It's no secret that I'll eat pretty much anything made from, made with, or made in the same room as a meat or meat byproduct. Oddly, not everyone feels the same way. Occasionally, someone around here whom I won't name because she knows where I sleep -- cough, my wife, cough cough -- will complain that the meat I've just purchased at my local meatery "looks a little too much like an animal" to actually eat.
This problem is not confined to my house. I've heard comments from people who you wouldn't think were crazy about how they like meat but don't feel right about eating it.
"It's not the taste -- the taste is great. It's that it's an animal."
Um, yeah. That's kinda the point. If it weren't animal, it wouldn't taste nearly as good. Anyway, technically it stopped being an animal and started being food a while ago. Still, I've seen a grown man leave the table because he found a tendon in a chicken drumstick, and one of my sisters, who I happen to know eats
McDonald's from time to time, wrinkles her nose and shakes her head like Mrs. Brady reprimanding Greg for staying out past 8 any time she sees raw ground beef.
"No," she says. "That's just too gross." Of course, that might just be her trying to emulate her insane-by-virtue-of-his-veganism boyfriend, but it's still wacky.
But there is a solution that doesn't involve giving in to PETA apologists. It's a simple solution that you wouldn't think would work on an intelligent person but always does: Mix the meat with other ingredients and call it something else. Simple, genius, meaty. Plus, there are covert meat dishes that fit every meal of the day.
Hiding the Sausage Early
Bury sausage in scrambled eggs, call it something using your father's middle name -- in my case, that'd be "eggs Wilbur" -- and say it's "traditional." This is an easy way to spread the meaty love first thing in the morning, starting the day off right. You need to make sure that you don't go with chorizo, though, which, as delightful as it is, still looks like chunks of meat and leaves telltale evidence in the form of delicious grease pools. Plus, if you add in some beans, salsa, and a corn tortilla, you can turn it into huevos rancheros, a gourmet Tex-Mex breakfast that you can claim has nothing to do with meat.
Mystery in the Center
When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to eat as regularly as I could at Ferdinando's Focacceria, a small Sicilian restaurant that had been in my Carroll Gardens neighborhood for roughly 13,000 years. Although everything I ever ate there was delicious, there were two things in particular that I'd rather fight than switch from: the panelle specials and the rice balls. Panelle specials are flattened chickpea pancakes, deep fried, then stacked with ricotta and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, served on a fresh roll. It is possibly the finest damned nonmeat sandwich in the new world. Rice balls may not be better than the panelle specials, but they do have the virtue of a meaty center. Imagine a Tootsie Roll Pop, but instead of candy, the shell is made of a ball of rice, egged and coated with breadcrumbs, then broiled until brown. And the center, instead of Tootsie Roll, is ground beef, peas, and delicious mystery sauce. And now imagine instead of the size of a large grape, it's the size of a small grapefruit. Now go get a napkin and clean up your drool.
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It's OK Because It's Authentic Italian
One of my personal faves, and one that hits all my food hot buttons: cheese, pasta, and meat. And baked ziti is so simple too: a pound of pasta in a casserole dish, mixed with tomato sauce that you've packed with enough sausage and ground beef to feed Patton's third army. Shred some mozzarella and mix it in, cover the top with more cheese, and bake it. The great thing about this bad boy is the size of the meat chunks you can frag it with and still keep your meatphobic friends and family happy. Although the eggs and rice balls require a fairly fine grind, with the baked ziti, you can be as chunky as you wanna be, and coming across slabs of Italian sausage or a huge lump of ground beef in your ziti is reason to worship at the alter of the ziti pan. If you happen to have a meat heretic at your table, just tell them you've got an Italian grandmother and that the recipe is authentic. That's usually enough of an excuse for anyone to stop pretending they're not interested in eating all that meat. "Oh, well if it's authentic..." they'll say as they Hoover forkful after forkful into their grinning pie holes.
In my world, naming these three dishes meat and eggs, meat in rice, and meaty noodles would be enough to get me to say, "Absolutely, I'd like a heaping portion, thank you." But until the rest of the world catches up to those of us who understand the phrase "live to meat, meat to live," we'll have to be willing to take the respectful approach to those loved ones who don't want to eat meat and hide it in their food anyway.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and believes that meat will convert vegetarians and also members of anti-pork religious sects.