Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain

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Overview

John Barlow, self-confessed glutton, found himself in a tricky situation: living in one of the most meat-loving places on earth, married to a vegetarian.

The Barlows live in Galicia, the misty-green northwest corner of Spain, and home to a population that reveres and consumes every part of the pig. This gets Barlow thinking about the nature of our relationship with food—what’s delicious, what’s nasty, and what sort of obligation we have to the animals we eat. Over the course of ...

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Overview

John Barlow, self-confessed glutton, found himself in a tricky situation: living in one of the most meat-loving places on earth, married to a vegetarian.

The Barlows live in Galicia, the misty-green northwest corner of Spain, and home to a population that reveres and consumes every part of the pig. This gets Barlow thinking about the nature of our relationship with food—what’s delicious, what’s nasty, and what sort of obligation we have to the animals we eat. Over the course of one glorious, bilious year, Barlow vows to eat everything but the squeal.

In his travels, Barlow takes part in the thousand-year-old antthrowing festival of Laza. He makes pig-bladder puddings for carnival. He washes down lots of pork with lots of wine.

In the tradition of Calvin Trillin and Anthony Bourdain, Everything but the Squeal is an adventure in extreme eating, a hilariously quirky travel book, and a perceptive look at how what we eat makes us who we are.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Self-confessed glutton, travel writer and novelist Barlow (Eating Mammals; Intoxicated) doesn't scrimp on either culinary or cultural delights in this charmingly informative and witty narrative. Barlow, a resident of the relatively unknown corner of Spain, sets himself the task of consuming every part of the staple meat of rural Galicia. Traveling with his Spanish wife, a vegetarian, and his infant son, Barlow serves up vivid tales encountered during the year dedicated to his "porco-graphical tour." But this tale is more than a culinary treat. Barlow is a companionable guide expounding upon history, traditions and the personalities of Galicia. His writing style is quick, lively and filled with delicious details. He takes readers on a sublime journey of the senses, including three Carnivals, one in Laza, a thousand-year-old event, combining ant throwing and a "pig head bacchanal." He explores why the cousin of Fidel Castro lives at the end of a dark muddy lane in a pokey hamlet, and tracks down Antón, the most famous pig in Galicia. And he indulges in a 12-course meal, including ribs, at one of Spain's most lauded restaurants. "As the ribs sit in the gentle heat, that glorious, fat-infiltrated meat is slowly transforming into what was for me one of the most spellbinding dishes I have ever eaten." (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Barnes & Noble Review
When one lives with a vegetarian wife and an infant son, an irresistible enthusiasm for feasting on pork may not be the most communal of hobbies. But it's no surprise that writer John Barlow discovered said urge soon after moving to Galicia, a region in northwest Spain particularly known for its thorough consumption of hog (and where the locals find the eating preferences of his wife, a native Galician, so incomprehensible that they continually urge her to "just try" morsels of flesh). After a full 12 months of strenuous gastronomic research, Barlow can tell you the flavor of just about any pig part, from hoof to jowl. He competes for platefuls of chorizo served family-style at an open-air market decorated with dried pigs' heads in festive soccer scarves and mustaches ("Galicians are not cruel to animals, but neither are they sentimental"). On the recommendation of his podiatrist, he goes on a pork quest to the hometown of Cervantes, and along the way has an unfortunate encounter with what seems to be "smashed up vertebrae" steamed in a stomach bladder. A pressed pig head, his guide claims, has "twenty-four tastes," and indeed Barlow savors "a chorus of chattering pork voices" in what seems to be "an amazing pig cocktail." Pepe Solla's elegant plate of sous-vide ribs are so fine, he says, "they make you cry when you taste them." Finally, he attends an old-fashioned slaughter, involving a nine-inch knife and a tractor, followed by a repast of "a bacon sandwich, a glass of wine and a spot by the fire." Yes, yes, this is a book that makes one yearn for smoky porcine deliciousness. But Barlow's uncommonly fresh wit and charm (he is also the author of a novel and short story collection) make him the kind of guide one would follow just about anywhere. --Amy Benfer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374150105
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.52 (w) x 5.74 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

JOHN BARLOW studied English literature at Cambridge. He is the author of a collection of novellas, Eating Mammals, which won a Paris Review Discovery Prize, and the novel Intoxicated, which has been translated into four languages. He lives in Spain with his wife and son.

