Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Semi-Ho With Aunt Grandy

Looking for a fresh new reason to be pissed off at Roger Goodell? Look no further than this here post. It’s his fault that I’m writing it, and it’s his fault that you just started reading it. Hey, if it’s any consolation, I do end up horribly boned. High five!
I don’t consider myself a “home chef” nor do I consider myself exceptionally learned in the gastronomic arts. I don’t even fancy myself a pretentious douchebag “foodie”. But I know what I like, and I like to think I can hold my own in the kitchen. I’d rather cook than go out for dinner, and my dishes usually draw raves from those for whom I cook. I’m a hobbyist. Nothing more, nothing less. The only thing I’m sure of (most of the time) is that I’m a hell of a lot better than Aunt Sandy. Occasionally the culinary gods disagree. Pride goeth before the fall and whatnot.

If you’re not familiar with Aunt Sandy, you’ve been missing out on some high comedy. You think your favorite sitcom is funny? You have no idea. I’m just sayin’, the best comedy is the unintentional comedy. And nothing makes unintentional comedy like equal parts blind adventurousness, hubris and cluelessness. Cocktail time!

Anyway, back to ME! Occasionally, I get a wild hair up my ass. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that there are times when I forget what I can’t do, and bad ideas start to sound like good ideas. I get a little too big for my britches and convince myself that this time, I’ve got a fighting chance against the kryptonite.

My kryptonite? Rice. Plain ole fuckin’ rice.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m more than capable of throwing a cup of rice and two cups of liquid into a microwave-safe dish and blasting that shit for 5 minutes on high and 15 minutes on 50%. Which is usually what I do, and it works out fine. It’s the dishes where the rice has to be cooked in with other shit which never fail to end up with me punching my own self repeatedly in the groin.

Which is why I figured it would be a fantastic idea to cook up a big pot of something vaguely resembling jambalaya* over Memorial Day weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

I mean, shit. I can poach an egg. I can make a hollandaise. I can do steak au poivre and coq au vin. I can do fresh pasta and I can make a soufflé. I fry a mean oyster, and I can knock out a stack of killer crêpes. No way in hell I’m letting this Mahatma™ chump defeat me! (Again.)

Dammit! You win this round, Aunt Sandy. I’m sure you and your BFF Tony Bourdain will have a hearty chuckle at my expense.

In my defense, I was gonna make a Kwanzaa Cake™ but I’ll be damned if I could find a box of Kwanzaa Cake Mix at my local groshry store. Go figure. And those asshole squirrels keep bogarting all the acorns! Shit!!!

*Here’s the thing, my experience making jambalaya is minimal. For one thing, I’ve got a lifelong friend who makes a killer jambo, so I usually don’t have to worry about it. Secondly, most of the time I’m well aware of the fact that rice kicks my ass, and everyone else I know is also well aware of that fact.

But like I said, occasionally I do get a wild hair (which is still neither here nor there, just sayin’ is all) and wanna try some stupid shit. Some wacky Semi-Ho shit. That’ll show ’em!

So I hatched this here brilliant idea/evil plan. Smoke a pork butt over hickory for half a day. Then braise that same pork butt in mojo for another couple hours, carnitas style. Then pull the pork look at it the wrong right way, causing it to fall apart. Then throw that into a pot with some sausage, rice (wait, what?) and some canned pie filling and pumpkin pie spice and whatnot.

The goal? A big huge pot of some kind of crazy-ass barbecue/latin/creole Wangalaya type thing. Or, in other words, fuck if I know. But it sure did sound good at the time.

And it would have been great, had I not refused to acknowledge my own limitations. Respect the enemy. Don’t get too big for your britches. That kind of thing. But noooooo.

Oh, it started out incredibly successful. Day 1: Rubbed the meat (but again I digress.) Salt, pepper, onion, garlic, pimentón (in your face, Giada!) and all the other standard stuff except chili powder and cumin (didn’t think those were called for with this.) Let it sit in the fridge for a day. Got my trinity all prepped.

Day 2: Smoking/braising day. Glorious. Started with a happy accident, the butt had a huge streak of fat running right down the middle, and when I took it out of the fridge, it fell into two pieces. I’ve got a hunch that I’ll be doing that on purpose from now on. Anyway, they went about 7 hours over hickory.

