I was at Clancy’s, a butcher shop in south Minneapolis. Life had gone back to normal, just She and I at home, The Boys were back at school. I was gathering groceries for the two of us, and I wanted to see what Clancy’s had that I might make something decent out of. I ended up coming home with a great aged skirt steak, a long beef rib, and a three-pound chunk of pork belly.
The skirt steak I cooked that night. I tenderized it for a bit, salted it, then added it to a ziploc bag filled with diced jalapeños, onions, garlic, black pepper, and lime juice. I let it sit in the fridge for about three hours. Once it was nicely marinated, I put it under the broiler. By then, She was home. We made some pico de gallo and some guacamole. Though I do the cooking at home, Her pico and guacamole are the best. THE BEST.
Once the skirt steak was nice and crispy on the outside, and medium-rare on the inside, it was time for tacos. Tacos are one of life’s perfect foods, and along with Salmon-skin rolls, Carbonara, Ma-po tofu and fried chicken, are one of the dishes I eat to evaluate someplace I’ve never been.
The beef rib we ate the next night. I didn’t brine it or cure it, which I usually do. This time, I rubbed it with Frank’s hot sauce and salted and peppered it. Then I smoked it for a few hours. It was excellent. Really, really excellent. That’s how I’m cooking beef ribs from now on.
The pork belly was going to become bacon. I’d never MADE bacon before. So, I salted it (with just a small amount of curing salt), peppered it, and covered it in crushed cloves, juniper berries, a little cinnamon, a little crushed red pepper, a little sugar, and some dried herbs. I put it in a plastic bag and let it cure for ten days. Then I took it out, patted it dry, and let it sit in the fridge uncovered for a day. Then I sliced off a little piece and cooked it.
It was excellent. Time to eat.
I diced up some onions and garlic, really, really fine. I sautéed them in a very small amount of olive oil, under gentle heat, until the onions were soft and the garlic was just starting to caramelize. I put them on a paper towel to dry a little bit.
I melted a bit of butter. For this application, the butter I use is a European style, hand-rolled butter. It has a nutty, herbal taste and creaminess that standard butter just doesn’t have.
I added about a half teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce to the melted butter. Then a pinch of crushed red pepper. Then I diced up about 2 ounces of the bacon and cooked it until it was crisp on the edges, but definitely not burnt.
The final stage was adding the butter sauce, the onions and garlic, and the bacon to the freshly popped corn. Then stir.
I’ve often said that tacos are my favorite food. I have lots of favorite things, but most often I’ve said tacos are my number-one, desert island food.
That’s a lie. My number-one, all-time favorite food is popcorn.
Just before my sixteenth birthday I rode my bike to one of the three movie theaters in Cheyenne. It was a shabby old tri-plex, with worn carpet and a weird smell. A potpourri of fresh popcorn, musty drapes and really old mop water. I wanted a job and had decided that a movie theater was the place for me.
That job sucked. The manager and his twisted lackey of an assistant were cruel, petty, and unabashedly creepy. They only seemed capable of saying things that were shockingly inappropriate or vicious. I hated it there. Almost immediately I went to the theater at the mall, a fairly new six-screen theater, and applied. I was hired as an usher. And for five years it was my home.
And I lived on popcorn. In fact, it’s mostly what I ate. And I ate it every day. It was free. If no one was looking, we’d pop ourselves a batch. A double shot of oil and a double shot of that crazy yellow salt. Throw in some pickled jalapeños from the nacho station and you’ve got dinner. At the end of a busy night, we’d bag up all the popcorn left and take it to whatever party we were headed to. Even now, nothing says party to me quite like the sight of a trashcan liner full to bursting with popcorn.
A lot happens to a person between 16 and 21. A remarkable amount. For me it was all spent at the Frontier 6 movie theater. I loved it, and it became more than a job. It’s where my friends were. It was home base. So many firsts. So many great memories. And it’s where She and I met.
She was new to the theater. She was pretty and smart and a little mysterious. She worked in the ticket booth which, thanks to our creepy and perhaps predatory General Manager, was a guy-free zone. I was a projectionist and usher, so I had reason to wander around. I’d sat down in the ticket booth to talk to her (partly because my friend Pam said I should). I’m sure it was comical. A goofy kid with a proto-mullet, so skinny his clothes looked better on the hanger, trying to flirt with The New Girl.
She was working, and I had my feet on the desk, throwing popcorn in the air and catching it in my mouth.
Popcorn. My favorite food.