Register Monday | June 17 | 2019

Good Meat at a Fair Price


I am an avid sausage maker, an enthusiastic amateur sausage maker, but Richard always hated my sausages and insisted that they not only tasted disgusting but that they were a major health threat, I thought as I ate lunch at King’s Diner. This, of course, was the opinion of someone who as always lived in the city and is not capable of distinguishing a cow from a pig. “You are incapable of distinguishing a cow from a pig,” I once said to Richard.

“Yes, and I have no desire to learn the difference,” he responded as though I would find his ignorance funny. But I did not find his ignorance funny; I found it obnoxious to the point that I no longer wanted to be friends with him and it was this rift that caused me to spend so much time with Donald, a true gourmet and a sausage lover. Unfortunately, Donald, the sausage lover, was not a very good sausage maker. In fact, he was an unsafe sausage maker and this is what I told Richard after he and I became friends again.

“Donald was a sausage appreciator,” I said to Richard as we ate lunch at King’s Diner, “but he was a fool of a sausage maker. And I can only say that while sausage making is perfectly safe, some people make unsafe sausages—sausages that are a health threat, as you say. And this is all I can say to explain what happened to Donald. This is all I can say to explain what happened to Donald and the poor wife of Donald’s doorman.”

Richard shook his head in disagreement. “I disagree,” he said. “Sausage making is itself a dangerous pastime and it makes no difference who’s doing it.”

This notion was manifestly absurd. But I let the issue drop. I let the issue drop because our friendship did not need another contentious debate, although it was more than clear to me that Donald was himself responsible for the so-called accident and that the general act of sausage making, the practice of sausage making, had nothing to do with anything.

Donald and I first met in a cooking class at the New School. For myself, the class was an informal break from the rigors of academia. For Donald, the class was a requirement for his degree in food studies. But although Donald took the class very seriously, he and I still had a good time together and we quickly developed an intimate friendship, an intimate friendship that centered around food.

Donald was an inexperienced sausage maker but a meat connoisseur, and he knew all the best butchers in town, including the highly regarded Bruce Stamp. Through Bruce, Donald was able to get meat of exceptional quality, the kind I had only ever found in the country, and at extremely reasonable prices. But with meat and sausages, price was never an issue for Donald. Donald was outrageously rich and while I could never have afforded the strange meats that we occasionally used to make sausages, Donald would spend any amount of money on something he wanted. And this spending recklessness paralleled Donald’s eating recklessness. While I mostly liked fine food, Donald liked fine food and unusual food and it was precisely a rare sort of aged pork that led to Donald’s accident, although it was not just the fact that he used aged pork—the accident also had to do with Donald’s inexperience and, worse, his carelessness when it came to meat handling, his inability to handle aged pork.

“Donald had a natural intuition, a natural feel for sausage making,” I said to Richard at King’s Diner. “But he had no sense of meat handling, which was exactly what led to his accident.”

Bruce Stamp had astonishing forearms. They were as broad as my thighs and covered with bright orange hairs and were so distracting that I could not concentrate on anything else when I was in his shop. Watching Bruce cut meat with his butcher’s cleaver and his gigantic orange forearms was one of my great pleasures during the time that I was friends with Donald, and we used to see Bruce at work at least once a week.

Bruce always gave us good meat at a fair price, which is exactly what he told us from behind his butcher’s counter. “Good meat at a fair price,” he always said to us as he cut our meat. And then he would point to a sign at the back of the shop that said, “Good meat at a fair price.”

The abstract concept of fair price, however, can mean a range of actual prices, and when Donald put in a special order, an unusual order, he paid an outlandish price, outlandish but fair, considering not just the rarity but the occasional illegality of the meat.

“Your price is outlandish,” Donald would always tell Bruce, “outlandish but fair, fair because the meat is so good.”

And it was good meat. Excellent meat in fact. But certain meats are what you might call high-risk meats and it was just such a high-risk meat, the special aged pork that Bruce brought in from New Jersey, that led to Donald’s accident.

“You must have been out of your mind to buy something like aged pork from New Jersey,” Richard said at King’s Diner as we ate lunch.

“But it was not the meat,” I again said to Richard. “Certain meats need to be treated with care and aged pork is one such meat.”

“It needs to be treated with care because aged pork is another way of saying bacteria-infested, rotten pork; bacteria-infested, irradiated pork from the Meadowlands.”

“But I ate the pork and I’m still alive.”

“And you are immensely lucky to be alive.”

But I was not lucky to be alive. I was deliberately alive through proper meat handling. I was alive because of the very meat-handling techniques that Donald ignored when he made his aged pork sausages, the very meat-handling techniques that I employed so that I would not become sick like the wife of Donald’s doorman when he gave her a pound of the aged pork sausages, the poorly prepared, the illegally prepared, aged pork sausages.

“How could anyone give an old lady a pound of rotten pork sausages?” Richard said as we ate lunch at King’s Diner. “Donald gives an old lady a pound of rotten pork sausages and you’re surprised that she died.”

But I was not surprised. I was not surprised at all. I warned Donald to take the proper precautions when making the aged pork sausages, which he did not do, which is precisely why he ended up20in trouble. “This is a high-risk meat,” I told Donald, “and you had better be careful.” But he was not careful, not careful like I was careful, and because of this the wife of his doorman died and he ended up in jail.

“They ought to put you in jail,” Richard said. “Anyone who makes homemade sausages ought to go to jail. They ought to be sued and go to jail. I have no pity for the likes of Donald and my only regret is that they did not send you to jail as well.”

But they almost did send me to jail because Donald did everything he could to put the blame on me. He claimed that it was my recipe and that I had told him to leave the pork out for two days to warm to room temperature. And this was true. I did tell him that. And I also told him to wash his hands and his cooking implements thoroughly before cooking the sausages, which he obviously did not do. And while I denied everything to the police, denied that I told Donald to leave the meat out, I did tell them how important it is to wash everything before cooking. “You must wash absolutely everything,” I told the police, “and this is clearly what Donald did not do.” And lack of hygiene was precisely the reason that the sausages became infected, although the police, who know nothing about meat, nothing about sausage making, claimed it was because the meat was left out for two days. It is because of this misperception that I was forced to lie to them. But if I did tell the truth I could still have established my innocence because I too ate the aged pork and I too left the meat out for two days, and absolutely nothing happened to me. It was clearly Donald’s fault that the wife of his doorman died and had he done what I, in fact, told him, that is, if he had thoroughly washed his hands and his cooking utensils, as he clearly did not do, this so-called accident would not have happened and he would not be in the situation that he is in. And this is exactly what I told the police. And it is exactly what I told Richard. “Sausage making is perfectly safe,” I said. “But it is not without its risks. And because of this, you must always be meticulous about everything. You must always be meticulous about everything and Donald was meticulous about nothing.”