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Read an Excerpt

Everything but the Squeal

Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain
By John Barlow

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2008 John Barlow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374150105

  Everything but the SquealJanuary, and we’re in Spain. But this is not the Spain most people know. The rain is incessant, it’s freezing cold, and the wind sounds like a jet engine playing the bagpipes. We’re driving slowly along the side of a broad, sweeping valley that stretches way into the distance, a crazy quilt of lush green pastureland, any greener and it wouldn’t seem natural. Above us the steel gray sky is cram-packed with fast-moving rain clouds that spit and snarl down at us as we peer ahead. With that familiar sinking feeling, we realize we’ve been on this stretch of road before. We don’t know where we are, the clock is ticking, and we’re hungry.Then, quite by chance, we find it. Pulling up at the side of the road, we sit for a moment and look out across the valley. Stone-built farms crop up here amid the potent grassy greens, but now, on a rainy lunchtime, there’s no one in sight. And lunch is exactly why we’re here. I dash out of the car and struggle to erect the stroller. A wheezing blast of wind slaps me hard in the face. On purpose. We’re in Galicia, and it’s time to eat.We scurry across the road toward a large old tavern that stands right on the road’s edge. There is no sign, no nameplate. Is it in fact the place we’ve been looking for? We’ve lost the directions, so we’ll never really know. For a moment the thought depresses me. Yet this sense of doubt, of not knowing for sure, is a very Galician state of mind. In any case, it definitely looks like the place we thought we were looking for. We go in, already soaked.Inside is an old rustic bar, probably the center of local activity: social club, general store, domino school. The walls boast a few stuffed animal heads and one or two hunting rifles, as well as faded sepia photographs of a nearby monastery that we’ve just driven past twice in a state of mild confusion. A notice board carries snippets of parish news, and pinned there, right in the middle, is a small, computer-printed poster in vivid colors. A bristly face stares out at us: two glossy eyes, pert little snout, a real sweetheart. It’s the kind of shot you might see on an animal welfare ad. XABARÍN! the poster announces in big red letters: WILD BOAR!Boars are not uncommon in the remoter, wooded parts of Galicia, although their numbers are not huge. Perhaps the poster is part of an awareness-raising campaign, I tell myself, a scheme to help the native animal survive the incursion of modernity on its habitat. But I must be getting confused with campaigns to save the Iberian lynx or the brown bears of the Pyrenees. Because as I read on, it becomes clear that the poster is in fact a warning: Boars in the area! Apart from the suggestion that you get your shotgun oiled and loaded, there are a number of useful tips on repelling the evil lettuce-munchers before they trample your market garden to bits. Sprinkling the ground with clippings of human hair, it suggests, will convince these extremely unsociable creatures to stay away. I imagine long queues at the village barbershop, the hair of local farmers getting shorter by the week as the siege of the boars intensifies; then their wives surrender to the scissors, followed by the old folk and the children, until the entire village is bald, but boar-free.We turn to the bar itself. The proprietor dithers, almost avoiding our stare. He is not pleased to see us. Two parents and a sleeping baby in a stroller, all windswept and disheveled and dripping onto the stone floor. Have we booked? No. He rubs his chin, and says that he’ll see what he can do. But it does not look good. A wash of pure negativity overwhelms him. He shakes his head and seems pained and deflated on our behalf.Galicians enjoy their negatives like no one else. There’s nothing vindictive about it, and neither is it the act of refusal itself that they so enjoy. Rather, it’s the indulgence in a sort of constitutional pessimism, an ever-present doubt, a looming complication, something that must be resolved. Or not. Sometimes this seeming negativity might even be a sort of strange friendliness. A straightforward “yes” is just too curt, too bland. A =) egation, on the other hand, is an invitation to explore the topic further, to muse, to ponder, to seek a solution, or to bemoan the lack of one. Here, in the rain-swept north-western corner of Spain, “no” has many shades of meaning. Straightforwardness is simply anathema to the Galician character. Meet a Galician halfway up the stairs, it is said, and he’ll be unable to tell you which way he’s going: Well, that depends … , he’ll