Sunday, January 2, 2011

More from the Land of Pork

Some weeks ago, my father came home with a pork loin. An entire pork loin. An 8 pound tube of muscle from the back of a hog that stretched some three feet in length with about a thirteen inch diameter. Dropping it on the stove top and leaving it there, I asked, "Hey, Dad, what do you want done with this pork loin?"

"Put it in the freezer."



So, into the freezer the eight pound package of pork loin went.

Enter my mother some hours later. "No, we don't put meat bundles that large into the freezer whole. We cut them up into smaller pieces first, wrap them appropriately and then put them in the freezer."

"Too late?" I asked.

And, indeed, it was. So there it sat, the large loin of pork, in the freezer basket, stretching from one side of the freezer to the next, unassuming in its position. The lowly pork loin, waiting to dazzle, if only given a chance to shine.

So, here we are several weeks later, and I'm wracking my brains on a Thursday morning trying to decide what to make for dinner that night. Knowing I will be running errands all morning, and in a meeting all afternoon, and that Thursday are tricky because people have to eat and run in the evening, I think it must be something quick. Or something that prepared now so it will be finished when I get home.

And my eyes beheld the pork loin.

And I said unto myself, "Take that loin of the pork, that lowly loin from the bottom of thy freezer, and portion it appropriately. Take for thyself the portion that thy so desireth for the creation of thine fine meal this evening, and then wrap and return to the freezer the portions that thou hast decided to make into separate meals at a later date."

So out came the pork loin, to the back yard, and set upon saw horses, beneath which lay a clean drop cloth, and I pulled out the circular saw and in very short order, we had four appropriately sized roasts.

In reality, I thought, "Oh, hey, I want bar-b-que pulled pork for dinner and if I throw it in the crock pot now, it'll be done around 6:00." So, I pulled out the pork loin and a knife and set to work cutting it into four portion on the kitchen counter. But seriously, the circular saw is a funnier image. I set one portion into the crock pot with the appropriate seasonings, set it on low, and turned my attention to the remaining cuts of loin, which I wrapped twice in plastic cling wrap and then wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil before replacing in the freezer, moved up to a shelf where they fit quite nicely.

Now, when I opened the freezer, this is what I saw:

Top shelf: Empty
2nd shelf: Ice cube trays, rhubarb and whey left over from my last yogurt excursion
3rd shelf: Empty
4th shelf: Tart pie cherries, picked by my father and I, and hand-pitted by my mother and I. (I make the best cherry pies).
5th shelf: Beef roasts, which began as a whole something or other of beef, purchased from the butcher, taken home, portioned, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in foil, and placed in the freezer by my mother, unlabeled. How do I know? I was with her when she did it.
Basket: Left over something from sometime in a nondescript plastic container left over from something else.

Knowing what everything is, I place the now-plastic-foil-wrapped-unlabeled pork roasts onto the third shelf, confident that since I know the beef roast is beef roast and the pork roast is pork roast, anyone else who decides to cook will know as well. Why? Because my mother is the only other person in the house who cooks for more than just herself, and since she put the beef roast in the freezer on the bottom shelf, she'll know that this is where the beef roast resides.

I awoke this morning to a smell that has since proved to me that my confidence was foolishness in the extreme.

My mother made pork roast thinking it was beef roast. And while the pork roast was in the oven, something niggled at the back of her mind. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she knew something wasn't right. Did she suspect that she might have grabbed pork instead? Not even close.

Our conversation this morning went something like this:

"So, mama, I noticed that you took the roast out of the oven. Ummmm...did you unwrap the roast before you cooked it?"

"No. I put it in the oven wrapped in foil."

"Uh, yes, but...."

"It was still frozen when I stuck it in. I didn't even bother with a pan."

"So, um, you pulled the pork roast..."

"Pork roast? I thought I grabbed the beef roast."

"Well, I was looking at it, and I can tell by the way the foil was folded that it was the pork roast, and um... You didn't, by chance, unwrap the foil, and re-wrap using precisely the same technique before you put it in the oven did you?"

"No. I just stuck the whole thing in the oven straight from the freezer."


"I'm guessing there's plastic under the foil."


And so it was that I learned a few fascinating things this morning. But I'll get to that in a moment.

It turns out that what was niggling at the back of my mother's mind was the thought, unformed and ethereal in nature, that she had also wrapped the beef roasts in plastic before wrapping them in foil. While she was certain that she had grabbed a roast wrapped in foil, and nothing else, she knew she was missing or forgetting something. It was the plastic cling wrap. I made certain of this when I pulled all the roasts out of the freezer and marked them in permanent marker this morning: "Beef + Plastic" and "Pork + Plastic" as was appropriate.

Perhaps most fascinating in this foray into odd cookery is the fact that plastic cling wrap + pork fat + a lot of heat applied via convection = an odd, white substance similar to rubber in texture, and plastic cling wrap + lean pork muscle + a lot of heat applied via convection = an intricate lace pattern of stiff plastic.

It's not at all surprising to me that the pork fat and plastic bonded into something new. That the end result was similar to rubber was cool and unexpected, but the bonding itself was no surprise. And why? Because the molecular structure of petroleum products (things made of oil) are very similar to the molecular structure of fats. They tend to create bonds that are difficult to break. This is why it's almost impossible to get grease out of plastic bowls and off of plastic utensils no matter how much soap you use. This is also why you cannot whip egg whites in a plastic bowl. Fat prevents the protein found in egg whites from foaming, and fat sticks to plastic, killing egg white foams. But that's tangential to this post.

So, all in all an interesting morning.

Lessons learned:

1. Being dangerously confident about others' knowledge can be entertaining
2. Plastic + Fat + Heat = Rubber-something
3. Always label anything that goes into the freezer, including not only what it is, but how it's wrapped.

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