The Secret Behind the Meat Hook's Unique Escabeche
Mexican products have always held a corner in the refrigerator case at the Williamsburg whole-animal butcher shop the Meat Hook (100 Frost Street, 718-349-5033). The outlet carries chips and tortillas from Nixtamal, house made salsas and hot sauce, and all of the fixings needed to turn skirt steaks and free-range chickens into at-home taco night. Recently, the shop extended its line with Mexican-style escabeche, a collaborative project between butcher/manager Sara Bigelow and Garrett Eagleton, former chef of Maiden Lane.
Escabeche, the mixed pickle that flanks many Mexican meals, is a common trinity of carrot, onion, and jalapeño, but it can include any type of vegetable spiked with garlic, oregano, and juniper. The condiment is a vinegar pickle, made by steeping vegetables in a vinegar solutionto absorb the brine. It often comes in tiny cans and adds the necessary zip to cut the richness of meaty tacos and tortas.
The Meat Hook's version is lacto-fermented, transformed by naturally occurring healthful bacteria and just salt, water, and sugar. "Beyond all the healthy, gut-biome benefits, lacto-fermented pickles taste different," Bigelow says. "They taste great, and we couldn't figure out why we hadn't seen a lacto-fermented version. Turns out, it's way better than the stuff in the can. Go figure."
At the newly opened Meat Hook Sandwich Shop, which operates as an outlet for the crew to try out their wildest sandwich dreams, Bigelow was hoping to sneak escabeche into a pig face sandwich. "I'd been making pig face tacos for the shop for a few months, and figured if it was good as a taco, it would probably work as a sandwich" she says. "But the escabeche is a little intense, and it doesn't have that vinegar tang that you really need to cut the fatty pig face, so I actually think it would work better on a different sandwich. Maybe a vegetarian torta with a large grilled nopal paddle and some queso Oaxaca? Maybe something that isn't Mexican at all."
The Meat Hook has also been making tepache, a fermented pineapple drink served in markets throughout Mexico. The result is something more akin to a dry cider -- funky, lightly fruity, with more tartness and a little more alcohol. "Did Garrett and I drink the entire first batch by ourselves? Pretty much," Bigelow says. "It's the best thing we're going to drink all summer."
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.
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