Because I really wanna know.
To begin let me clear up some ambiguity in the title: this is about making small schnitzel, not about how to make schnitzel out of babies. If you’re here for the latter, I’m sorry you have to leave disappointed.
So: I discovered today why my mom and grandma always made these little bitty schnitzel barely big enough to cover a store brand hamburger bun (which happens because cold leftover schnitzel makes AMAZING sandwiches).
I discovered today instead of the last time I made schnitzel because I am stubborn, stubborn, oh so stubborn.
When I usually make schnitzel, I aim to create something that will cover at least half of a dinner plate. I cut nice thick slabs of loin or tenderloin and carefully beat it into a nice big floppy pork blanket. If I’m working with tenderloin, which is a slender muscle that doesn’t make big thick slices, I at least make the schnitzel big enough to cover a large hamburger bun with some hanging out the sides.
Last time, I broke out the tenderloin and went for the meat hammer… but we’d lost it in the move. Okay, fine. I have a decent rolling pin… oh, also lost in the move.
Wanna guess where my last resort, a large stone pestle, went?
You got it.
So that’s when I learned an alternate method of making schnitzel without pounding it outHAHAHAHA no. I am far too stubborn to learn so quickly when I’m not learning on purpose.
Guess what I did.
Go ahead. Guess.
You’re probably wrong because I BEAT THE PORK TENDERLOIN SLICES FLAT WITH MY FISTS. I made schnitzel in a savage, unreasonable, beastly way.
I have German friends. I expect they will have me assassinated in reprisal for my crimes against schnitzelmanity.
But today, today! Today I learned.
And the learning made me realize why my mom and grandmom made little bitty baby schnitzel.
There have been Germans knocking around my mother’s side of the family line for at least a century and maybe two (family history is, sadly, not my strength).
Perhaps grandma’s mom or grandma said to themselves, eh, this Old Country business with hitting the meat with a hammer forever is for the birds. If I just cut the pork thin enough, I can work smarter instead of harder or whatever that dumbass ’90s business cliche was.
Maybe grandma was the one who took laziness to its logical conclusion and stopped hitting the pork with a hammer altogether. Maybe it was mom. Maybe it was great-grandpa, who motivated them to stop hitting the pork with a hammer out of spite because he was a fanatic about hitting the pork with a hammer the proper way, dammit, and would yell at you about it like a jerk.
But someone stopped hitting the pork with a hammer and just cut thin pieces of pork off a tenderloin.
Which is what I learned to do today so I didn’t have to beat my this post is over goodbye.
So today (Wednesday the 3rd of this brave new world of 2018) I had a mental healthcare appointment to keep (no emergencies — in fact, I’ve been feeling better than I have for the past 3 or 4 years). I first set up these appointments when the family car was working, but because I am a prescient prophet capable of seeing that driving 20 year old cheap beater cars means we’ll be carless from time to time when one dies, I chose a practice in walking distance.
And of course it’s winter when the car chooses to die, the jerky little bastard. And of course the Earth’s hat of cold air has lately slipped rakishly to the side and we’re under all that fine polar air right now while the precious icecap continues melting in frickin January.
But the walk isn’t so bad because it’s over freezing unlike the walk I had to take for yesterday’s appointment, and the legacy of a Wisconsin childhood is knowing how to dress for cold. Only my cane hand gets truly cold, and maybe my nose.
My appointment was on one side of a rectangular route with one of the two grocery stores in walking distance on the other side of it on the way home, so instead of taking the shorter route back home I figured I’d stop by the store as long as I was already walking and pick up a few odds and ends like some apples and pears for the children who, I am very happy to report, can chow fresh fruit like champions and do at every opportunity. Yay, nutrition!
I wasn’t planning on picking up enough things to justify taking along the collapsible cart I recently bought thanks to my Patreon patrons, so I brought an empty backpack. All good. Planning ahead.
But what I did not plan on — and I should have known better given my past experience as a manager in the grocery biz — was the forecast of 8-12 inches of snow in the forecast for tonight (there’s a bit less than an inch on the ground as I type this, and the snow is beginning to come down again after taking a break for nightfall) and what it would mean for my mission.
