Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hanging Out at the Lex

Anyone who listened to the Sept. 8, 2008, Unique Culinary Adventures podcast knows about my favorite place in Baltimore for fried chicken, namely the Lexington Market. Wings such as pictured at left have been the main course for literally hundreds of lunches I've enjoyed there continually over the past 40 years. It doesn't matter which stall they're from. All five serve up pretty much the same thing at similar prices. The wings at left are from the Lexington Fried stall. To learn more, click the podcast icon at the top of this page.

It was fun to grab those three wings for a dollar a piece (three wing minimum at all the stalls). I took them to the upstairs area that overlooks the newer southern part of the East Market, and chowed down at what amounted to a balcony table from which to enjoy a lunchtime concert of New Orleans funk music by Baltimore's own Junkyard Saints. At some point, my eyes became focused upon the enlarged reproductions of old food labels lining the upper wall separating the Lex's upstairs and downstairs. A rendering of the label from a can of "silver hake" grabbed my attention. Silver hake happens to be the same fish that we Baltimoreans know and love as fresh breaded and fried lake trout even though most fishmongers will tell you that "lake trout," is "whiting," when in truth it's silver hake.

I'd never seen, heard of, or tasted the likes of canned silver hake. The instructions on the antique label poster said to drain the liquid from the can, put fish in a bowl. Add onions, peppers, vinegar, salt, and season to taste. Mix thoroughly with a little mayonnaise and serve with lettuce on a platter. The same instructions also noted that this canned hake could be served "fried or boiled in whole pieces just as removed from the can or made into delicious fish cakes."

Next to Silver Hake was an enlargement of the label for a can of Bull Head Oysters from Mavar Shrimp & oyster Ltd. in Biloxi, Mississippi. Something about that label struck me as familiar. It seemed to quite resemble a label in which another Biloxi packer, the Aughinbaugh Canning Company, once encased cans of its Negro Head Oysters, such as the one pictured at right that I managed to retriece from the storage area of my basement. I really should get rid of it. Unopened cans of such vintage are known to explode occasionally due to a spontaneous combustion type phenomenon. My reason for acquiring it quite a number of years ago had far less to do with oysters within than a label that was clearly over-the-top. Not long I'd purchased it, Mrs. Yi moved in and in a nod to political correctness, removed the can from where anyone might see it.
After leaving the East Market, I walked along the 500 block of West Lexington Street, where for years and years the ambiance has been about as close to Middle Eastern/Third World as you'll find in the immediate area. Quite intriguing to me was a sign outside Caribbean American Gourmet heralding jerk pork as "new." So in I went to purchase a pint container of it for $6.95 through the bullet-proof glass. While dozens of local Caribbean spots offer jerk chicken and/or jerk fish, not many have jerk pork. My several trips to Jamaica years ago had always led me to believe that pork, not chicken or fish, best defined what the jerk phenomenon was really about. I suspect that jerk chicken and fish are more prevalent hereabouts simply because they can be prepared in almost any kind of kitchen. On the other hand, Jamaican aficionados have told me that at its best jerk pork should be barbecued on slabs of pimiento wood over a fire built into the ground. Most of the recipes for jerk pork that I've been able to source on the Internet would seem oblivious to this. Worse, they say to use pork loin. Believe me when I tell you shoulder meat is preferable, the fattier the better. That's what I believe Caribbean-American Gourmet was using, which was the good news. The bad news was that it appeared to have been cooked up in a pot like a stew. After all, Caribbean American Gourmet is hardly in a part of town that lends itself to building fires in the ground. But on my grill, I think I'd like to try it some time and see what happens.