Thursday I go to Chicago for my market trip to stock up for the weekend. I order fish, veggies and on this Thursday, make the first real trip to my new meat supplier, International, on the corner of Grand and Harlem. Finding it this time is not a problem because I went on a search-out last Thursday. The only real problem will be finding my way home. Last week I went North on Harlem only to discover that it was a really bad and slow way to go.
I remembered on Wednesday to give them a call and tell them I need pork bellies. We need to make more bacon. Ever since we started making our own bacon it has really taken off. It tastes a lot differently when you use only sea salt and not the chemicals. I haven’t found a really good informational source about curing with sea salt up to this point but I know that Prosciutto de Parma is cured with nothing but sea salt so I know it is possible. I guess that’s why Prosciutto de Parma is not bright pink like other ham. (We use it as the stuffing for our chicken dish that I copied from the little restaurant in Budapest across the street from my son’s old apartment.)
I call International a couple of times to be sure that I get everything right. It is always a process when you start up with a new supplier. You have to learn how they talk about the items, the particular items you are going to buy. For instance, trim at Amity packing for my sausages is referred to as eighty percent. Not eighty percent lean or pork but just eighty percent. You want to buy at the market, you have to know the lingo and the lingo changes from house to house. Everybody has their own abbreviations.
This Thursday I am ordering Angus hamburger patties, some of the finest I have ever tasted, John gave me a five-pound sample last week. My help tasted them next to what we had been buying from Sam’s for years and to my surprise picked the new burger unanimously over the old. I had stayed out of it up to that point because I wanted them involved and I was curious about what they would think. I didn’t want to color it in any way. The following day however, I had one cooked for myself and they are right.
I used to buy from Allen Brothers. President Obama whose Chicago home is right down the street gets his meat from Allen. They are on South Halstead by the old stockyards where Uncle Frank used to take me for the International Automobile show when I was in my teens. I remember when we stayed at the Stockyard Inn in the room where President Kennedy had stayed. I remember how they used to put the championship steer on a bed of ice and let you pick and brand your own personal steak.
(As I write this, my old bartender/manager Elise calls me from Portland, where she works for an upscale restaurant called Brix. Her Chef had brought in some steaks from Allen Brothers and last week she called to tell me that she had been able to brag that she had eaten meat from there before. This morning she is wanting to know how to buy at prices lower than the on-line prices. I tell her that I or anyone can do so that has an Illinois resale number and that yes the prices are a lot cheaper at the plant than buying it over the internet. It’s funny how all this kind of thing seems to come together when you expect it the least. If you read the paragraph above, I was at the end when she called, believe it or not.
But, I explain to her, Allen is a cutter and they buy their beef from a packing company and if you want the really good beef, it is the packing company that makes all the difference, second is the breed, third the aging and the last thing on the list is the particular cut. In other words, the lowliest of cuts from a great steer handled in the proper method will be better than a so-called top cut from an inferior animal. True, Allen is a good selector of meat, but they are expensive and you can do better in both quality and price if you can find someone to bring in the specific cuts you desire from one of the highly rated packing companies. Three I personally like are Elkhorn and National, both in Kansas City, and Greater Omaha Packing.)
So that’s why I am here at International Meats on Thursday. John brings out a box with two pork bellies in it and I tell him that I need sixty to eighty pounds. No problem he says and produces two more boxes. (These pork bellies are naturally raised and I cannot wait to see how they turn out.) The other item I am picking up today are two to three-ounce filet medallions. This is the product I used to buy from Allen Brothers back in the day but they cut me off when Gibson’s demanded their whole production for the filet sliders they had just added to their menu. Everyone who works for me thinks that the meat quality is as good or better than our old supplier and Jose likes working with them in the kitchen. I get twenty pounds and they are fresh, not frozen like the ones I have been buying from Sam’s.
John also tells me that he has my first box of tested/certified in but I don’t have to take it until I am ready for it. That is exactly what I want so it gets more time in the Cryovac before we open it. I get all my goods loaded into the van and then continue West on Grand looking for Cumberland. Evidently I have missed it and I turn around trying to find it. I make a left turn to go north as the light changes and as I am lost and in a hurry make a mistake and run over the median strip but just by a little bit. I think nothing of it until I see some lights flashing in my rearview. I pull into the right lane thinking that all he wants is to get around me but no, so I find a drive and pull off the road. I explain my newness to the area and show the very nice young officer my sales ticket. He gives me a break, only writing me a warning for improper lane usage.
Back in Rockford, Jose puts the new natural bellies in to soak for a week. We are going to smoke them next Friday. Then if we can cut them in the proper direction this time we will have rounded off the rough edges of our bacon preparation. I am dying to try these new natural bellies. We will be offering some free samples Friday night. Just say “I read about the bacon” and you will get a free sample.