In Norfolk, Virginia where close proximity to the ocean gentles the temperatures, this is a MASSIVE BLIZZARD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OH GOD.
The grocery store was clotted with swarms of half-crazed customers. Like, a no shopping carts available, I got one of the last 6 or 7 handbaskets swarm of shoppers — and at that point, not a single snowflake had fallen yet.
Ew, a handbasket. I don’t like using them anymore, because they unbalance me due to my limp and bone-on-bone hip, and I already limp heavily enough even with the cane thankyouverymuch.
I almost decided to say screw it and head home. But, the kids want apples. And the wife’s upset tummy craves full-sugar Coca Cola (which horrifies me; as my grandma’s good little boy I cleave to her teaching that 7-Up is the magic tonic that soothes all ills).
So I shop.
Weather panics are weird.
Some of it is predictable. Half the bread aisle is blown out, as it always is when bad weather threatens. Apparently there’s something about blizzards and hurricanes and nor’easters that makes people crave sandwiches and toast.
The bottled water is also half blown out. Because if anything is scarce during a blizzard, it’s water which is LAYING ALL OVER THE GROUND A FOOT THICK JUST SHOVEL A FEW DRINKS INTO A BUCKET AND BRING IT IN TO THAW FER CRISSAKE. Also, since when does a blizzard knock out the water supply? Your pipes shouldn’t be freezing, because you should be running your water if it’s that damn cold. And the snow will insulate the crawlspace under your home. It’ll actually be warmer under there than it has the last 3 or 4 nights with the cold snap.
And, this is the one that really gets me, and I’ve seen it before (and it’s weirder than anything else I’ve seen in a storm except the guy who bought a whole cart full of frozen dinners because he was afraid the hurricane would knock out his electricity, or the woman who bought two dozen (!!) gallons of milk, also in the teeth of an approaching hurricane. WTF!) — the meat case is also half blown out. The hamburger is GONE. And three customers are standing next to the empty hamburger shelf asking each other if there’s any more hamburger anywhere else and when will the butcher bring out more hamburger?
People, if the blizzard comes and knocks out your power, I assume some of you have gas stoves. But not all of you! Are you planning on crouching in your dark living room gnawing a pack of raw hamburger like Gollum gnawing a fish? Do you figure hamburger will cook itself up if you toss it into one of the snowdrifts in your front yard?
Is there something about a snowstorm that demands you start a cookout?
Is there some theory I’ve never heard of that says you can save yourself from freezing to death if your home is heatless by covering yourself with ground beef?
People are weird.
I cut the bread an inch and a half thick and *soaked* it in the egg & milk & probably more vanilla extract than *you* would add & dark brown sugar & cardamom & a teeny pinch of salt mix so it’ll be nice and custardy and delicious all the way through.
Use medium heat if you do it this way. It takes time to cook the middle.
So, whole pork loin, if you can catch a decent price or sale, weighs in at less than a buck and a half per pound. Good price for good lean meat. Mine, above, is a little shorter than when I bought it because I cut about a pound off the end to make delicious schnitzel.
But that’s another story.
My whole grilled pork loin recipe started as a quest to make a cheap home alternative to smoked pork chops, which are strictly a luxury at 7 bucks a pound.
The loin isn’t exactly the same, but it is as delicious and similar in flavor.
In fact, I think it’s better. And as a brined, smoked, cooked meat it lasts a long time in the fridge, giving you time to eat every last morsel.
I plop the whole thing in a big pot and toss in a cup of salt. Maybe a cup and a half, since I tend to freehand it. Then about a dozen bay leaves (dirt cheap at Hispanic or Caribbean grocery stores), maybe a tablespoon of whole allspice, a quarter cup or so of whole coriander (dirt cheap at Indian grocery stores), a sprinkle of whole cloves (ten-ish), and a cup and a half of unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
Sometimes I add a couple of packets of culantro y achiote sazon (sorry about no accent on the o – posting from mobile with limited keyboard) for variety.
Add water to just cover the loin.
Then I let that sucker marinate for 24 hours.
