When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence. Now the chef/owner of Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen, due out in fall 2012. Each week, he contributes to Food Republic with his “Word On Food.” He’s on Twitter: @normanvanaken.
When the woman at the butcher counter asked Jimmy the Cutter, “do you have a nice butt?” Jimmy didn’t hesitate. “My wife kind of digs it,” he responded. The lady pushed her walker aside to get a better look at the pork in Jimmy’s case, pretending not to or simply not hearing him. Her faded alligator purse fell open to reveal a half empty carton of Lucky Strikes and a copy of Reader’s Digest. He looked at me and rolled his eyes toward the crease of his paper deli hat. “That joke used to work,” he sighed. He swung a stained cotton towel over his shoulder, reached into his case and pulled out three beautiful Niman Ranch pork butts and let me choose.
From 30 years of cutting swine, his forearms were almost as large as the pork. The woman was busy squinting into the fogged up edge of the meat case to smear some indigo lipstick on her small mouth. She smacked her lips together three times in hopes of some even application. She might have been disappointed if the mirror were any better. She smiled satisfyingly into her fuzzy reflection. I bought all three butts. Everyone was happy now.
Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world. The most common way in America just might be “low and slow” barbeque. And we have some history with the beasts.
The Caribe Indians on the island of Hispaniola taught the Spanish how to use the green wood lattices to make barbacoa — or what we now know as barbecue. A staple of the islanders’ diet was the wild hog—the locals called the animals boucan, and that word eventually came to be applied to many of the wild, seafaring island men: buccaneers.
Barbeque has become one of the most favored foods in the world. North Americans have been grilling and smoking pork as if it were an article within our Constitution. Few culinary subjects stir such rabid debate from Texas to Memphis to South Carolina and back down to the Caribbean and South America. Edit: We’re devoting an entire year of stories on the subject.
Some hold forth the theory that barbeque may have originated in China many centuries ago when a devastating fire burned down a barn and the pig farmers, who had previously never cooked meat in a fiery fashion, solaced their loss by eating well that night.
Perhaps the most common confusion in regards to grilling and barbeque is which is which. For my money barbeque is what is done with heat that is “low and slow” and that grilling is done fast and fairly furious. I like them both. Check that. I love them both. I got home from Jimmy’s and rubbed that butt lavishly with a favored spice rub. And my wife kind of digs it.