ruminate, dodging the affirmative as if it’s a ball of shit flying straight at him. And trying to insist on a straight yes-no answer from a Galician is just asking for trouble. I know; I’m married to one.The proprietor decides it is necessary for him to go talk with his wife. We really should have booked, he says as he slouches off, shaking his head and tugging on his saggy cardigan.Making a reservation has never been strictly necessary in Galicia, especially in less formal places. Eating out, like much else, is a relaxed affair. You turn up, and you eat. However, things are changing. Restaurants of all kinds are booming, and this particular one, though by rights it’s a cantina, a kind of rustic eatery, is full. There’s a move in this part of Spain toward a greater appreciation of traditional cuisine. Not that the old dishes have ever gone out of fashion, but the rustic is becoming more and more valued, especially by city folk, a process that perhaps has something to do with a gradual rise in Galician nationalism. Food and nationhood are nowhere more closely related than in this small, soggy bit of the Iberian Peninsula.The boss returns with his far bossier wife. She has a look of redoubtability to her, extra-thick-set in her kitchen apron, her eyes never showing the least sign of amiability when they flick over you. But it’s all part of the act, the mentality of suspicion, that initial where-are-you-from glance, the same as you’ll find in rural villages everywhere. Whenever I stop at a bar or a shop in some out-of-the-way place, and the person in question shows not the least sign of appreciating my friendly visitor smile, it kind of hurts. There I am, miles from the nearest cell phone signal, gallantly ignoring the smell of manure … and I can never understand why on earth these people do not give a toss that I have arrived, eager to take in their quaint ways, and are not immediately won over by my inanely deferent grin.The redoubtable one reminds us that we haven’t booked, making it sound like an illness that might get a lot worse before it gets better. She and her husband breathe long sighs, as if they’re standing above the open grave of our dearly departed lunch. We plead silently with our eyes, knowing that we’ve done wrong: if this place is full, all the other cantinas in the area will be full too. She actually seems to suck in the air, chew on it, then let it out again, shaking her head slowly. Were this Hollywood, I would simply draw a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and tuck it into the man’s palm with a knowing squeeze. But we are in Galicia, and I suspect that a deft bribe would be greeted with a scornful chuckle, but no table.A reservations list is examined, and opinions are exchanged in low voices. In the stroller, Nico sleeps on, oblivious to the concern that his arrival has caused. I let Susana do the talking. She was born into this culture of pathological uhming and ahing, and is capable of smothering the most insistently negative person with wave after wave of angelic patience. I have absolutely no doubt that she will get us a table. If you really want to eat somewhere but have no reservation—whether it’s got three Michelin stars on the wall or spit and sawdust on the floor—take my wife along; she’ll get you in. Considering that I myself am a very, very impatient food writer, I think I chose well.As negotiations continue, I look around. The room where we are standing is spacious. It has a high ceiling and perhaps nine or ten tables. The bar itself is a long one, running the length of two of the walls. As our fate hangs in the balance, it strikes me that every single table is empty. It is just coming up to three o’clock, prime Spanish lunchtime. There is not one other person here. Yet it is full.We are finally granted lunching rights, and reminded to book next time. It is only now, with relief and humility making me light-headed, that I detect something on the air. Below the musty-yet-fresh smell of a place where mud-encrusted boots are the accepted footwear (the stuffed animal heads no doubt add a backnote), a familiar aroma is wafting toward us, and it seems to be coming from a curtained doorway in the corner. A familiar smell, sweet and meaty, pungently savory, a smell that, at its strongest, actually drapes itself across the membranes of your nostrils and dares you to inhale: hot hog. It is, in this case, the smell of a specific dish, pot-boiled pork with turnip greens. And we’ve driven all the way out here to eat it.We are led through the curtains into an antechamber. To our surprise, we find seven or eight tables there occupied by people happily at lunch. Since becoming a cantina, it seems, the owners have fitted out a back room especially for the new class of customer: smarter chairs, curtains that match the tablecloths and napkins (a loud orange and yellow check), the