Grill slowly – an actual smoker is best but you can fake it by heaping all the coals to one side and keeping the meat on the other unless your grill is very small. You want to take at least 2 hours to cook the thing. The one pictured took 4.
It’s great smoked with hickory chips but cherrywood is even better.
Pull it at around 165°F. Give it at least 15 minutes to rest.
It’s juicy and delicious cut into chops for dinner. Cold and sliced thin it makes a hell of a sandwich. Sliced thick and seared quickly it reheats as chops wonderfully and still moist.
Get up in the middle of the night and hack off a chunk to gnaw on – it’s tasty that way too.
Hope you enjoyed the food interlude. I did. And I will for breakfast in the morning, too.
Oh, look. A tray of raw beef garnished with… a sprig of juniper for some reason? Who eats raw beef with juniper? What the hell is going on here?
Less than two years ago, laboratory-grown beef made a big splash in the news. The scientists who grew the first hamburger not carved from the flank of a steer munched on quarter-pound burgers that were also quarter-million-dollar burgers, and pronounced them, if not the most delicious ever, acceptably beefy.
The burgers, at that cost, were a curiosity at best. But the price of growing meat by the cell has been dropping steadily and sharply since then. The same quarter-pound patty now costs about ten bucks to grow. At this rate, we may see commercially viable laboratory-gown meat very soon (one expert says twenty years, this writer hopes for much sooner)—and that means you’ll be seeing it in your grocery store by-and-by.
It will be up to the consumers to decide whether or not they want to eat something grown in a lab as opposed to carved out of an animal. Many meat-eaters are skeptical of the idea, but on the other hand, there are a lot of current vegetarians and even carnivores who are skeptical about the level of cruelty involved in factory farms. Personally (I’m a meat-eater), I’ll take the laboratory. Look at it from the cow’s point of view: would you rather have a muscle biopsy so a bunch of people can eat food grown from a few of your cells, or be carved apart with knives and saws and consumed directly? I know which I’d prefer. Also, producing animal flesh in a lab involves a whole lot less water consumption than raising an animal the traditional way, it certainly means less grain going to animal feed rather than feeding hungry humans, and, of course, there’s WAY less animal poop to dispose of. That sounds like a joke, but it’s really not. Have you ever heard of a ‘livestock waste lagoon’? Yes, lagoon. As in, enormous pool of rotting poop that covers several acres, causes various contamination problems, and nobody really knows how to deal with. Yuck.
Those are all important concerns, and all good reasons to look forward to getting our meat out of the laboratory rather than off the hoof.
But, as usual, there’s more here than meets the eye. There’s the potential to do a whole lot of things with meat that are impractical, impossible, or even illegal to do with meat as we know it now.
At present, most people in the USA eat beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a few basic fish like tuna and salmon and whiting. Even less-popular meats like lamb can be hard to come by and pricey, because a grocery store has to buy large ‘primal cuts,’ whole portions of an animal, for sale—and that means waste for an unpopular meat: low demand and a requirement to take on a large supply if they want to offer it.
But if it’s grown in the lab, grocery stores have the opportunity to order only what they need, and to order small batches of less common meats to see if consumers are interested in trying them out. The supplier to the store isn’t slaughtering a large animal, they’re growing to order as well. And that means variety becomes easier to offer. Have you ever thought of trying game meats, like caribou or wild boar? You won’t find either in the supermarket. You can order them online—if you don’t mind paying fifty bucks or more per pound.
With a simple muscle biopsy, a meat-growing lab could produce caribou and boar just as cheaply as it produces beef. Or other meats. Have you ever thought you might like to try an elephant steak, or panda or eagle or Galapagos tortoise, if only you could do it without, you know, killing an endangered animal and breaking the law? Well, it’s probably not against the law to buy a small cell sample from the local zoo and grow elephant steaks to sell. Have you seen how many people have been protesting the slaughter of dolphins and whales in Japan lately? Would there be a need for protest if they could take cell samples, let the animals go, and eat as much cruelty-free dolphin and whale as they’d like? And speaking of aquatic creatures, how about fish without overfishing disrupting the oceans’ ecosystems? Who knows what this technology might yield as producers begin to try new things? The possibilities are endless. Here are some pie-in-the-sky imaginings that seem possible, even likely:
You’ve noticed, of course, that bigger shrimp cost more—but if you’re just growing shrimp tissue, there’s no reason you couldn’t just grow it in any size you wanted, for the same price per pound. Imagine picking up a 3-lb chub of solid shrimp, and slicing it into easy-to-sear shrimp patties for the grill. Or quarter-pound chunks in the familiar comma shape.
