Monday, March 14, 2011


The Loved One is addicted to Chopped, the Food Channel tv show – you probably know it - in which four irritating chefs with more ego than charm are given mystery ingredients – generally including something intractable like breakfast cereal or umboshi - and have to come up with some more or less edible dishes, on which three food celebrities pass judgment.  Watching it makes me want to kill something, one of the chefs preferably, though that may well be exactly what the show’s producers’ intended.

Anyway now we have Chopped All Stars which creates even more intense thoughts of slaughter, since the all star contestants are celebrities who tend to have made their name on reality cooking shows – so you can imagine what a laid back and self-deprecating bunch they are.

Last night one of the mystery ingredients was haggis – in a can because it’s illegal to sell fresh haggis in the US - and the way the contestants reacted you’d have thought they been given a pile of dog poop to cook.  For Christ’s sake America, if you’re prepared to eat a hotdog or a chicken nugget you are not allowed to turn your nose up at anything, least of all haggis.  To be fair, Robert Irvine, an actual Englishman who’s gone native in TV land, didn’t make much of a fuss, though he did find other ways to be irritating

Still, at least the one who protested too much - Duff Goldman “star” of Ace of Cakes  -got sent home at the first possible opportunity – right, you stick to your fondant icing, buddy.

Anyway, this morning by pal Susanna Forrest sent me the above a cutting from the Times of London dated June 8th 1882, concerning the state of butchery late nineteenth century London.  Click on it if you want to read it all.  “I came across it while romping through The Times archive in search of things on horse meat,” she explained helpfully.

It’s a letter to the editor, from a correspondent who signs himself A London Butcher.  He rails against frozen meat, specifically that from new Zealand, and though I’m lost on some of the contemporary references, I’m much taken with his lines “I assert that nowhere is the whole of the offal of the animals slaughtered as fully utilized as it is here in London ... To abuse the butchers as so many of your correspondents do is quite beside the mark.”

Susanna is a horse lover and a food lover and author of a forthcoming book titled If Wishes Were Ponies, about her own and the world’s fascination with horses.  So I asked her if she’d ever eaten horse meat and she replied,  “Never knowingly. Don't think I could. Fully aware of the ideological inconsistencies of being a meat-eating, pro-horse slaughter realist who doesn't want to eat the stuff.”

Well, it’s funny she should say that. I bought some smoked pork tongues last week and they’ve been sitting in the fridge ever since and I eye them from time to time and I think yes, I will eat them quite soon but not right now, and I’m edging toward the realization that maybe I won’t actually be eating them at all.  And I agree this would be a shameful waste.

I think the problem is that they look just too tongue-like.  I can all easily imagine the piglets they came from, quite small ones judging by the size of the tongues, and although it doesn’t seem any more morally objectionable to eat a piglet’s tongue than his trotter or skin, there’s just some about the tongue that gets to me.  Ideological inconsistencies, indeed.

And then later in the day somebody sent me a news item about the Chinese boiling eggs boiled in children’s urine.  That's them above, apparently.  This, I take it, is some new spin on the myth (or maybe it isn’t a myth) that Chinese Century eggs are boiled in horse urine.  The story came from Metro a free tabloid given out in tube stations to London commuters, so not an entirely unimpeachable source of information, but I assume they just got it from a genuine news service.

According to the article, traditional chefs in Dongyang, Zhejiang province, eastern China, have been doing boiling egg’s in children’s urine for thousands of years but we only hear of it now because there’s a big “export push.” A chef name of Lu Ming is quoted as saying: “The urine is gathered from local schools and the very best comes from boys under 10 years old. They pee in buckets and we collect it fresh every day.”  The Internet offers many supporting images.

First the eggs are boiled with their shells on, and then with them off, a process that takes a day and a night. Lu Ming goes on: “The eggs are delicious and healthy. They stop fevers and can help you concentrate if you're feeling sluggish or sleepy.”

Now I’m not sure that any egg really needs boiling for a day and a night, but leaving that aside, again the only objection seems to be an aesthetic one.  We know that urine is in fact a pretty harmless substance, especially if it’s been boiled for all that time.  The problem seems to be these anonymous ten year old boys.  In these days of local sourcing, when we know the family trees of the critters we eat, I think I’d like a little bit more information about who these boys are.  Surely we have enough eggs and enough urine at home without having to import any from China.  Why can’t be have native, free range, artisanal Century eggs, possibly with celebrity endorsement.  Surely Lady Gaga or Kate Middleton or Charlotte Gainsbourg must have some urine they could spare in order to create special “limited edition” eggs.  Let the suckers on Chopped use them as a mystery ingredient.

1 comment:

  1. I'm also a big fan of Chopped, though agree with you that some contestant's egos should be the first thing on the block. I like the way they're given disharmonious products ("a pig's trotter, marshmallow fluff, and...dandelion greens") then come up with wacky dishes, which they give chef-fy names. It's exciting. I just push away the observation that every dish that is presented contains the chef's personal sweat.

    Also wanted to say: try the tongue! I recently read Mark Schatzker's "Steak: One Man's Search for the Tastiest Piece of Beef" and he writes of beef tongue in Japan as "mouth-poppingly luscious" and better than the steak he was served there.