well-scrubbed stone walls adding to the bucolic charm, unlike the old bar through the curtains, where they were just stone walls with a pleasant accumulation of grime. There are several pieces of colorful, primitivist artwork on the wall that may have been painted by the owner’s niece. Lighting is not the regulation fluorescent strip, but rustic wooden candelabras with small, tasseled lampshades in orange and yellow, the same fabric as the tablecloths and napkins and curtains. The decor is coordinated, and I am beginning to dislike it.So this is where we will be eating, well away from the bar, the characterful nexus of village life with its whiff of old boots and taxidermy. The bar owners think we’re too good to sit in there and have lunch. As outsiders, we must cross the threshold into an unwanted show of modernity and sophistication, exactly what we did not want. And as we traverse the curtained Rubicon, I turn to see a farmer in his boots enter the old, musty place, prop himself up at the bar, and stick a cigarette between his lips. Back on the coordinated side it is clear in an instant that the other diners are not locals.It’s becoming harder and harder to slum it in Galicia. Everywhere is getting tablecloths. But what does one say? Let me partake of your rude ways, bumpkin … No, you accept what you find. Yet I like village life. I am from England, where much of the rural landscape is composed of neatly manicured, picture-postcard villages awash with gleaming BMWs and well-heeled commuters (the rural poor moved out years ago; no one knows where they went). In the United Kingdom fewer than 2 percent of the population work on the land, and most of those in some form of intensive agroproduction. The situation in the United States is similar. Galicia, by contrast, is a patchwork of small, low-intensity farms that, together with its fisheries and forestry sectors, accounts for nearly half of the region’s workforce. It is, in the words of the Galician novelist Manuel Rivas, “the land of a million cows,” real working countryside. Technically, the term paisano (peasant) carries no negative connotations here, although as with everything else, it depends on how you say it.Even if you say it with a big smile, the average paisano generally doesn’t want to be stuck in the past. It always comes as a surprise to me that those who live and work in the real countryside harbor a healthy ambivalence toward their own way of life. Pretty stone-built cottages? Sod that, they say. Give us a new house, concrete walls, aluminum window frames. As ugly as you like. Just make the damn thing warm and comfortable on the inside. Better still, make it in the city, away from the pigs. At the very least, make it right on a main road. Galicians do not set their ugly new houses back amid a couple of rolling green acres, they set them as close to the traffic as possible. Feísmo (“uglyism”), the building of ugly houses in the countryside, is a hot political issue here. Yet if you’ve spent all your life in a mudstained village, and your family has for generations before that, sleeping right above the stables (to make use of the rising heat from the animals), kicking pig shit from your shoes as you tuck into a hunk of lard-smeared bread for breakfast, then the intrinsic beauty of the rural way of life must seem like a puzzle, a metropolitan joke.We steer Nico into the chichi back room and park at an available table. Nearby a couple of men in baggy pullovers are deep into a pot of caldo, Galician broth made with pork bones, pork fat, a little meat, potatoes, chickpeas, and grelos. The word grelos, as is only right and proper for a native Galician plant, is a bit of a mystery, a little imprecise, with no straightforward translation into English. My dictionary says “turnip tops,” but grelos are not turnip tops, exactly; some people say “turnip greens,” which comes closer to the truth, while others say “bitter cabbage” or “Galician greens,” which is just making names up for the fun of it. Everyone agrees that none of these translations is quite right, yet without doubt they are all perfect renderings of a very Galician word.The broth sits on the table between the men, in a pot big enough for bathing a baby. It’s a watery light brown soup with bits of the dark green grelos floating on top. It doesn’t look very appetizing. It looks, indeed, like what might run from an overflowing drain after a downpour. Yet it tastes tremendous. And it sums up the tastes of Galician cooking, a sort of edible shorthand: the solid, meaty back-taste of bone stock; the rich but not overpowering notes of pork fat and skin; the lumps of potatoes that, if they are local, are relatively waxy and on the sweet side; the fragments of dark green grelos, bitter to the taste, without which caldo is just savory swill. Galician food, it is sometimes said, is essentially