The fifteenth installment of our breakfast advice column
Are you in a breakfast conundrum? Do you have deep-seated, unresolved feelings for brunch? Are you at a loss in front of the smorgasbord of life? Because so often breakfast is about feelings, and relationships teeter on the edge of the morning meal table, Extra Crispy editors Kat Kinsman (Bis-kat) and Margaret Eby (Bisc-gret) are here with the latest installment of Emergency Biscuits, our breakfast advice column, to dole out hopefully not half-baked counsel and recipes for life. Got a question for the Biscuits? Email email@example.com.
The search for nitrates and how to exclude them has some meaty technicalities that i will leave to my Biscuit colleague. Suffice to say that whenever you have to cut something out of your diet, it comes with difficulties and adaptations and workarounds. This nitrate thing is a pain in the way that, say, discovering a gluten allergy or an intolerance to something insidiously common like wheat or soy is. It upends your whole routine. It means that you have to add that extra couple seconds of consideration before you order something or pick it up from the grocery store.
And I believe completely that in time, you will be back to the joys of nitrate-free meat. But I encourage you to not take this time for granted. In this weird way, when something giant upends you, you stop taking it for granted. If you suddenly have a new morning commute, you think about your route more carefully. You notice the road signs and the people passing just a little bit more. It’s unfamiliar, and that means you can’t ignore it. So it is with shifts in diet. You can spend more time with your sausage selection, and try new things. Maybe you’re going to develop a passion for roasting your own chickens, or for making your own chorizo. (I know, it’s true, you can do it.) So while you’re navigating your new dietary landscape along with your new physical landscape, and perhaps mourning your lack of access to bologna, remember that there is opportunity in both things. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to figure it out. It always does. But before you know it, you’ll be home again.
I'm so sorry that you are having to deal with this stress on top of a move. Caveat here: I'm not a doctor, just a breakfast-loving journalist, but nonetheless I believe quite strongly that this should be a meal filled with bliss, function, and minimal agita, and hopefully, we'll be able to get you back to that place.
Nitrates—why exactly are they in your food in the first place? Well, many meat producers use these chemical compounds to preserve meats. Sodium nitrate in particular is used to cure meats like bacon, ham, and sausage by keeping the fat from going rancid and fighting harmful bacteria. When sodium nitrates interact with the flesh, they're converted to nitrites, and some producers skip the conversion and just add sodium nitrites directly. This isn't bad—our very own bodies and plenty of fresh vegetables produce nitrites—but for a person with sensitivities, it can turn breakfast into a minefield, especially when you're not the one doing the cooking and shopping.
For breakfasts cooked outside of your direct supervision, you are your own best advocate. Restaurants are generally not in the business of making their patrons ill, so you are entirely within your rights to ask your server what's in the meat. If they're unwilling to check for you or give you attitude for it, order something else this time, and never return. Maybe even let a manager know.
At home, it sounds like you're making all the right moves, reading labels carefully. Here, you can advocate as well. Thank your store manager for stocking clearly-labeled brands (avoid products with terms like "curing salt" and "pink salt") and ask if they'd consider adding more. Call or send emails to producers doing the same and let it be known that you'll be voting with your dollars. Keep a running document with safe and unsafe choices on it and while you're at it, maybe even make that information public so other people can share their wisdom and benefit from yours. Commonality breeds community, and you could get to know some new people where you live.
A caveat: Even products that claim to be "no-nitrites-added" due to the use of celery as a curing agent will still contain them, just "naturally"—and your body cannot tell the difference. So when it comes to bacon, sausage, and ham, opt for uncured where you can, and work with your doctor to determine what your acceptable levels are.
As for barbecue, the danger for you would likely be in the rub—the blend of seasonings that the meat is coated in before it's smoked. Lots of commercial and restaurant barbecue rubs contain nitrates and nitrites (again, that "curing salt" and "pink salt") and the people using them may not even know. Go ahead and ask and if they can't properly answer, skip it. If you really want to take the pig by the snout, making barbecue at home is a great way to know what you're eating—and a fantastic excuse to invite people over. I swear by Steven Raichlen's all-purpose rub, and it's incredibly easy to make in big batches at home.
And if you're feeling extra ambitious (and have the room to do this), you could go whole-hog and learn how to make bacon and sausage yourself. The barbecue community is fantastically generous with their knowledge—plus seriously fun to hang around—and there are groups all over the country. I've been a member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society for a long time now and they've got branches all over the country, packed with passionate, meat-loving people who I'm sure would be happy to help you recreate that pulled pork dish in a safe and delicious fashion.