This is not a story about how I made Hoppin’ John on Saturday. This is not a story about good luck and cornbread and spreading the American gospel. This is not a story about watching people set off fireworks out of wine bottles of the stroke of midnight, 2012.
This is a story about how my cooking education apparently has a HUGE hole in it, and that hole is called “meat.” I blame all my vegan and veg friends.
I’ve been in France for more than three months and my search for a ham hock was only my second trip to a butchery. Even though I looked up the appropriate words beforehand, I still stumbled through the transaction blushing like a schoolgirl. No, only veal shank. No, only pork ribs. By the time I found what I was looking for in butcher shop no. 3, I realized it wasn’t my French that was killing me, but my confusion and uncertainty among the different cuts of meat and other products.
The counter is so long, and packed tightly. Some of the cuts of meat still look like animals, and some just look bloody. Dried sausages hanging like batons from the ceiling, turkeys with their heads folded neatly across their backs, a wide selection of patés, bright red slabs of veal and rolls of beef tied with strings into Michelin-man form. I am a noob about all of them, and clearly need to spend more time admiring meat charts. To make my meat journey even more confusing, French cuts of meat are slightly different from an American or English cut. The hock, which I looked up on Food Network, is made of the lowest part of a pig leg. Mine was not smoked, but sitting in a basin raw with a couple of buddies. It must have also come of the king of pigs, because I had to ask the butcher to cut it in thirds to get a piece that would fit in with the black eyed peas.
While the butcher was very nice, next time I will make sure to just go to Kneuss & Fils, the biggest butchery I’ve seen in all of Epinal. I’ve been in Payless shoe stores smaller than this place. And maybe I should buy a meat book to go along with my growing cheese compilation.