Thursday, June 09, 2011

A friend will help you move, a good friend will help you move the body


I read a lot of murder mysteries. Not infrequently, a deranged killer hacks up his victims. The coroner and the cops are always a bit mystified at how did the killer cut up those bones? And look at the surgical precision on this one - are we dealing with a doctor turned killer?

Until now, I have scoffed at this. How hard can it be to cut up a person? I have cut up many a chicken, a skill I learned from my mother, who also taught me how to separate an egg and to chop an onion, which is why when I went to one of my fancy French vacation cooking schools, I was not pleased that we spent one afternoon on egg separating and another on chicken cutting up. I was not paying to learn the skills everyone should have learned by the age of 11. I wanted the fancy stuff.

It is easy to cut up a chicken. Chickens have light, hollow, made for flying bones.

Mammals do not.

It is a lot harder to cut up a mammal.

I have a lot more respect for deranged killers than I used to.

Last weekend SH went to his friend Doug's annual party in Indianapolis. I did not attend, as the only time I get to see my boyfriend is when SH is out of town. He returned with smoked turkey, smoked pork, brownies, and the neck of the venison that was also smoked.

"I thought we could make stock out of it," he said.

"Yes! What about the turkey carcass?" I asked. Alas, someone had thrown it out before SH thought to ask.

People. You do not throw away the bones. You simmer them for a few hours, strain the liquid out, reduce it, and throw it in the freezer for when you need stock. It's a almost no commitment cooking project that yields a product that is essential for good home cooking. You don't even need to do the fancy stuff they tell you to do in the cookbooks, with the aromatics thrown in and skimming the foam. Just simmer the bones. Period.

A few years ago, SH and I were at a potluck at his church. We were done eating and cleaning up. One of the ladies came out of the kitchen and asked if anyone wanted the hambone.

I wanted it, but I am Catholic and lower on the hambone hierarchy than the Lutheran ladies who belonged to the church, so I sat on my hands.

But nobody said anything. All these practical Lutherans and nobody wanted the hambone?

"I do! I'll take it," I finally blurted out. How do you make good bean soup without a hambone?

Also - I have said it before and I'll say it again until I have convinced everyone. Bacon grease is not to be discarded. It is to be saved in a jar in the fridge and used for making the roux for your gumbo, for pan-frying your green beans accented with roasted red peppers, for braising your collard greens, and for spreading on your toast when the butter is too cold and hard. Do not throw away your bacon grease.

I have more respect for deranged killers now and I also have more respect for my uncle Larry and my cousins who have the deer-processing business in northern Wisconsin and make the best bratwurst in the world and if you've been allowed to eat my uncle's bratwurst, know that you are indeed a worthy friend or that SH won the argument.

It is very difficult to cut up a deer neck into pieces small enough to fit inside an 8-quart pot. You might think you can just use your six-inch cleaver that has served you so well with chicken, but you would be wrong. I raised the cleaver above my shoulder, which was already sore from two hours of tennis, and brought it down smartly on the neck.

Nothing. Nothing except the faint mocking laugh from the ghost of a deer.

I hit it again, harder.

Here's one of the problems: you - or I - can't hit the same place every time, which truly diminishes the impact of the knife.

Success = repeated hard blows on the same spot. I was giving multiple moderate blows in different spots. I have bad aim and I was reluctant to try to hit it too hard because I have a very healthy respect for knives and didn't want to lose a finger or a hand somehow.

It could happen.

I hacked and hacked and rotated the bone. Bits of meat and tiny shards of bone were flying. The cats were thrilled as they sniffed their way around my feet, licking venison off the floor. I had to stop to sweep it up as I was not sure that bone fragments are the best thing for cats to be consuming right before bedtime.

It wouldn't separate. I tried breaking the somewhat-weakened section off. After some pushing and twisting, a four-inch segment broke. I still had about ten inches of neck, which wouldn't quite fit into my pot.

I started hitting again. This bone seemed to be harder. Perhaps bone density changes in various locations? I grabbed the bread knife. It's serrated - I thought a sawing motion might be useful.

No. A bread knife will not cut a deer neck.

I grabbed my Good Knife that I use for almost everything. It has slight serration and just got back from the knife sharpening guy two months ago.

No. Not a scratch.

I hacked some more and sent more meat and bone fragments flying. I pulled, twisted, pushed, and hit the bone against the cutting board.

It refused to yield.

I surrendered. Squeezed the bone in the pot and made a mental note to turn it as it simmered so all sides would get in the water eventually.

Today, I cooked the bones and learned the secret to dismembering a mammal. After you've simmered it for eight hours, it falls apart. This information, along with a huge kettle, might come in useful some day.

1 comment:

Tish Jett said...

OMG! Good to know.

You're too funny for your own good.