the sum total of its ingredients: there are few herbs and spices, no elaborate cooking techniques, and definitely no fancy chefs with their emulsion and their assiettes. It’s all about what goes in the pot.Caldo translates as “stock” or “juices,” and is about as traditional as you can get. You can make it bespoke from the ingredients above, or it can be nothing more than the leftover cooking liquids from pork stew (see below). Either way, its distinctive flavors trigger strong emotions in the otherwise reserved and unflamboyant Galician character.I met a research scientist down in Madrid recently. He was Galician, living just a few hundred miles south of his birthplace, yet in some ways a world away from the damp, stolid atmosphere that sets Galicia apart from the searingly dry plains of Castile, the sultry south, and all that other flamenco-and-castanet stuff you think of whenever you hear the word España. Our exile in Madrid (a city with thousands of restaurants) admitted making regular trips to local markets in search of pork bones and grelos for a pot of good old caldo. The same no doubt happens wherever Galician émigrés reside, from Buenos Aires to Brisbane. And it is while eating caldo that the lonely, far-flung Galician is most likely to suffer from morriña, a profound longing for the native land, a feeling that is said to be stronger and more complex than mere homesickness; “home-yearning,” perhaps, although many Galicians insist that there is simply no adequate translation of morriña. Which makes it an even better Galician word than grelos.Back in the cantina’s high-end zone, the jerseyed men ladle helping after helping of caldo into their dishes and drink young white country wine that comes not in a bottle but an earthenware jug. Both of these men have beards. They are in their late thirties, and judging by the way their bellies push at their heavy woolen sweaters, they are accustomed to slow, leisurely lunches. They show all the signs of being funcionarios—state workers. They look like teachers to me, but they might be postal workers, or from some other state sector. You can tell funcionarios a mile off.Being a state worker is a dream for many Galicians. It’s the same right across Spain, historically a country of high unemployment and a shaky economy where the call of a government job—which is guaranteed for life—is strong. The Galician economy has always been among the weakest in Spain, so miserably weak that the tradition of emigration—to richer European countries, to South America, to the USA—has been a common feature of life for a century and a half. Thus, once a person passes the ferociously competitive public exam and becomes a funcionario—be it university professor or cleaner in a public building—it is like an invitation to eat and drink merrily forevermore. You see them hunting in packs, twelve, fifteen tenured tax office clerks out on a Tuesday night for wine and tapas; local government officials in town every morning sipping their coffee with all the ease of those who know their jobs are safe forever, no matter how long they take over their café con leche. The men in the woollies are schoolteachers, I soon overhear. And they eat and drink like funcionarios , like there’s no tomorrow, or, if there is, then it’s not something they need to worry about.Susana (who, incidentally, is both a Galician and a state worker) reminds me that we are supposed to be here for the purposes of research. It’s true. I ought to mention this: over the course of this book I’ll be traveling around Galicia, trying to see as much of this idiosyncratic and relatively unknown part of “green Spain” as I can. In each place, I’ll sample a different part of the pig, in a year-long pursuit of pure pork, the fattiest, juiciest, most unashamedly rustic of meats. Pork stands at the very center of traditional Galician country cooking, a form of cooking that I fell in love with nearly twenty years ago: hearty, no-nonsense, ridiculously satisfying food, from a satisfyingly no-nonsense part of the world. My travels around Galicia will also include a challenge: to eat every part of the pig, in as many different places as possible. And they eat a lot of the pig here. Not much goes to waste. I might end up eating some parts more than once; others I most certainly won’t. But by the end of our porco-graphical tour, rest assured that you will have read about everything the tasty animal has to offer. Everything but the squeal.Our thoughts now turn to the menu. Susana comes from a family where choosing from the carta is expected to take at least an hour; anything less and you might as well just phone for a cheese pizza and have done with it. Of the family, Susana normally takes the least time to decide, for she is a vegetarian, a phrase that almost doesn’t have a translation into Galician. She does eat fish, but even being a