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January 8, 2007

Plant Your Flag, O King of Deliciousness


Meat is typically the king of the meal, but there are rare instances when it becomes just another instrument in the symphony. It still retains a deep importance, but must share the main stage.


This small fact should tell you things. When meat is just another ingredient, you are indeed confronting a titan.


In this case, the titan’s name is black-eyed pea. It is as thick as it is earthy. When cooking, you look down at it, and it looks back with its one black eye, as if to say, “What, you want a piece of me?” For that reason, chefs who classify foods based on raw power rather than on physical characteristics will sometimes line up the black eyed pea as a meat, and demote your flakier fishes to fruit status.


We will leave this debate for another day, and instead let it teach us a lesson. The black eyed pea can hold its own. Respect it.


This provides plenty of options in choice of accompanying meat – a chunked chicken breast, a boneless pork chop cut into bite-sized pieces or even stew beef. If Sam Elliot is to be believed, it’s what’s for dinner.


Whatever your choice, brown it with chopped onion and garlic in a pot.


At this point, a word of clarification. When you cook chicken or pork in this fashion, it turns not brown but instead white. Some have suggested that since pork plus chicken equals two, and that beef equals only one, that the correct term is instead to white it and that we use beef only out of prejudice favoring cattle.


We are broad-minded people here. If you prefer, it’s perfectly appropriate to instead say that you are whiting chicken or pork. We use the word brown because it’s widespread enough that everyone understands what the term means. You may change the world, and will be saluted for it. But, here, we opt for utility rather than idealism.


Do not tarry long on this question, because if you’re cooking chicken or pork, it will indeed turn brown, which is a sign that you have overcooked it. Ideas are not something you want to ruin dinner over.


Once browned (or whited), take a can of corn kernels in one hand and a can of black-eyed peas in the other. Look at them. They desire to be joined.


Grant them their wish, in the pot. But, beware, do not drain them beforehand. You will need juice, or else what you mix in the pot will become something quite different from stew, most likely a mess of blackened goo sticking to the bottom of your pan.


Cut up and add some tomatoes and allow them to dissolve in the heat.


Stir, and sprinkle over the top some dried oregano and also some cayenne pepper for a good, healthy kick. The black-eyed peas have a unique earthy goodness to them, but one is tempted to wonder if they weren’t actually born to be hot and not allowed to reach their full potential by mistake of evolution.


The stew will now need to cook down and thicken. Done right, you should be able to plant a flag in it and declare it a new colony for your local nation-state. It should be dense enough that you can seal cracks in the foundation of your home.


Some stews insist that you add flour to thicken it. Do not do this, for the love of food. The extra time over the heat will allow the various flavors to better blend, and for whatever meat you’ve used to soak up some of the sauce.


This will take time. How much? Cooking is not a science. You can repeat the same recipe a dozen times in the exact same laboratory under the exact same conditions and come up with different results each time.


Alas, this is art at work, and you will need to exercise some personal judgment. Does the stew say what you want it to say, about you and about itself? Does it pose deep philosophical questions by its mere existence? Is this thick enough to hold aloft a national flag?


The answers to these questions lie within you, and perhaps you will be able to answer them in the time it takes for the stew to cook down. Wouldn’t life be sweet if that were the case?


Once you have achieved the appropriate thickness, plant your flag and declare that you claim it in the name of the king of deliciousness.


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