every second of its life inside its own toilet. But ham, well, there’s nothing wrong at all with eating pink ham.
I must say, however, that I prefer to eat the white part of a baked ham. All that juicy white fat is thoroughly unhealthy, I know, but I can’t get enough of it. Sometimes, and around the end of November it’s always a day or two after Thanksgiving, I’ll just take a knife and cut me a slice of ham that’s nothing but fat. How can something so bad for you taste so darn good? Oh yeah, everything that tastes good is bad for you. I almost forgot.
One of the great things you can do with that beautiful white fat is to cut a few slices and throw into a pan and slow cook until it starts rendering into oil. You have to be careful not to cook it too hot or it will just burn before it’s had a chance to ooze. And you need the ooze. I repeat, you need the ooze.
Because that ooze is what you are going to be cooking your mushrooms and onions in. Sliced very thin, using preferably baby portobello mushrooms and sweet onions. (And here in the south when we say sweet onions we, of course, really mean Vidalia onions.) Slowly sauté the onions and mushrooms, making sure to leave the ham fat in there with them the whole time. That’s a must. A no-brainer. Make sure you shut the windows and close the doors unless you want your neighbors dropping in on you and eating half of what you’ve cooked. It smells that good!
And tastes even better when you add the onions, mushrooms and, yes, the hot drippings over a salad. It’s even better than that expensive bacon dressing you’ve been paying through the snout for.
A form of pig-related food that Homer Simpson didn’t get around to asking his daughter about was pork ribs for use on the barbecue grill. I don’t really like to grill out myself because whatever food I put on the grill invariably winds up dry, charred or otherwise inedible. I put my pork ribs in the oven. I don’t mind beef ribs, but really they don’t compare to pork ribs. Once again, it comes down to the fat. The fat on a pork rib is just so much juicier and delicious than on a beef rib. It’s true, you don’t get as much meat on the rib, but as Spencer Tracy once said of Katherine Hepburn, what’s there is mighty cherce.
The key to cooking ribs in the oven isn’t in the sauce, though I do make my own special concoction involving ketchup, hot sauce and sugar. No, there’s really only two things necessary that must be done to make pork ribs cooked in the oven come out delicious. Simple. So simple it’s almost easy to forget. You have to salt them. Liberally. And then you have to pepper them. Twice as liberally as you did with the salt. Do these two things and you are almost guaranteed great eats. (Apologies to Alton Brown.)
I’ve had some fun with pigs in this article, relegating my enjoyment of to the food products they offer. But, actually, I really do like pigs. In reference to my statement about not eating fish because they swim around in their own toilet, many people would counter that pigs roll around in the mud all day. That may be true, but most animal experts agree that pigs are among the cleanest animals on any farm. Pigs are also considered to be the Einsteins of the farm and in fact many experts think pigs are more intelligent than dogs. Pigs haven’t really gotten their fair due in pop culture until recently. As mentioned earlier, Porky Pig was very popular for awhile. And Arnold the Pig on the TV sitcom Green Acres certainly achieved a measure of immortality. But pigdom finally achieved pop culture greatness with the appearance of one of the most memorable film characters of the 90s, Babe. Babe the sheep-pig’s call for putting aside judgments based solely on appearances is one that everyone should heed. He is truly a philosopher-pig.
I bet my mother could make some mouth-watering pork chops out of him, too.