Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tongues, hearts, bugs, worms: a Halloween feast

Somehow Hallowe'en snuck up on us this year. We didn't think about costumes or put up decorations, and our social calendar was empty. And then we got an unexpected invitation from Trevor, a redonkulously incredible chef and total sweetheart: he was going to be cooking at JJ Gonson's next ONCE event and thought we might be interested.

Indeed we might.

JJ is a chef, a passionate locavore, a dynamo, and completely cool. Her dinners are known for being fun and full of unexpected surprises. This particular event happened to be on October 30, which made it a perfect time to create a menu of things some people are afraid to eat.

Trevor had mentioned lamb's tongue and pig's head. There were rumors of insects.

It was going to be awesome.

We were among the first to arrive at the Somerville location (only attendees know the address, which is sent out the day before the event). The room was set out with an assortment of comfortably mismatched dining tables and chairs. We chatted with fellow diners as the room started to fill up.

JJ came over. "You have to take a picture of Trevor and his bloodbath," she said. The blood was actually beet juice, but it looked real enough.

We found seats at a table for six next to the tiny kitchen, and got to know our dining companions for the evening. And then JJ announced the first course: chicken liver pâté, served in preserving jars. It was fresh and deeply flavorful, and I had to keep reminding myself that we were eating family-style, which meant sharing. Damn.

Next up: a Thai tom yum soup made with haddock, the broth light and clear and spicy, garnished with ... a chicken foot. "The feet come from the same chickens that we used for the pate," JJ explained. I'd never had chicken foot before. This one was covered in a sweet barbecue-style sauce; the skin and meat (such as there was) had a gelatinous texture and slid off the bone easily. Definitely more of a snack food.

After that: "The first appearance of the pig's head," according to JJ, in the form of beet-infused aspic. A sweet, simple palate cleanser.

And then the bugs arrived.

First there were cockroaches. The texture was not just crunchy but actually dry; they seemed to remove moisture from my mouth. They tasted earthy, certainly not unpleasant, and there was something quite satisfying about chewing up a bug I hate. ("You can survive nuclear holocaust, but you're helpless against me! Ha ha ha nom nom nom!!")

Next, a really lovely stir fry. With crickets and mealworms.

The worms had a sweet flavor and a soft, yielding texture. I could have eaten a few more, I think. The crickets were larger than the
chapulines in the tacos at Tu y Yo, and their insecty bits were definitely more, well, visible.

They look as though they'd be pretty meaty, but the crunch of their shell minimized the seeming juiciness of the abdomen. Again, better as snack food.

Then some ants from Texas. Then some crickets from Thailand that reminded me of tapioca pudding.

And then we learned the identity of the mystery course, which earlier we had been asked to identify:

It turned out to be buffalo spinal cord. There was just enough for everyone to have a tiny sliver. It was sweet and fatty and reminded me of a
pig's eyeball.

We were happy to be sitting near the kitchen; not only did we get to check out everything that was going on, we also got to overhear things like "Dave, where's the fly larvae?"

Next up: a deeply delicious feijoada, served with rabbit and chicken hearts, and kale garnished with more ants. The
Stillman's Farm chorizo in the black beans was light and lovely (though as it was Portuguese, The Boy claimed it wasn't proper, of course).

Next (course number ten, I think), lamb and rabbit kidney fricassée, rich and dark and earthy, sandwiched between God's own puff pastry (or, as it were,
Good Wives pastry.)

Next, the lamb's tongue appeared, sliced thin and used in a delicate take on a Reuben (to which this picture doesn't do justice):

And the final main course: pig-head cakes, served with lentils and roasted parsnips. Again, the crappy photo fails to convey how completely amazing this was.

And finally, dessert. And the bugs came back for a curtain call.

Before I go there, I'll go here: all the bugs for the meal came courtesy of
David Gracer, who calls himself "a regular guy who's into eating insects." Here he is on The Colbert Report, where he notes that the meat of the giant water bug sells for around $100 a pound.

Guess what was garnishing our watermelon?

Sure, that's a small piece, but each bug's thorax only has so much to offer. And the taste is so intense — very salty, but also fruity, something between pistachio and violet — that a little goes a long way.

(For a little kick of extra ick, JJ noted that the chestnuts used in the crème de marrons that was inside the local-cider-poached pear were "infested with white worm, but I think I got them all out.")

And I brought home a trophy.

(He's all like, "You wanna piece of me?" And I'm like, "Uh, yeah, I already did, thanks ...")

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Blogger jess said...

I think you're the only person I know who can say with confidence and accuracy that something is reminiscent of pig's eyes. I mean, how awesome is that? Ridiculously.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

If I had known you were right behind me, I would have said hello. Your write-up of the evening is fantastic!

12:09 PM  
Blogger LimeyG said...

Thank you, Pam! And it would be remiss of me not to tell people to read your review of the evening as well ...

2:20 PM  

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