Cured Fatback – Lardo

Originally posted on July 5, 2014.

 

Cured fatback on toast.This post is about cured fatback, most commonly known by its Italian name lardo.

Fatback is the subcutaneous fat that covers the pork loin.  Resist the urge to say “back fat”: it’s called fatback.  Industrially-raised pigs are intentionally grown very lean, so the fatback is typically only an inch thick.  Heritage pigs can have three inches or more of fatback.  These are the animals you need in order to make lardo.

Two autumns ago I got a side of Tamworth pork from Nature’s Green Acres.  The fatback was two and a half inches thick in some places.  It was the first pig that I ever cut that truly deserved to have its fatback cured and enjoyed on its own, instead of, say, simply being ground into sausage mix or rendered into lard.

The procedure for curing fatback is simple.  Cut the fat from the lean meat.  Rub with salt, sugar, herbs, and spices.  Rosemary is common.  I used thyme, juniper, bay, and black pepper.  Store the fat in a cool, dark place for six months or longer.  A cool, dark place could be a centuries-old Carrara marble box in a dank Tuscan cellar, or it could be a drawer in the bottom of your fridge.  In the latter case, put the salted fat in a Ziploc bag and cover tightly with aluminum foil to keep out light.  Light promotes oxidation and develops off-flavours in fat.

Six months later your slab of fat is ready to taste.  My first taste of lardo was in a salumeria in San Daniele.  Raw pork fat sounds so outrageous to my Anglo-Saxon ears that I expected an audacious flavour and grotesque texture.  Truth be told lardo is an extremely subtle preparation.  It is mild, sweet, faintly lactic, and above all creamy.

My homemade lardo is similar to the stuff I ate in Italy, though I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the sugar.  And the exterior was extremely salty: the first few slices were frankly inedible.

I’ll use this word again: subtle.  Lardo is so subtle it promotes contemplation. How could something so crude be so nuanced in flavour and texture?

A civilized preparation, this cured fatback.

A slab of cured fatback, or lardo.

Plain Jane Garlic Sausage

It recently dawned on me that I don’t have any sausage recipes on this site.  Which is crazy.  So I’m going to post a bunch.  For details on procedure and technique, I have two posts linked below.  Also… I happen to be teaching a sausage-making class for Metro Continuing Education on October 19, 2016.

 

A plate of sausage, toast, apple sauce, and braised red cabbage.This simple sausage goes by many names in my house, among them “everyday sausage”, “plain Jane”, and occasionally “garlic brat”, though it is not a bratwurst in the strictest sense.[1]

I wanted a relatively neutral sausage that would go well with most of the food I cook at home, which I would describe as North American farmstead with a serious central/eastern European slant.  So instead of making ten different types of sausage each year, I could make one or two and have all my bases covered.  This sausage is most often eaten on a bun, or with Austrian potato salad, or other simple plates like the one at left.

The predominant flavours in this recipe are pork, garlic, and black pepper, with some secondary, supporting flavours in the background.  Since I so often eat my sausages with something from the mustard family (prepared mustard and cabbage, especially) there is a touch of mustard powder in the recipe.  There is also a hint of cayenne pepper, enough to warm the palate and reinforce the black pepper, but not enough to make this a “spicy” sausage.

My ideal texture for this sausage is achieved by what I call the “lazy brat” method.  All the meat is ground through a 3/16″ plate, then a portion of the meat, anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2, is set aside, and the remaining meat is ground a second time.  Then all the meat is re-combined for the mixing process.

Here’s the detailed recipe.

 

Plain Jane Garlic Sausage
your everyday sausage

Ingredients

  • 2 kgs pork butt, boneless and skinless, but with entire fat cap (about 1.5″ thick)
  • 33 g kosher salt
  • 40 g fresh garlic, minced fine
  • 6 g black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 10 g mustard powder
  • 2.8 g cayenne
  • 200 mL ice-cold water
  • about 10′ hog casing

Procedure

  1. Chill the pork butt thoroughly by spreading it out on a sheet tray lined with parchment and storing in the freezer.  The meat should be slightly crunchy on the exterior, but not frozen solid, and still with some give.
  2. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate.  Set aside about 1/3 of the ground meat.
  3. Re-chill the remaining 2/3 ground meat as described in step 1.
  4. Grind the chilled 2/3 meat through a 3/16″ plate a second time.
  5. Re-combine all the ground meat.  Add the remaining ingredients (except the casings…) to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment for 90 seconds on a medium speed, then 30 seconds on a medium-high speed.
  6. Fry a small piece of the mixture in a pan.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  7. Stuff into hog casings.
  8. Twist into 6″ links.
  9. Poach until the meat is just cooked, reaching an internal temperature of 150°F.  Transfer the links to an ice bath to arrest cooking.
  10. Let links dry thoroughly.

