Traditional (?) Good Eats for Fourth of July
-- Traditional, that is, for my family, with it's Hungarian-American roots. It may also be the root of my cholesterol level, although it is only a once-a-year treat. It's sulunuh
(although I must, with shame, admit not being sure about the spelling after eating it for more that 40 years. Phonically, all the u's are "soft" -- "uh" -- with the accent on the first syllable, and maybe a subtle "oo" sound in the second.) What is sulunuh, you ask?
And we all know that "pork fat rules," don't we?
It looks like what southerners might recognize as fatback, a sort of bacon without the lean, still connected to the thick skin. But it is, I believe, also lightly smoked.
Preparing the Sulunah
It is prepared by scoring it so that the fat will run freely when heated, skewered, and held over an open fire. Wood is far preferable to charcoal -- primarily, I believe, due to the flavor-enhancing properties of good hard wood, but also to the fun of playing with fire and the flare-ups that accompany the resultant dripping fat. There's something primal about the men of the family sitting around a fire burning bacon, or as it is technically referred to, "shooting sulunuh."
And in our family, it almost seems a coming of age rite of passage to take over providing the tasty outcome for ones parents. The picture of my nephew, Steven, shows good sulunah-shooting form. The future is safe, even as our family's Central European background is transformed by the marvelous infusion of Italian-, Mexican-, Irish-, Philippine-, and South African-American spouses.
Now, once the fat starts dripping, what then? The second major ingredient to the actual treat is good, hearty, chewy, crusty rye bread.
Once the dripping starts, it's held over the bread, specking the bread (I've heard some Polish-American friends recognize sulunah as "spek" in their culinary heritage) with glistening spots of unctuous, smoky, salty goodness. Sometimes the sulunah actually catches lightly on fire, providing a "self-dripping" for a bit, with hot drops of fat that almost toast the bread on contact before cooling and turning to pure flavor.
The Purist Version
The "Healthy" Version
When the bread has a nice not-quite-greasy goodness, it's ready to eat, either as is, or -- to give it a layer of healthiness -- topped with any desired combination of sliced tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cukes -- maybe a bit of salt and pepper. Once the veggies are on it, one last return to the fire and a few more drips is one additional benefit of being one who wields the skewer. (Sometimes, if you are willing to throw caution to the wind, a little sliver of nitrite-rich charred sulunuh can be trimmed and added to the open-faced sandwich -- if my wife and mother aren't looking. Hey -- it's only once a year, afterall.)
This may sound strange and unhealthy to some, but if you think of a BLT, but hold the mayo, and allow the bacon to only flavor the bread -- pulling the meat off before eating -- it might not be so foreign.
It is, however, definitely "good eats!"