Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sunday a la Mexicana: Pickled Pork Skin, Anyone?

It’s still April, the trees may be greening, but already, it's feeling like summer, so I’m wondering if taking my shirt off – let’s admit it, I’m a hairy guy – is really a viable option. I'm really schvitzing here. Gotta buy some gold necklaces to nestle in the chest hair first, I guess.

It’s Sunday, of course, and this week we’re picnicking at Flushing Meadows Park with the family: Sara, Jose, Juan, Maria, Mari, Alma, Giancarlo, Janine, Jonathan, Diego, and Lalo. We're sprawled in the grass and our faces glow, softly, colored by the purples, whites, and yellows of the new spring blossoms overhead. Across the lawn, two giggling girls are showing off their new fit-for-summer bodies under the Globitron, a 12-story chromed replica of Mother Earth, made famous by, among other things, the final scene of Men in Black. Reggaeton pumps in the distance while cholos ride past us on their tricked-out bikes. What a day. Here comes the foo-ood.

Like Anthony Bourdain says, it's always better to eat with your shoes off, and I have to agree with him and more: outside in the park, shoeless, with sweet spring air and tender grass, we're absolutely ravenous.

The raw ingredients for tortas de milanesa de pollo and massive chicharrones de harina are arrayed in their glory on our industrial-sized picnic blanket. As I will continue to say, we don't do food half-way: soon we're attacking this picnic like a pack of wild animals.

And tortas are the perfect picnic food: smooth with avocado, refried beans and sour cream, lifted by the tang of hot sauce and fresh onions. With each bite, pickled jalapenos burst and crunch with a tart, refreshing spice while juicy tomatoes complement the milanesa, a breaded chicken cutlet that is crisp, moist, and toothsome at the same time.

I've had tortas and their cousin, the cemita (even better!), many times, but our second course was daunting. After overcoming my fear of all food British last week – including offal – my sister wanted to push my taste buds even further: we would be eating pickled pork skin.

Now, I love everything about chicharrones, those giant, deep-fried pillows of crisp, tang and spice. I love the word chicharron, the way it rolls off the tongue and makes me start drooling. But today would bring me something totally new: chicharrones preparado, vaguely basket-shaped chicharrones liberally slathered with sour cream and hot sauce and topped by cabbage, tomatoes, onions, avocado and...pickled pork skin.

According to Jose, this is classic comida de la calle, Mexican street food, but to my American sensibilities, it just doesn't work. I'm not squeamish – I'll eat pretty much anything – but even so, here I am, looking at a bowl of translucent, pasty, gelatinous, worm-like strips of skin, and I have to shudder a little bit. No offense to those who love skin pickles, but I don't even like Jell-O.

Here goes nothing.

So here's the deal: I love pickles – I'm Jewish, right? – and I love pork (Don't quote me on this, but Orthodox Jews aside, we love pig more than anyone else), but package the two flavors in a cold, gelatinous strip of pickled skin and they just don't work so good. Not to say I don't like the rest of the dish, but the next one I make, I've swapped out the skin for more chicken. Fucking Americano. Of course, I'll try it again, for sure. For sure.

Next course, please.

At a New York picnic, especially in the outer boroughs, and especially at a place like Flushing Meadows, you buy your dessert from the ubiquitous and itinerant churro vendor or Coco Helado cart, (which contains what appear to be Italian ices and sometimes ice cream), or, more often than not, out of someone's backpack.

I kid you not. At Flushing Meadows, there are roving bartenders whose backpacks are flush with Coronas and Modelos. Then there are the traveling restaurateurs pushing baby carriages laden with roast corn slathered with mayonnaise, rolled in chili powder and cotija, or peeled, spicy mangos on a stick.

We choose the ice cream.

The sun is going down and the kids, Jonathan, Diego, Janine and Giancarlo, are smiling, still energetic, happily covered, head-to-toe, in food grime and grass clippings. I'm loving this summer-y spring weather, my blissed out family and a day well-spent on a blanket, in a field, surrounded by cholos and soccer players, hipsters and sun-bathers, all enjoying this park, this Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. wowza...I love that pickle/cheese photo! You need to give me some lessons in food porn.

    I like your blog!!!!!