I remember a butcher shop, in the neighborhood where my mom was a girl, a grouping of houses with streetlights and sidewalks, on the outskirts of a city, not a suburb or a subdivision, something from the past, where my grandparents still lived when we would go and visit them on Sundays. On the corner, a block from their little red house on Ruth Street, was a row of shops, a green grocer, a butcher, a package store. Before there were supermarkets and beverage barns, there were specialized stores that sold things.
Crown Budget smelled like blood and had sawdust on the floor. The swarthy men in stained white coats kept a pencil slid behind the ear. They would wrap up your purchases in brown paper and string; these packets had weight. Then you would open the door into the sideways falling snow and trudge home, uphill both ways. In my generation we’ve gone from this model to something much more sterile, removed from the visceral experience of the abattoir. Recently, there has been a movement to bring back the old time butchers, the farm to table, nose to tail paradigm is a product of people my age, who must have similar memories.
We discovered Bleecker and Flamm’s Maine Street Meats, a store within a store in the Rockport Marketplace, where I found this crazy good stuff, cured and thinly sliced. They have amazing cheeses, unpasteurized milk, rustic bread, enormous pork chops, bone marrow, chicken stock, interesting candy, tubes of tomato paste and harissa, and even more lovely and pleasing products. I noticed the lamb belly the other day when I was shopping for bleu cheese. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I went back I was given a sample and suggestion for serving with figs, olives, and cheese. I knew we were having roasted garlic, red pepper flake and basil pizza for dinner, but we needed an appetizer. Something fun to have with drinks before dinner on a Friday night.
I’d say this qualifies. I have to warn you, it is not for the feint of heart. The lamb is…musky. In a totally good way. It tastes like what it is. Meat that lived in a field, next to a mountain. Its lambiness is tempered by the wonderful, sweet, I will not use the word unctuous dates. And the cream cheese just gives it a little gooze. You know gooze, don’t you? Melty, tangy, perfection, you might say. When I make this dish with regular, old bacon, I stuff the date with goat cheese, but I have to draw the line somewhere. So, it’s simple. Three ingredients. Make as many as you like. I do believe you’ll need more than you might think. They’re addictive. You have got to try this.
Lamb Belly Wrapped Dates
Makes one dozen
- 12 slices thinly sliced cured lamb belly
- 6 tablespoons cream cheese
- 12 Medjool dates
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use a paring knife to split the dates and remove pits. Tuck about a half a tablespoon of cream cheese inside each date, and wrap tightly with a piece of lamb belly. Can secure with a toothpick, if desired. Place dates on a cookie sheet and bake until crisped, 10-12 minutes.