fish-eating vegetarian here, in the land of meat and potatoes, makes her about the strangest Galician imaginable, the object of pity and blind incomprehension. When she mentions her vegetarianism to other Galicians, especially the older ones, they screw up their faces and ask her whether she eats chicken. And it’s not a joke. An allergy? they ask. Does she have an allergy? A stomach problem? What about rabbit? Can she eat rabbit, poor thing?We briefly consider the cantina’s menu, just for Susana’s benefit. At the table next to us are a couple of young women, both of whom cast endless smiles at our slumbering baby. (Everyone in Spain smiles at babies.) Both of these girls are elegantly dressed and slightly fragile-looking, not quite undernourished, but on the skinny side. I could easily carry one under each arm if the occasion arose. After a little more eavesdropping, it turns out they are doctors at a public hospital (more state workers), so it is possible that they have a more balanced understanding of nutrition than I do. Whatever, they are certainly not suffering from a lack of appetite. They have ordered cocido . The massive serving dish arrives, brought by the stern-faced proprietoress. Instinctively I take advantage of her presence and order the same thing, because I have not come all this way for anything else. If you’re in a countryside restaurant in Galicia in January and you’re not eating cocido, then there’s something wrong with you. Such as vegetarianism.The two men who have just slurped down a gallon of broth also order cocido. It’s a chain reaction, a Galician wave of hand-raising and infectious nodding. At that moment a noisy retired couple bustle in through the curtains, rattling their walking sticks with menace, and actually bark their request for cocido across the room, just to make sure no one is left in any doubt. They are, it seems, regulars, and this gives them shouting rights. Not that in Galicia you need to worry about making a row. Just say things in a needlessly loud voice: you’ll fit right in.Cocido means “cooked.” Like the name, it is simplicity itself. Take a pot the size of an immersion tank, add a few bucketfuls of water, toss in a sackful of potatoes, three or four yards of chorizo sausage, a bucket of chickpeas, plus several animals (chunked). Boil the whole thing up and let it simmer until next week. Then, around Thursday, you add your grelos.In fact, cocido is a selection of slow-cooked, pot-boiled meats. Everything that was in the pot is served: whole chorizo sausages, potatoes, chickpeas, grelos, a slab of veal (for variety), plus a great deal of pig. The man attraction is lacón, the shoulder (foreleg) ham, but then there’s belly, hock (ankle), snout, cheek, armpit … any piggy oddments that were to hand. A carnivore’s Cockaigne on a plate. Traditionally, these would be all the parts of the animal that were preserved in salt when the pig was slaughtered during the onset of winter, and which could be used in stews throughout the winter, when there was nothing much else to eat.To say cocido is unsophisticated is to miss the point. The combination of all the slow-slow cooking, the meat nudging up against bones and skin, the gradually dissolving pork fat, the paprika seeping out from the chorizo, and all of this ballasted by the potatoes and sharpened by the bitter grelos—reduced to stringy softness and oozing those meaty juices from the pot—makes cocido as satisfying an eating experience as it is possible to imagine. If you don’t love it, you’re insane. Or Susana, who orders monkfish.More than the ingredients, though, cocido represents absolutely everything I love about Galician food. Because on the one hand, it can be served decorously. In elegant restaurants you would get all this on a plate, in reasonable amounts, finely arranged, and none the worse for that. But here the platter comes charged with somewhere around three pounds of meat, and you can eat absolutely as much as you want. There is nothing at all that Galicians appreciate more than a healthy appetite. A combination of a rural culture that has evolved close to the land, plus a history of poverty and hardship, has produced a people who are animated by food, who adore eating, especially an old dish like cocido, which is often cooked for special occasions during the cold winter months. However, given that pigs are traditionally slaughtered in late November or early December, the run up to Carnival (literally “meat time”) in the early months of the new year is when by tradition this dish is cooked, with the lacón as centerpiece, which will have been kept salted since the slaughter and can now be soaked then slow-cooked to perfection. Cocido is the perfect way to begin a pork tour of Galicia, and that’s why we’re here today.Next to us, the two skinny medics are wolfing it down. We cast furtive glances at the platter