While I was smoking, I put a couple sticks of Carolina Pride™ Brand store-bought smoked sausage on there too, to smoke some more and get the casing all nice and crispy and black. I like my smoked sausage smoky, slightly dried out and charred on the outside. Should have known to put an extra stick on, because probably half of it never made it into the final dish.

Here’s where I think I unwittingly started burning up all my khitchen kharma though, because when the time came to braise, I found myself succumbing to the urge to go all Semi-Ho with it.

I’ve made mojo a million times, it’s not like it’s hard. If it were a different kind of dish, and if I weren’t already spending the better part of three days on it, I might have gone ahead and done that. But at the risk of offending anyone’s foodie snobbery sensibilities, Goya™ Brand Mojo Criollo does the job just fine, thank you very much. It’s a fine product, tasty, and a handy thing to have in the fridge.

Anyway, it’s not like the prefab groshry store mojo was the problem. Aunt Sandy is right about one (and only one) thing: We ought not be snobs about all prefab products. I mean, shit, do you churn your own butter? Do you not use prefab spice blends? Go ahead, just try to tell me you don’t have a pantry full of canned, jarred and boxed shit. I dare ya. And for that matter, keep on believing that there were no prefab products on that plate at the 5-star restaurant you paid $100 to have a world-class chef prepare for you. But that’s a rant for another day, on some message board or other.

What I failed to take into account was the effect on the khitchen kharma. I was already up against my own personal kitchen nemesis, and in my arrogance, I go and anger the culinary gods by selling a little piece of my soul to Aunt Sandy. Shit, how did I not see this coming? I should have known, and I should have backed away slowly right then and there to regroup.

In retrospect, I could have “deconstructed” the whole damn thing and not only would it have kicked large amounts of ass, I could have ducked the champ and been showered with foodie props for having “deconstructed” something. Something that was goddamn fusion in the first place! Double whammy! People would have been trying to goad me into walking up to Morimoto™ and slapping him across the face with a duelling glove and shit.

But noooo. I just had to press on. At this point, not only am I marching right into enemy lines without breaking formation, I’m also blissfully unaware of the fact that I’m knee-deep in Semi-Ho quicksand. Damn you, Aunt Sandy! Damn you!!!

Day 3: Best laid plans. Wang’s hubris comes back to bite him right on the wang.

I even went so far as to drain the pork from the braising liquid and measure it out to adjust the water. Should have known that asshole Mahatma™ would have known I’d do that, and would counter by sending Reggie Bush™ in motion in an effort to fuck my world up.

Never saw it coming though.

Sauté the hell out of the trinity (in bacon fat, no less!) and dump everything into the pot. The soup tasted like God’s sweat. There were like six choirs singing in the background, and at least one orchestra that routinely gets gigs backing Aerosmith and/or Cypress Hill.

Meantime, I’m sinking further into the Semi-Ho quicksand and still don’t even realize it. Gotta up the ante on the whole latin vibe. Need some texture too. Frozen corn. A can of black beans. A jar of roasted red bells. A can of Hunts™ Fire Roasted Dice Tomatoes. (Another fine product, for the record. You and Giada and Tyler Florence can keep your cans of Cento™ Brand™ Real™ San Marzano™ tomatoes straight from the fields of Naples™.)

As evil schemes go, it was pretty fuckin’ brilliant if I do say so myself. And I’d have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their dog! Oh, and the rice. Have I mentioned the asshole rice?

Oh, the shame. The crippling, soul-crushing shame. When it was all over, I couldn’t even bring myself to serve it. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how something can be overcooked and undercooked at the same time. Half gummy and disintegrated, half crunchy and raw.

Norm Macdonald: WHAT THE H?!?

Yes, Aunt Sandy, I’m well aware of the wonders of Uncle Ben’s. And since I was already balls-deep into the Semi-Ho quicksand anyway, why I insisted on Real™ raw long-grain rice is anyone’s guess.

Actually, I know exactly why. Mahatma™ is my white whale, and as God™ is my witness, I shall not rest until I defeat him. My culinary genitals can plead for mercy until the cows come home, I remain steadfast in my resolve. It is my life’s mission.

Meantime, damn did I think I had the drop on him this time. He was on the ropes and bleeding from his left eye. It was in the bag.

Sigh. Hate world. Revenge soon. Take out on everyone.