If you missed the Today Show this morning, meaning if you have a job and don’t lie around all day watching TV off an antenna, then you’ll have to pick up the Internet stream of Jimmy Hagood and the Blackjack BBQ team here. Jimmy and the boys left the “Big Red Rig” up in NYC after the James Beard and Big Apple BBQ bash and showed up to challenge none other than legendary barbeque god Ed Mitchell himself. Now I’ll defend SC “Q” to the ends of the earth, but Mitchell is one hell of a cook. His new Raleigh, NC location, The Pit, puts out the best North Carolina style pig this Southern boy has ever munched upon; so it was no surprise when he wowed the judges and took home a unanimous victory.
Of course, these things tend to be rigged, and since Al Roker, who looks like he’s been hitting the buffet early and often once again, couldn’t even pronounce Jimmy’s last name (in two attempts), I’d say that Mitchell had the inside advantage. It helps that he long ago achieved promotional fame with the Southern Foodways Alliance, as they tend to be king makers in this sort of thing. But Jimmy sure is getting Chucktown some street cred. Perhaps in another year or two, the SFA will cut us some slack and get around to including our little ole’ state in their “BBQ Trail” exhibit. After all, we’ve got a real, live Jim N’ Nicks franchise right downtown now and we are just as close to New Orleans as North Carolina. That, along with a big city TV appearance, should have people like the SFA and Food Network clamoring to show the Big Red Rig to the world – and Jimmy was on today, quick to point out the “only state with three sauces” adage that gives SC a singular distinctive claim in the world of barbeque snobbery.
Also to be found on the Today website are a couple of pork shoulder recipes from the masters. Now, I don’t see any secrets divulged in there, and I’m pretty sure that the amount of charcoal called for would put a kettle grill well over the 400 degree mark, but they do a good job illustrating the differences between SC and NC barbeque.
I was out yesterday in North Chuck, hauling a load of old gutters from my home renovation project to a blistering hot scrap metal yard on Rivers Avenue, and decided to dive into La Nortena, which despite its relocation, schmancy facelift, and watered down menu, still serves some damn good tacos alongside the best Mexican butcher counter in town – the only place where one can grab an armful of langoustines, some fresh Limehouse tomatoes, and a couple of pounds of beef cheeks under one roof – because, ostensibly, the nice folks at La Nortena really do care whether or not you die from the salmonella clinging to a Florida tomato.
Of course, man cannot live on beef tongue tacos and local tomatoes alone, so I trucked on down by the H & L Supermarket, my Asian grocer of choice these days, to stock up on some thick udon and various Eastern culinary ephemera. …and I got to wondering: what exactly, besides a decidedly more toothsome texture, separates a taco filled with fried pork intestines (which was served up hot and delicious for my lunch yesterday) and the “nastier bits”, like pig uterus, that even self-described exploratory eaters might wince at? After all, both are innards, even if intestines are well known in these parts – because you know, to say nothing of chitterlings, the best intestines make that decidedly snappy “crunch” when you bite into a quality hot dog.
Of course, when it comes to something as pedestrian as pig uterus, there are bound to be multiple theories. I can hear them now. Will Moredock will chalk its opprobation up to sexual repression and pen a scathing indictment of traditional Southern mores and irrational fears of an object associated with the taboo of reproductive health, but which in reality is no more exceptional than eating the thymus gland of a young calf – sweetbreads anyone? Jack Hunter will castigate the very notion of allowing such food to even be sold, owing to the number of illegal aliens that probably find comfort in such “wayward” fare, but then again, that would implicate my plate of tripe tacos as well – and Jack is way to enamored with Robert F. Williams these days, a man who undoubtedly chowed down on some low-pig in his life, to start picking on organ meats.
I don’t really happen to relish pig uterus myself (don’t make that face, you’ve never tried it). It’s too chewy, even after someone braises the hell out of it. I’d rather dig into some good ole’ beef tendon, meltingly soft and gelatinous and swimming in a big bowl of Vietnamese pho, or a big plate of conch fritters – hot and steaming from the grease, with a squirt of lime and a cold beer.
I’m pretty sure if you had offered my grandfather, a native resident of the Delmarva peninsula and no stranger to seafood, a conch fritter, he would have looked at you funny (clams were more than welcome though), and if you tried to make him eat a beef tendon, he might have punched you out. But I can imagine kids coming home from college in a few years with a taste for uterus, with horrified middle class moms and dads, and FOX news screaming about the dangers of normalizing the behaviors of the evil Chinese. …and it’s all there for you right now, in a North Chuck refrigerator case, right out there off Rivers Avenue, next to the pork blood and the beef bungs. You could go, and get ahead of the curve. Why? Because life at the McDonald’s drive-thru is for boring fat people who are too scared to ingest anything besides high fructose corn syrup and modified food starch.
Pig uterus just may have a future, and you heard it here first.
I look forward to summer all year. Not just because it’s my favorite season, being that I despise cold and actually feel comfortable in 100 degree heat, but primarily because the food of summer is still so different, still so distinctively singular and, well, seasonal. In a time that it seems we have homogenized the very essence of life into a long strand of banal commodities, the freshness of summer still infects the Lowcountry.
There’s an old farmer that seems to drop by my wife’s law firm when the weather ripens every year (probably because he’s a favored client) with a big sackful of something or other under his arm, and we eat like kings. This time it was fresh corn, straight from the field, alongside the first big load of squash and zucchini from my parent’s garden, waiting patiently in the refrigerator for us to return from New York and drop them in the hot grease.
From dirt to dinner…
We didn't want to leave anyone out of the mix. I found a couple more pictures to share. Congratulations guys, you all made Charleston proud...
We strolled the red carpet, ate all the delicious food, and partied into the wee hours of the New York night. The results are in. Congratulations to Robert Stehling and the whole crew over at Hominy Grill, now the “Best Chef Southeast” winner for 2008!
Out of two possible winning categories, Charleston took the medal in one, bringing the Best Chef Southeast to its rightful home in the Holy City. What most didn’t expect is that dark horse candidate Hominy Grill would best favorites Five and Ten from Athens and our own Mike Lata at FIG, a finalist in the category for the second straight year. Victory for Lata and Sean Brock, nominated for the uber-prestigious “Rising Star Chef” award will surely come, but the disappointment among fans of the two was palpable after the event.
The awards, hosted by Food Network’s Bobby Flay and Kim Cattrall of Sex in the City fame, were followed by a gala reception focused on artisanal food in America – and a virtual who’s who of American culinary culture. Between stealing bites of roasted pork belly and gawking at celebrity chefs, we bumped into Best Chef New York winner and red hot restaurateur David Chang, who recently cooked with Sean Brock and McCrady’s crew during this year’s Food + Wine festival, and partied way too late on the unofficial “after-party” circuit -- more pics to come when we sober up a bit…