between them, which reduces slowly as they make their way through a staggering amount of food. The bearded jersey-wearers are making even greater headway, huddled over their plates, talking only intermittently now, and already halfway down a bottle of Rioja. For a moment I watch them with admiration. They have jobs for life, wine at a good price, and as much cocido as they can contrive to push into their straining abdomens. Is there, I ask, a greater form of contentment? For a fleet second I consider taking the funcionario exams.We begin our own meal with fried squid. You can get fried squid rings all over Spain. They are one of the perennial items on menus along the southwest coast, nearly a thousand miles away from Galicia, where each summer millions of holiday makers from Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands feast on heavily battered squid rings that have been in the deep freeze since General Franco was in power (Franco was a Galician, by the way), and cooked in oil that’s been in the deep fat fryer so long that your squid appears to have been dipped in a barrel of Brent crude. In Galicia, by contrast, people know about squid. It is here, after all, where much of Spain’s seafood is landed. Galicia, it must be said, is not just a meat and potatoes place; its fish and seafood are magnificent. Our squid today is soft, possibly having been soaked in milk, and the creamy taste of the flesh is as beguiling as always.However, I am eating merely out of greed and habit. I really do not want a starter, and I try not to take another piece, then another … By the end of the course I have tried not to take more than half of the considerable pile. You really don’t want a starter before cocido . It’s as if Paul Newman, in the hard-boiled-egg-eating scene in Cool Hand Luke, were to kick off with a nice plateful of dough balls and a garlic dip. I sit back, annoyed with myself, and adopt a position that I think will allow the squid to settle.Nico, still fast asleep, is nine months old and has only just begun to get a taste for carrot mash, although I have high hopes for his meat-eating future. His mother, meanwhile, is having the fish. So only I will be lunching on cocido at our table, and I anticipate a smaller serving platter than at other tables. However, if the helping of pig that soon arrives does rest on a more modest serving vessel, then the difference is one of millimeters; I do not think the chef knows that I am facing this task alone. You tend to eat cocido in a group, so an individual portion might be rare, perhaps unheard of. Then again, most people are not married to fish-eating vegetarians who do not even eat chicken.The platter of cocido is a magnificent sight. It’s as if Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock polished off a bottle of cooking brandy then decided to rustle up a pork dinner. The platter is set down next to my starkly empty plate. I consider the sheer amount of animal matter before me, and take up cutlery.A big hunk of boiled veal emerges from one side of the heap like a flying buttress, precariously shoring up a knuckly hock, its soft, stringy meat falling away from the bone. Somewhere underneath, I imagine, is a doorstep-sized wedge of shoulder ham (lacón) that will probably still have its skin on, although I can’t actually see it yet. In some parts of the world the front leg is also known as the “picnic shoulder,” but what I have before me is no picnic. Two chorizo sausages loll about at the edges of the pile. They are tremendously solid and tightly packed, and might in other circumstances form the substantial centerpiece of a main course. But here they are like the actors who carry the spears in Julius Caesar.Chickpeas cluster around the base of the meat stack. They’ll have been sitting in the juices of the pot so long that their buttery softness will have taken on an almost meaty character. I will come to the chickpeas toward the end, turning to them with relief, in the same way that you pop a lettuce leaf into your mouth after a particularly hefty steak; it’s not that you want it, but the moment of freshness, the sensation of something light and delicate, makes a welcome change. When you’re doing cocido, a forkful of meat-suffused chickpeas is the equivalent of salad.Then there’s a mound of large potatoes at one side, and draped over everything, in a style that can only be described as without any style, are the grelos, darkest green, still steaming, and giving all the appearance of having had the very last drop of life throttled out of them. Never have turnip greens been boiled so emphatically to death. None of their bitter, cabbagey taste, though, has gone to waste; it’s all in the pot, part of the rich juices that have crept in and out of everything a thousand times over the course of the slow cooking.The chorizos, I can now divulge, have a