A Hamburger Today
Notes from the South: Chitterlings from Busy Bee in Atlanta
Our Nasty Bits columnist is on a road trip down south! Today she checks in with us with thoughts on a Southern offal delicacy.
"I'll take a plate of your chit-ter-lings, please," I told my waitress.
"What was tha', sugar?" she replied.
I paused, then thought better. "I mean, your chit-linz," I said.
"Oh, the chiltlins!" she said in a moment of recognition. "Sure thing, hon."
Chitterlings, or chitlins, are pork intestines in Southern soul food cookery. And that conversation? Just took place in the South. Atlanta, Georgia, to be exact.
I'm on a quest for the most barbeque-lickin', pie-dishin', offal-lovin' joints across the grand old American south. I've dived into plates of deep-fried chicken livers, gnawed on trotters, and nibbled my way through plates of stewed oxtail. But chitterlings have been the most memorable nasty bit so far.
Both in function and flavor, chitlins can be appropriately described as nasty. There's the all-important task of ridding the organ of its fecal smell, bringing along with it the taste of something not quite civilized. While I've feasted on many a pork stomach, the intestines pose a greater challenge for the cook given their particular role in the digestive system. A dish of chitterlings generally makes use of the small intestine, which comes after the stomach and before the large intestine. (The large intestine, for reference, is the section that most directly processes fecal matter.)
Having never tried chitterlings, I headed straight for Busy Bee, a well-reputed soul food joint in the southwest region of Atlanta. My dish of chitterlings arrived piping-hot and.....boiled.
Boiled? Not coated in cornmeal and deep-fried to crispy perfection, like everything else down south? I hesitated. The chitterlings looked gray and unappealing; putting my nose to them, I caught a whiff that was not altogether pleasant. Everything else we had ordered, from the fried green tomatoes to the ribs, had been expertly flavored, yet the chitterlings seemed distinctly lacking in aromatics and seasonings.
Plowing forth, I went at the plate armed with Tabasco sauce in one hand and black pepper in the other. Even then, the taste was bland and too feral; the texture, stringy and mushy. Having no other experience of chitterlings to which to compare this dish, I was sorely disappointed. Luckily, a few ham hocks were nearby to provide comfort.
When I asked our saucy waitress if chitterlings were supposed to be boiled, she said that she'd only ever seen them served in this manner, but imagined that they would be much more appealing deep-fried. Amen to that, I thought.