Yield: about 20 x 6″ links

 

 

Footnotes

  1. It’s a common misconception that bratwurst are so-called because they are fresh sausages that are pan-fried.  “Brat” does happen to mean roast, or fry, as in Schweinsbraten (roast pork), but that is a coincidence.  A true bratwurst is made with a fine-textured emulsified mass called a “brat”, which is studded with small chunks of chopped or coarsely ground meat.

Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage

A healthy portion of Blunz'n at an Austrian heurigerWhen I first had Blunz’n at a tavern in Austria I had a very narrow idea of what blood sausage was.  Most of the blood sausage I had eaten before this moment I had made myself, following recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.  These versions are simply pork blood studded with cubes of pork fat and onion.  The Austrian Blunz’n before me was radically different: it was soft and moist, but closer in texture to a dumpling then boudin noir, and it was burgundy, not black.

Before I left Austria I got a Blunz’n recipe from one of my chaperones.  I read through the recipe and thought there must have been some kind of miscommunication, as the ingredients list include “cracklings” and “pig head”.

Since then I have done a bit of reading, and Blunz’n is actually one incarnation of a broad style of blood sausages, variously called pressack, boudin, and so on.  What is distinctive about this style is the inclusion of cooked meat and skin, usually from the head and trotters of the pig, that are ground or pulled and mixed into the sausage filling.  The meat adds flavour and texture, and the skin a healthy dose of gelatin that helps to bind the interior.  This is the “crackling” that was in my recipe that I found so confusing: not the crispy pig skin that North Americans are familiar with, but soft, poached pig skin.

While the meat and skin from the head are traditional, truthfully any fatty, slow-cooked meat can be used.  One of the best blood sausages I ever had was made from leftover corned beef and beef blood.

Some manner of starch is added to the meat and skin, the exact ingredients varying widely from region to region and from house to house.  Whole grains like barley and buckwheat are common.  I was told that in Hungary they use rice.  Where I was staying, in the grenzland between Lower Austria and Styria, they use stale bread.

Everything is combined and run through a grinder.  The nexus of protein and starch, a strange but comforting unity of meat and dumpling.

 

Blunz’n – Austrian Blood Sausage – The Skeleton of a Recipe

  • 1 part minced, sauteed onion
  • 1 part bread
  • 1 part pork stock or milk
  • 3 parts cooked, chilled meat and skin
  • 1 part pork blood
  • salt and spices to taste

General Procedure

  1. Soak the bread in the stock or milk.
  2. Combine the soaked bread, onion, meat and skin and grind through a 1/4″ plate.
  3. Stir in blood to achieve a mashed potato consistency.
  4. Stuff the mixture into a broad casing (2-3″ in diameter) and poach gently to an internal temperature about 72°C.
  5. Let chill overnight before cutting.

Homemade blunz'n, Austrian blood sausage

 

 

Meatballs

Raw meatballs, ready for the ovenIn the summer of 2012 I spent a lot of time thinking about meatballs.  Mostly I thought about them as I was making them, which took several hours every other week.

They are a labour of love for certain.

Once you’ve mixed up the meat and the eggs and the milk and bread crumbs and whatever else you like, you could just press it into a loaf pan, call it meatloaf, and be done with it.  But you won’t do that, because you want meatballs.  Even though they’re awkward, and they roll around on your plate, and don’t quite fit into a submarine sandwich, you want them, because they’re fun.

And so you take the time to shape each one.  To do it well is time consuming, because you have to roll them so they don’t have any seams that will come apart when they’re cooked.  Some cooks roll them between their palms like they’re hatching a plan.  Some nonnas smack them back and forth between their hands, left and right and left again.  Regardless of the details, they must be uniform and smooth on the surface.

While the size of the meatball should be tailored to the circumstance, I think the perfect size for most applications is roughly that of a golf ball, that is to say, a fairly awkward size for most people’s mouths.

And now that the meatballs are shaped the real dilemma reveals itself: how to evenly sear a sphere.  You might ask yourself if the meatball really needs to be seared.  Why not just drop the rosy balls into marinara and simmer them til they’re cooked?  Because meatballs, though made of leftover ground meat and a handful of common pantry items, are not a convenient, peasant dish: they are an idea.

If you want to eat ground meat with pasta, and you want to taste meat with every bite of pasta, you make a bolognese  But now think about spaghetti and meatballs.  Two more different shapes can hardly be imagined, and the twirling and wrapping required for the spaghetti are hardly compatible with the cutting and stabbing required to eat the meatball.

Likewise if you wanted a sandwich with ground meat in each bite you would shape the meat into a patty.  But sometimes you really want a meatball sub, which alternates from bite to bite between more meat than you can handle, to almost no meat at all.

