Smackdown III: Bring on the Meat
Wednesday, January 28, 2009; Page F01
During the past few weeks, while the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers were fighting for their right to share Super Bowl XLIII turf with Bruce Springsteen on Sunday, we were training for a matchup we could both sink our teeth into: meat snack vs. meat snack.
Our third annual recipe smackdown found us in familiar camps. The purist (Joe, formerly referred to as the Texan) opted for chicken wings, along with the hundreds of thousands of fans who reportedly will consume more than 1 billion of them this weekend. The non-conforming non-Texan (Bonnie) searched for a new page in the pigs-in-a-blanket playbook.
The blanket is a mere obstruction, said the purist. The non-Texan, yawning, offered the wingmaster plenty of moist towelettes.
The purist loves him some deep-fried, spicy flats and drumettes. He says wings are like meat lollipops; they bring out the same primal instincts that eating ribs does. Plus, they have the highest skin-to-meat ratio of anything on the bird, and for carnivorous snackers such as he, crisped skin's the thing.
But he knows wings are a chore to pull off perfectly at home. The ones he has made for this contest are marinated, then roasted instead of fried, so they couldn't be easier to prepare. And there was no need to write the ingredient list on his wristband; the recipe calls for chicken and hot sauce, period.
The non-Texan drafted Washington chef Jamie Stachowski, whose kielbasa would earn a Vince Lombardi Trophy if they gave one for sausagemaking.
Instead of wrapping half-frozen puff pastry around mere cocktail wieners, the chef and the non-Texan settled on chunky bites of Stachowski's fresh pork-shoulder sausage bound closely in a fragrant, chewy dark-rye crust. The tastes of Guinness, cocoa powder and molasses give the bread dough its decidedly grown-up appeal. To keep things simple, the wrapped links are baked whole, then carved into pieces that ascend to greatness with a bite of kosher pickle and grainy mustard.
Of course, neither snack has a particularly low carbon footprint, nor is either a smart food choice, health-wise. (But they sure are lip-smackin' good.) In fact, a pertinent stat of the day came our way via NPD Group, a market research firm whose national expert on food and diet trends has monitored what Americans eat on Super Bowl Sundays since 1978.
The No. 1 food consumed on the big game day is vegetables, according to NPD's latest annual survey of 2,000 households, which comprised 5,000 individuals. Wings fall under "Chicken," ranked No. 7. Pork products, blanketed or otherwise, aren't a factor. Vegetables -- particularly those baby-cut carrots and not including french fries -- are the top food eaten on any given Sunday, says Harry Balzer, author of "Eating Patterns in America."
"Figure half the population will watch the Super Bowl," he told us last week by phone. "The half that won't will still have Sunday dinner, and there will be a vegetable on their plates." Of the top 10 foods that increase in consumption on Super Bowl Sunday, chips (nachos, really) and pizza figure at the top. Wings and pigs in a blanket do not make the cut.
So next year, maybe we can find common ground for Smackdown IV -- in the produce department. For now, check out the recipes; both belong in the meat snacks hall of fame.