Family size scallops—one to a pie plate.
A ten-foot roll of bacon. Cut to the strip size you like with your kitchen shears. “The doctor said to hold it down to one strip of bacon with breakfast… mine is three feet long.”
Any meat you’d like, grown in sheets like pie dough, so you can enclose other food with it. Great for Thanksgiving—individual turkey and stuffing pockets! Make a turducken as easily as folding a pillowcase. Or think of delicious shepherd’s pie made in a ‘pie crust’ composed entirely of tender, succulent beef.
Eat quail and trout without having to pick out a million little bones.
3-D dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for the kids. Like, one that could stand up on the plate like a regular action figure.
3-D dinosaur-shaped dinosaur nuggets for the kids—just need to find a few cells in amber, Jurassic Park style. This one might be a bit of a long shot, but it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?
And wouldn’t it be nice if the few people struck by the creepy desire to eat other humans could go ahead and do so—without murdering anyone? (I’ve already played with this concept a little in a flash story entitled All Flesh Is Grass.)
Lab-grown meat is coming. It has the potential to eliminate the enormous loads that raising animals for consumption places on the environment in terms of demands for water, land, feed, and disposal of waste. And it also has the potential to allow people to indulge in a wider range of culinary exploration than ever before—and no dead animals (or people, for the cannibals in the audience) to show for it.
Could the future be so cruel?
I love food, and it shows in my fiction. There aren’t many stories I write that go by without the characters having a meal. I’m working on a story now, and my characters just finished a Kazakh-inspired meal of mutton and rice with dried fruit and garlic. In Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, mother and son enjoy a lunch of bread with ham-seasoned foraged beans on a North Carolina coast impovershed by the effects of sea level rise. Sudden homelessness does not deter the hero of Isolation from munching down on some hot crispy cuy in an underground kitchen. Even in super-short Labor Of Love, the alcohol-addicted protagonist takes time out from his quest for drink to scarf down a couple of “Kraut and Cheezies” from a fast-food joint.
It’s not that I always write when I’m hungry — though I can just about always find room for a snack. It’s that food is often forgotten in fiction. Food, after all, is not the main part of the story. It’s not the point. It shouldn’t be center stage, except in the rarest of circumstances, as in Pig where the central situation is that the main character’s food begins talking to her, begging her piteously not to consume it — much to her dismay.
But most of the time, the food is an aside, and it’s a challenge to integrate it into a story and not have it stick out like it doesn’t belong. But, for me, writing is about life, just as eating is about life. In the real world, people socialize around food. They think about food. They worry about whether they have enough money to buy groceries that will last until next paycheck, they worry if the meat department will have the right sized rib roast for Easter dinner, they’re afraid they’ve burnt the toast, they invite colleagues to talk business over tapas, they stop for food on the way to the hospital to visit a sick relative, they ask the kids how the school week went over Saturday morning eggs and bacon.
They’ll do all of these things in the future, too. Oh, some details may change. Maybe the kids will go to school via internet instead of taking the bus. Maybe the meat will be grown in a nutrient solution rather than on the hoof. Maybe the pasta will be made in a printer instead of rolled out in a factory. Interstellar colonists may eat alien fruit, or aliens might come to nosh on us, as so many stories have suggested.
But unless something very radical indeed happens, like the whole world up and loading itself into a virtual reality, we’ll always have the social nexus and sensory joy of eating food. And maybe, if we’re all virtual beings, we’ll still choose to do it anyway, even if it’s unnecessary.
Because food is comforting. Eating is primal and elemental to us. Mealtimes, for time immemorial, have cemented families and friendships. So given how vital it has been and is to human society, I like to carry that vitality into the future as I imagine it.