role somewhat greater than carrying spears. Small, thin slices can be combined with other meats, the fork-held combination then adorned with some potato, plus a stringy crown of grelos to cap it off. It is, perhaps, the only time that a chorizo is the lightest element in a meal. Equally, the sausage can add savor to a mouthful of the less glamorous cuts from the pig, strands of brown meat pulled from the knuckle bone, perhaps, or a bit of wobbly, unidentifiable semifat, that stuff that is pink and sickly sweet and for which I think there is no name. For this latter, grelos are also useful. Incidentally, grelos combine perfectly with belly pork, and if you ever have doubts as to whether you really ought to be eating fatty old belly pork, try it with turnip greens, or the closest thing you’ve got, whatever they’re called.I eat fast, and before long I am breathing heavily. Yet my pile of cocido remains almost undiminished. More than once in my life I have had to go lie down after eating cocido, and on one of those occasions I seriously thought that something had burst inside me.After a bit of exploration, I spy part of a porker’s tail buried deep within the rest. It’s the curly tip, like that twist-in-the-tail that children draw when they do a piggy picture. But its skin, a particularly insipid shade of off-white, is mottled and slightly pitted. I decide that today just isn’t tail day, and push it under a thick layer of fat and skin recently shorn from the hunk of shoulder ham, as if I’m putting it to sleep beneath a nice thick duvet.Eventually my hard work begins to show, as I make it down to the last pound of meat. The monkfish on Susana’s plate is long gone, and she now stares across the table at me with that expression unique to vegetarians—part distaste, part incomprehension, part subconscious jealousy.“You don’t have to eat it all, you know,” she says, taking a sip of sparkling water, although I can tell that she’s just a little bit impressed at the amount I’ve stomached already.I pause, run a thumb across my damp forehead, grunt an acknowledgment, then get right back to it. There comes a point—of this I am convinced—when the pleasure of tasting food gives way to a more visceral, almost delirious delight in the physical act of eating, which is more or less the definition of gluttony, according to the Catholic Church. A friend who did the London marathon a couple of years back explained that the full-lunged, energizing sensation of jogging is transformed, after about fifteen miles, into an almost primitive, instinctual feeling, the very act of driving your body through the remaining painful miles bringing with it a grim pleasure. She also said that around mile twenty-two she felt as if she’d taken heroin. Well, even Galician cocido won’t do that for you. Nevertheless, it is your chance to indulge in one of the Seven Cardinal Sins without anyone looking disapprovingly at you. For that reason alone, you really should try stuffing yourself with pork until you almost pass out.In the spirit of biblical self-discovery, then, I eat on, eventually making it down to the bulbs of meat that have worked free of their moorings long ago to become mere random nodules with no clear origin. By this stage I can almost hear my arteries seizing up in half-throttled throes of anguish. I placate them as best I can with gulps of a cold, slightly acidic Ribeiro white. My knife and fork work is slow and bumbling, and I know that the end must be near. My toil, though, has paid off, and the platter, once piled defiantly with meat, now comes to know defeat: I have won. All that’s left: the duvet of lacón fat (which you actually have to be born here to savor), some of the strata of that mystifying gelatinous material for which there is no word, the hock bone (clean as a whistle), and the sleeping tail. The grelos are long gone, and where the chorizos stood with their spears, only bright juices remain, turning everything a festive scarlet.I’m done. I can eat no more. Discarding my knife and fork as if they are suddenly too heavy to hold, I sit back and try to minimize the strain of my belly, which is now pushing up into my chest and feels like I’ve been pumped full of concrete.Susana observes the platter intensely, examining it as though it has taken on a life of its own.“The whole pig?” she says, emptying the last of the sparkling water into her glass, and smiling just a touch as she takes a sip.“Everything but the squeal.”She makes no reply.Copyright © 2008 by John Barlow

Continues...

Excerpted from Everything but the Squeal by John Barlow Copyright © 2008 by John Barlow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Alala

    Must read!!!!! VIVA GALICIA!!!!! Doesnt matter if u arent gallego, you still will love it!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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