And now you and your guests can be among the tiny handful of Americans who will savor and serve this astonishing ham...
-- David Rosengarten
'Prepare to have your life changed!" Kip read from the paper in his hands, his voice cracking with laughter. He was holding the Rosengarten Report that David had handed to him during one of our cheese parties. Each report focuses on a specific food -- this one was about the perfect ham.
"Seething with juice!" Kip called to the hysterical crowd in our living room.
"Let's get it," said Grace, with a disturbing gleam in her eye.
"Really?" I asked. "David and I weren't thinking of getting it, we just thought it was funny. I mean, it's 180 bucks. For a ham."
Grace assured us she would do the cooking and said if we split the cost between enough people the price would be reasonable.
"All right. Let's do it. Count us in," I said. Everyone in the room
wanted to take part in tasting this supposed "life-altering" ham.
Before the end of the night, Kip and Ollie had named our dinner-to-be the "Über Pig." They sat in the corner and created a backstory for the Kurobuta pig, a Japanese black hog lauded by chefs around the world as the "Kobe beef" of pork. Our ham would come from this super race of pigs.
"There was a religion of super pigs that is no less valid than Scientology," said Ollie. He then described how the pig was once on a cross, then came back to life and
mounted a military campaign across Europe.
"Über Pig overtook Europe and then settled in Japan," Kip concluded.
"You guys are silly," I said, receiving an enthusiastic "Hail, Über!" from both of them in response.
Choosing people to join in the revelry was not difficult for me (I base my decisions on who I think will get along with everyone else). Grace, Ollie, and I came up with a list of invitees, but others were confused as to the extent of this dinner's exclusivity. Stephanie asked if she could invite her coworker and friend Lou. My first instinct when confronted with a random invitation is to say, "Absolutely not." But I had met Lou before, and he was standing in front of us when she asked me. I still said no, but I wasn't happy with my solo decision.
The next day I conferred with the "board of inviters" over what to do with Lou. Everyone agreed with me that, from what they'd seen so far, he seemed like a nice guy. Ollie suggested that if Lou were to be invited, he should write an essay on why he felt he was worthy of the Über and read it to his new friends as we dined on the glorified pig. Lou was a good sport and requested a copy of the newsletter as a guideline.
Rosengarten had promised a ham weighing 17 to 19 pounds, but when we opened the box, we gazed upon 22 pounds of "the greatest ham [Rosengarten has] ever tasted!" The pig had arrived at our place, but Ollie insisted that it be transported to the apartment he shares with Kip and Renee. "Dief Über Swine must come to its rightful home. I don't trust it around David and Barb. It'll be wearing a beret and sipping a glass of port by Friday," he said.
By the end of the week we had ten people confirmed for the feast on Easter eve. Everyone would contribute a dish to go with the ham. David made three kinds of mashed potatoes, Thai stir-fried asparagus, and garlic creamed spinach. I brought Pillsbury crescent rolls and canned corn. There was cornbread (thanks to Lou), a spicy Caesar salad, soup, beets, green bean almondine, and of course, the giant ham.
On the big night, guests bustled about the kitchen, everyone putting the final touches on their respective contributions. People rushed to help me fold the Pillsbury dough into crescent shapes. I felt very domestic as I popped them into the oven (the first time I'd used a kitchen contraption since the Valentine's Day meal I made for David).
Rosengarten had instructed that the ham (already cooked) would reach its optimal temperature of 135 degrees after six hours in the oven. At the sixth hour, to the second, David's digital thermometer clicked to 135. As news of this incredible precision spread throughout the apartment, a hush fell over the gathered guests in silent homage to the man who delivered unto us this offering of porcine perfection.
Once everyone was seated, Lou removed from his pocket a sheet of lined purple paper. We gave him our rapt attention, as he recited: "Ode to the Über. I give thanks for the Über -- the finest ham ever to grace a holiday table, to the Über, all others pale. I yearn, yearn, yearn for the Über. I beg to bask in the Über's burgundy brown beauty; to savor the sweet, succulent scent of this scrumptious swine. To cut and caress this kind Kurobuta. To mouth this mystical pork, on which I beg to dine. Long live the great Über, please let it be mine."
Though we were only ten, our applause could have filled the Civic Theatre. Lou met nods of approval with a satisfied grin and took his first bite of the worshipped ham. What sounded like French carnival music played from speakers in the adjacent room -- apparently Kip thought a surreal Felliniesque mood would complement our feast.
"That must've been a big pig, to have a 22-pound ass cheek," I said.
"It's actually pretty small, as pigs go," said Kip.
"Yes, maybe," agreed Ollie. "But genetically superior. That's why I'm going to drink the Über grease after working out." Kip agreed that this would make them men. Not wanting to discuss other options for gleaning power from the pig, I turned my attention to the other side of the table.
"Horseradish smells like cocaine," I announced to Stephanie, Lou, David, and Jennifer. I explained how I had encountered fresh horseradish for the first time that morning. David had set the oddly named root on the counter near me before adding it to one of his mashed-potato dishes. Grated in the small dish, the odor was reminiscent of the powdery white stuff of my past. Much to David's disappointment, I refused to taste his horseradish and scallion potatoes.
"What constitutes a coke-whore?" Stephanie asked. "Do you have to offer favors for the drug?"
"No, I think you just have to do it a lot," I answered.
"I never see any of that action," David said, trying to involve himself in a subject he knows nothing about -- drugs.
"Baby," I cooed, "I sleep with you for food." He laughed at my crassness and changed the subject by sharing that as a show of support for his Catholic friends, he had chosen to give up dogsled racing for Lent. I was surprised he knew what Lent was. I was raised a Catholic and educated in such things, but David, a born-again atheist, was raised Lutheran.
Ollie disappeared into the kitchen and returned with an update: after feeding 12 people (Jim and Jen showed up as we were diving into dessert), three-quarters of the ham remained.
"We can feed Tijuana with it," Ollie offered.
David smiled and shook his head as a father might to a child who suggested we paint the sky purple. "They can have a taste," he said.