March Mad Cow

March 30th, 2009

So I have kind of failed at making March “Beef Month” as the only other beef I have eaten since the Burger Joint burger is one bite of Kobe Beef off the husband’s Surf ‘n Turf birthday plate at La Bernadin. I liked it, but so far there’s no question who will take the final spot in my own personal march meat madness  bracket. It will come from the pork region. And the region of pig will be belly.  I had another portion of pork belly at A Di La and it only cemented my love of the fattiest part of the pig. I’ve gotten some excellent bacon at the Union Square farmer’s market and enjoyed my first BLT. I try to eat other meat, but bacon keeps drawing me back in.  In the words of a wise man, “Bacon, the most beautiful thing on earth… bits of bacon are like the fairy dust of the food community”:

So while I may be guilty of a meat fail with my march mission, the year is but a third over and there’s plenty of time to give beef it’s due. Meanwhile, I’m going to cook up some Bacon Donuts. Bibity bobity bacon!

I had many good recommendations for my first burger, but in the end, it came down to more than the meat.  As much as “burgourmands” debate the pros and cons of this place’s patty versus that bistro’s beef, in the end there were a few things that narrowed my choices.  Mainly, I didn’t want a huge, crazy burger. On Saturday, the husband indulged me as I scoped out some final choices. Yes, I went and just looked at people eating burgers.

Both the burgers at Shake Shack and the Burger Joint looked “normal” and had received the most rave reviews from both friends and the Internets.  In the end, the appeal of the getting a good burger at a diner-like dive hidden in a fancy midtown hotel could not be beat. On Sunday, we returned at what I thought would be a non-totally-crazy-nutso-hour-crowd time (3 pm) and snagged a table.

I had the hubband wait on line and instructed him to order a burger medium-rare “with the world.” Yeah, I read the posted how-to-order sign as saying “the world” when any sane person would realize, funny font or no, that it said “the works.” In any case, he knew what’s what and brought me back:

first burger

I cut it open and took my first burger bite. The “works” I should mention, includes lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. My first bite I must admit was mainly a taste of toppings. But further bites made me realize that the hub was right: Burgers have a lot to do with toppings. Did I like it? Yes. Was it very different from a good turkey burger to me? No, it was not.

I was sort of disappointed: I expected it to be a  world-changing beef bite. But either I still don’t have the palate or I just don’t see the big deal about burgers. It was good, yes, but if it changed anything in my belief o’ beef, it was that burgers in and of themselves may never ever make their way into a regular food for me, and that 34 years may be too late to get into hamburgling.

Last in my journey was to find out: Would I, in competitive eating terms, suffer a reversal?

While I left a few bites on my paperish plate, the happy news is that I managed to keep it all down. I think I may be able to stomach anything now! Backyard squirrels, watch out.

When I think of hamburgers, I think of J. Wellington Wimpy, friend of Popeye and moocher of burgers. He loved burgers so, he would beg, borrow, and even once committed identity theft to procure his favorite treat. Ask my dad, he’ll know just what I mean. For Wimpy, any burger would do. But for me, I am looking for the best.

Now, there are plenty of recommendations for great burgers in NYC: The blog “A Hamburger Today,” for instance, has an entire section just on burgers in NYC. And I’ve been looking around for “best burger” lists and have found:

To name a few of the very, very many. Man. Grilled vs. griddled? Fancy shmancy or plain Jane? It’s too much to take in. So here’s where you can help me out, my meat-eating NYC readers. I’m asking, not what you think is the best burger of all, but What burger would you recommend for someone’s first ever burger?

Think of me as a foreigner, from a burger-free land where not even McDonalds have managed to sprout. You want to amaze me with this American tradition, this miracle of ground beef and bun. Where do you take me?

Post title cleverly coined by the husband in reponse to my declaration yesterday that this month I’m going to “beef up.”

The first two months of my Carne-val of meat have largely consisted of explorations of fowl and pig. I’ve really porked up (in every sense of the word!) and have enjoyed eating pork ragu, fried pork jowl nuggets, some dried meats like speck, and bacon and sausage a plenty.  I tried a decent piece of ham. I even bought and cooked bacon for the first time: First duck bacon and now “regular” bacon — specifically this bacon (from the hippiemart: it’s not all tofu and sprouts and kale). Okay, okay, I did use some of the bacon to saute with organic kale.  It was delicious.

It’s interesting to cook meat in general, as I have very little frame of reference for it. Most people grow up seeing, even if just in passing, meats being cooked. Other than at other people’s BBQs and my bacon-loving college roommate, I have never really been around meat cookery. So what have I learned?  I am disturbed by how much fat liquifies off bacon. Simultaneously, I am intrigued by the idea of clarifying it and using it in other things.  On TV, I watched Gordon Ramsey go to the abattoir with two pigs he raised himself on “The F Word” and it was sad and hard to take. Yet I am still planning on putting together a butchering class to learn how to break down a pig.  He still cooked and served those pigs. I’m not taking it that far: I have space for tomatoes, but not livestock. Which I think may be illegal in any case in NYC and in every case would definitely not be cool with the landlord. (No, really, that’s my giant hairless cat!)

The best part so far is how easy it is to order anything I want when I go out. I haven’t turned 180 degrees so I order sausage followed by a bacon-wrapped pork chop followed by a ham and cheese sandwich. I still order a lot of the same kinds of things: I love fish, I love pasta, I love vegetables. I crave them. But now I don’t have to ask if the collard greens have bacon. When I taste bacon in my cornmeal-crusted catfish, I don’t have to make my dinnermates taste it and weigh in before asking the waiter and considering being the jerk who sends back the fish because of a whiff of meat. Instead, I go “yum.” I say “Taste this, it’s amazing.”

Since I’m getting comfortable with porcine products on my plate, it seems the right time to mooooove on. Sorry, I can’t help myself. Simply, my plan for March is to really brave beef.

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