Recently, I was dining deliciously at Acadia, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop. Chef Ryan McCaskey came by to chat. We started talking about the allure of not-so-great food and how sometimes food that’s not very good can become a personal favorite. I mentioned that some people still prefer childhood fav Kraft Mac and Cheese to a chef-driven creation of the same dish. The weird orange color, grainy cheese and soft pasta trigger the right food-related memories and emotions. “Oh yeah,” McCaskey said, with what seemed a slight eyeroll, “my kitchen crew always asks for that at staff meals. I buy it in bulk.”
So it is with Pigs in a Blanket. It was a special food when I was a kid. I believe we had it only at Christmas parties. It remains a comforting memory-trigger for family good times.
But Pigs in a Blanket are, traditionally, kind of trashy, at least if they’re prepared correctly: biscuits (or puff pastry dough) from a Pillsbury can and mini-hot dogs, wrapped up and heated for a few minutes. Such a preparation only barely deserves to be called “cooked.”
And yet…and yet…Pigs in a Blanket are undeniably comforting. Even the name sounds cuddly and warm, snuggly and satisfying.
After surgery in mid-March, I was home alone for a week or so. Didn’t feel much like eating or cooking but needed some comfort. One thing came quickly to mind: a plate of Pigs in a Blanket.
You can dress up Pigs in a Blanket a lot of ways. Slice wieners lengthwise and insert a strip of cheese, lather on a little mustard before heating, maybe a squirt of Sriracha, some pickles, sauerkraut or even giardiniera. Why not? Pigs in a Blanket are an open system: you can customize them with just about anything, even ketchup or the old Korean/new hipster condiment, gochujang.
I bought ingredients from the local Jewel (didn’t have enough strength to walk to a good store) but I found everything I needed, no prob.
The Pigs in a Blanket were trashy and greasy and everything I remembered them to be. Comfort food doesn’t have to be “good” in the usual sense of the word. The ingredients are low-quality – it’s tradition! – and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve never had a high-end version of Pigs in a Blanket, but I can tell you right now: they probably won’t be as good as you’d expect them to be because with good ingredients – house-made biscuits and charcuterie – they’ll likely fail to hit the requisite (low) notes.
After ten or so Pigs in a Blanket, I decided they needed mustard, and instead of a prepared mustard, I went with French’s, perhaps the trashiest of all mainstream mustards. It just felt right, and it felt good.
National Pigs in a Blanket Day is April 24. You know how to celebrate.