Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at email@example.com.
Farm Fresh Food Suppliers Pickled Pigs Lips and Cajun Crawtators
So this is how it happened. One minute, we're all sitting happily at our desks, updating our new Twitters and arguing about music over IM. Then Josh walks in with a tall, narrow box and plops it down on my desk, with a hearty "Okay, here it is!" Seems that a reader from New Orleans had been in touch with him about a very special package that was on the way, but like the rest of us, Josh had no idea what was in it. So it became a bit of an event as we all crowded around the box and he popped it open. Inside… were half a dozen little bags of "Spicy Cajun Crawtators"-flavored potato chips. Kind of interesting, but not worth the buildup. But as we mused over them, Josh noticed they took up less than half the box; the rest seemed to be a chamber constructed out of cardboard and padding.
He opened it up and pulled out a jar of pig lips.
Let's be clear here; we've all heard of, if not actually tried, pickled pigs' feet. The idea of a brine-swine concoction wasn't wholly new to us. But none of us were really prepared to face the vivid pink, murky fluid swirling around in the jar, or the vague shapes within, so reminiscent of fetuses in formaldehyde.
The jar came with this note:
Dear Josh and other AV Club Taste Testers,
I told you I'd send something to continue your bacon theme, so here's the big prize from South Louisiana. Please, don't "pussy out."
You may want to have beer, like Dixie for example, on hand as this is traditionally "bar food" and drunkenness may or may not help.
Bar Food Directions:
1. Take a bag of potato chips and, without opening it, crush the contents.
2. Open the bag, drop in a lip, close it up and shake it well to coat the lip with the chips.
3. Open the bag, take a bite and enjoy.
I won't presume to tell you that this is the only method of consumption, and certainly there are other culinary avenues to explore with the lips, so please don't limit yourself.
Now, on a normal day, we totally wouldn't let ourselves be peer-pressured into eating pig lips. I mean, we've all been hearing all our lives that hot dogs are basically made out of lips and assholes, so chances are good we've all ingested a few over the years. But the joy of a hot dog is that its contents have been ground up into a smooth, uniform mulch and packaged into a nice unvarying phallic shape that straight women, gay men, and closet cases can all enjoy together. Hot dogs are unburdened by, say, the white lumps of taste buds, the obvious freckles and dimples, and the spiky, coarse lip hairs that were clearly visible on the pig lips, even through the glass jar and the cloudy pink-dyed fluid therein. Josh and I had a sort of fascination with the thick, origami-like folds of the lips in the unopened jar:
On the other hand, we could hardly back down from a challenge coming from someone with an awesome metal name like Sten Thornburg. If we did, he would clearly go back to his buddies in Dethklok and write a song mocking us. Besides, we had our in-house secret weapon, Internet Eating Sensation Dave Chang, to sic on the problem. Which was fortunate, because while this was one of our best-attended Taste Tests ever, it was also probably our least-participated-in to date. I mean, come on. Pig lips? Seriously, South Louisiana? Crawdad eyeballs weren't enough for you?
One thing we found as soon as we opened the jar: Pickled pig lips smell pretty foul, in a dry chemical way not at all reminiscent of meat or brine. There was a great deal of complaining about the smell from the moment the jar came open, but no one could really pin down what they were smelling. The jar is full of artificial preservatives and chemical color, so it didn't smell at all rotten, as we'd feared. (Nowhere on this jar does it say it should be refrigerated after opening, or at all, ever. Nonetheless, this jar is supposedly good until November 2010.) If anything, it has a little of the back-of-the-nose prickle of strong vinegar-based hot sauce, mixed with a weird, dusty flat smell. Xanthan gum, maybe? Guar? Sodium Alginate?
