Of Life, Death and the Pursuit of Dinner

People often ask if we’re ever going to eat our pig, Henri. I explain that he’s a family pet, and no, we have no plans to eat him.

“Not even when he dies of natural causes?” my pal Dan asked.

“You mean like when an anvil falls on his head?” I replied.

Henri napping in the rosemary

Henri napping in the rosemary

I must admit, though … I did catch him napping in the rosemary one day, and thought to myself: “Now I could just build a quick mud oven around him, throw in some coals… and he’d never be the wiser.”

My daughter, Willa, says things sometimes that make me concerned she may be flirting with vegetarianism. “Is this part of a pig’s leg!??” for example, or: “Did that used to be alive!?”

I have great admiration for vegetarians. I just don’t want them living in my house. Whatever worries Willa may have, fortunately, have not slowed her exuberance for bacon.

I’ve never gotten up the nerve to kill one of our dozens of chickens, even after it reaches middle age and stops laying eggs. It sounds like messy business — plus, they think I’m their mother and follow me around the property. Occasionally, however, I have had to kill an animal for dinner. They’ve always been smaller and less evolved creatures, however, which is an easier task.

For example, my pal Donnie brought over some live sweet shrimp for our Tuesday sushi night one evening recently. I remember in my 20s, reading with some degree of horror about sushi restaurants that would pull sweet shrimp from a tank, work quickly and get the tails onto balls of rice and to your plate while they were still pulsing with life. Now, however, I did the work myself — twisting off the tails of the still living shrimp, butterflying them out, and presenting the sushi if not still pulsing with life, about as fresh as you could desire. Our wives did not participate.

Another Tuesday evening, we had the good fortune to have two live abalones. We pulled them from their plastic bag, where they promptly proceeded to do the most beautiful ballet on the cutting board. Don, inspired, turned on opera and we watched in amazement. Fifteen minutes later, the mollusks had been pounded, sautéed and were in our bellies.

If you’ve decided you want to kill an abalone, too, you can usually find them live in tanks in large Asian markets. And I’ve included my recipe below.

Someone once sent me a very charmingly produced video of some old timey-ish young farm hipsters, probably somewhere outside Portland, going through the entire process of slaughtering a hog, making blood sausage, butchering, curing hams, etc. I could almost embrace the rustic romance of it all. But for now, I’m okay with my less evolved, less messy prey — I do want to have some connection to the process and not be the detached shopper who thinks meat comes bloodless from a styrofoam tray. And I don’t want to be a vegetarian — it’s a slippery metaphysical slope once you go that way. After all, who hears the silent scream of the potato when it is wrenched from the ground??

*    *    *

Abalone with brown lemon butter
serves 2 -4 as a small appetizer

2 4-oz abalone or similar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp. butter
1 lemon
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper

If the abalone is alive, kill it. Here’s how, my intrepid friend:

Using a oyster shucker or blunt kitchen knife, remove the abalone from the shell by sliding the knife along the face of the shell and under the foot that is attached to the shell.

Trim the innards away from the foot (the muscle), and then trim along the edges to remove the black frill. Slice the foot diagonal lengthwise into slices about 1/4 inch thick.

Using a mallet or the back of a chef’s knife, gently pound each piece until it is about 1/8 inch thick and no longer springs back into shape. Place pounded pieces in a small bowl with the milk.

Heat a skillet over medium high. Remove the abalone slices from the milk and dredge in the flour, shaking to remove excess. Sauté abalone pieces in butter, a minute or so on each side, until golden. (Add more butter if needed.)

Remove to a plate and keep warm. Remaining butter in pan should be beginning to brown. Squeeze in juice from one lemon and cook until reduced by half. Drizzle butter over abalone. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andreathompson
    Sep 26, 2014 @ 14:31:24

    I couldn’t even watch that video. Very cute photo of Henri!! Don’t even think of eating him!!


  2. andreathompson2
    Sep 26, 2014 @ 14:32:42

    I couldn’t even watch that video. Darling photo of Henri!! Don’t even think of eating him!


  3. Michelle
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 02:03:16

    Oh, Henri. Please stay away from the rosemary! How dangerous that is!


  4. Glennis
    Sep 28, 2014 @ 04:53:07

    I admit, it was rather unsettling to trepann a sea urchin and then watch it toddle around on its spines.

    But Henry? Noooooooooo!


  5. pal-O
    Oct 03, 2014 @ 00:20:44

    Never eat anything you have given a name.


  6. Jessamine in PDX
    Oct 03, 2014 @ 04:04:27

    “Pulsating with life” seafood earns a staunch hell no from me. However, every Monday at my job we put down 500 rabbits so I don’t think the vegetarian bug will bite me any time soon. Also a pet pig?! That’s awesome!


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