IES Dave Chang knew this was his hour to shine. He strutted into the kitchen, did some deep knee bends, and repeatedly demanded—even though he was three feet from the fridge himself—that someone get him a beer. (Fortunately, we had some Drifter Pale Ale sitting around the office, sent in for a Taste Test of its own.) Waves of spectators parted to let him through. He and Josh popped open the bottle and prepped the first lip, which looked more like a pig's ear, or the skin off a trotter, or half of a pig's heart, than anything we could identify as a lip. Dave's reaction was quick and decisive:
Genevieve also made the effort, which turned into a modified side-to-side version of the famous Koski Revulsion Dance:
After that, we scoured the label for any sign whatsoever that the pig lips had been pre-cooked. Finding none, we realized that we (or rather, the two people who'd manned up so far) had almost certainly been eating raw pig face. We wondered whether it would taste any better cooked, so Kyle popped it in the microwave, where it made distinct popcorn sounds:
Then the smell got really bad, as the heat atomized the rank, sour flavor of the meat and dispersed it around the office. Our HR rep, Shannon, showed up to point out that every time we do these things, her office just outside the kitchen ends up progressively fouler. The kitchen partially cleared as people fled the smell, griping all the way. Then, of course, we needed someone to taste the newly hot, now darker, weirdly bouncy and rubbery cooked pig lip. Chang was reluctant, but Kyle's instant, heavy-duty application of peer pressure made him cave:
Ad Ops guy Bret also rose to the challenge, with little fanfare:
Special bonus level: Persuaded that Bret and Genevieve had stolen his thunder by joining in on the lip-eating, Dave was persuaded to take an additional step by drinking some of the brackish pink brine the lips were floating in. (Note: That's HR rep Shannon in the background telling him that The Onion, Inc. is not liable if he pukes.)
Taste: The flavor of a pickled pig lip comes in fast but distinct waves. A sufficiently talented taster might be able to ride those waves, and bail before crashing, maybe by rapidly eating the rest of the bag of Cajun Crawtators. Wave one: Salt, pure and simple. Wave two: pork, specifically the rich, meaty taste of cured bacon. Wave three: pure vinegar. None of these are too bad on their own. And then, maybe five seconds in, like something out of a Peter Weir film, it all blends into the last wave, which tastes like meaty, salty vinegar spoilage. Like the cold, curdled, shriveled, rancid fatty rind off a long-forgotten Sunday ham. The Crawtators are nothing special—your standard salty, spicy BBQ chip, heavy on the hot paprika for a little late heat. They're mostly there to disguise both the flavor of the pig lips and their heavy, spongy, overcooked-calamari consistency. Which raises the question, why not just eat the chips and leave the lips on the pigs?
• "Ahhhh, it's spongy. It's so rubbery and stringy. Ah, gross."
• "It's not the taste, it's the texture. It's all chewy and kind of mooshy and gooey at the same time. It's got little bits of gristle that get caught in your teeth, so the flavor just lingers."
• "Oh, that's HORRIBLE. That's HORRIBLE."
• "It really is just eating skin. Thick, heavy, tough, irregular, hairy skin."
• Genevieve: "Ahhhh, little chunks of it are still in my mouth." Chang: "Same here. It sticks with you. It doesn't go away."
• "I'm still gagging."
• "It's the texture. If I'd just swallowed it, it probably would have been okay." "That's what she said."
• Genevieve again: "I'm chewing gum now, and there are little pieces of pig in my gum. It's even ruining the thing I'm trying to use to get rid of it."
• Chang again: "There really wasn't any taste to it. It's soft and mushy in a way that meat should not be. It's like you're eating spoiled raw ground beef. It is by far the worst thing I've ever had. And bear in mind, I've been to Asia, I've lived there. I've had wine with a snake fermented in it, and this was worse than that. I'm going to have to retire from these Taste Tests for a few weeks."
• Chang, five minutes after the first raw lip: "Oh God, I'm cold all over." Josh: "You have pig-lip fever." Paul: "It's probably swine flu." Chang: "It's called botulism!"
• Random observer, to Bret: "Question: would you eat that if you were starving to death?" Bret: "Yeah. [Two-second pause.] No. I think I'd eat grass instead."
• "Man, it just smells like sad in here."
• Josh: "Successful! A very successful taste test." Genevieve, bitterly: "Says the man who didn't eat any."
Where to get them: Go to New Orleans, walk into a bar, and tell 'em Sten sent you, the sadistic bastard.