So you’ll sear all the meatballs.  If you’re lucky enough to have a convection oven, they will brown easily on a high setting.  If not, you’ll pan fry them, rotating them often so they’re seared as evenly as possible.  Or you can hack it and line them all on a tray and put them at the very bottom of your oven, near the heating element, which is red hot, turning them every few minutes.

Cooked meatballs

 

Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1.1 kg ground pork shoulder (see note)
  • 1.1 kg ground beef brisket (see note)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 240 g whole milk
  • 60 g pecorino or other hard, aged cheese – aged gouda works well, too
  • 21 g minced garlic
  • 11 g curly parsley, chopped
  • 30 g kosher salt
  • 3 g coarse ground black pepper
  • 310 g bread crumbs
  • oil for frying

Note on Pork Shoulder: For grinding, use a ratio of 3:1 lean meat to fat.  Bulk with fatback if shoulder is too lean.  Grind once through 1/4″ plate.

Note on Beef Brisket: Before grinding, separate flat and point and trim all fat to 1/4″.  Add pork fatback to approximate a ratio of 3:1 lean meat to fat.  Grind once through 1/4″ plate.

Procedure

  1. Add all ingredients to a very large bowl and mix until just combined.
  2. Shape into 75 g balls, passing quickly between your hands to make the balls cohesive and the surface uniform and tacky.
  3. Brown heavily over medium-high heat.  Turns balls frequently to preserve round shape.  Finish cooking in a 400F oven.  Cool.

Yield: 180 x 75 g (raw) meatballs

 

Addendum: Spaghetti and Meatballs

By now I think we all know that spaghetti and meatballs is about as Italian as macaroni and cheese, which is to say not even remotely.  This is North American comfort.

When I was young there were some households in which the sauce was tossed with the noodles before plating, and others in which the sauce was ladled over the bare noodles.  I prefer the latter for the added interactive element.

Tastes like childhood.

Spaghetti and meatballs

Pork Tenderloin

Searing pork tenderloinPork tenderloin quickly roasted, sliced into blushing medallions, and served as a meal for two: this may be as intimate and elegant as fresh pork gets.

Every pig has two tenderloins that run under either side of the lower backbone.  Each tenderloin has a blunt end tucked into the pelvis, a roughly cylindrical cross-section through most of its length, and then a tapered end at the forward end of the pig.  (See this post on pork-cutting for more details and photos.)

As the name tells us, this cut is very tender.  It is also very lean – almost perfectly lean – so it doesn’t have much distinct pork flavour.

There is a band of silverskin on the tenderloin which some chefs have told me contributes moisture and flavour to the meat.  Occasionally I find myself chewing on this silverskin, so I prefer to remove it before cooking.

Tenderloins can be brined as described in this post.  This will season the meat throughout its mass and increase its tenderness and moisture-holding capacity.  If you forgo the brine, you should season the tenderloin about thirty minutes before you intend to cook it to let the salt penetrate the meat.

As with all lean, tender pork, tenderloin should be cooked medium-well (65°C or 150°F).  Because of its slender proportions, I usually sear the tenderloin in a pan and then transfer to a gentle oven to bring to temperature.  If put directly into an oven without searing tenderloin will most likely overcook by the time an appetizing colour develops.  They also work well on the grill.

Below is a pork tenderloin with buttered vegetables and saffron cream.

Pork tenderloin and little vegetables

Ribs

Side ribs smoking on the barbecueI think that no cut of pork is as mistreated as ribs.  In kitchens across the country, in homes and restaurants alike, folks are boiling, stewing, steaming, and baking pork ribs into mushy oblivion.

A shame, as there is nothing quite like a properly smoked-roasted pork rib glazed with zingy barbecue sauce.

There was a time when this was considered a poorman’s dish.  Perhaps it still is, but buying pork by the side has turned smoked pork ribs into a delicacy in my home.  Currently one side of pork lasts Lisa and I a year, which means we get potentially one full slab of side ribs and one full slab of back ribs for every 365 days.  As it happens I like loin roasts and chops with big pearly bones attached, so most of the back ribs are sacrificed to this end.  In other words we only get one full slab of side ribs a year, so we have learned to savour them with ardour.

 

Choosing Ribs

Back Ribs v. Side Ribs.  To learn where exactly these two cuts come from on the pig, see these posts on pork cutting: Loin Primal and Belly Primal.  Back ribs and side ribs are both good.  They are easily distinguished by appearance (back ribs are shorter and more curved), but I don’t find any significant difference in eating quality (after all, they used to be joined to together).  “Baby back ribs” is just a marketing term for back ribs.

For side ribs, “centre-removed” is preferred.  The centre portion is full of cartilaginous bones that are converging on the sternum.  Side ribs with the centre removed are sometimes called St. Louis style ribs.

Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.  You can see how to do this here.  Perhaps as this membrane cooks out it lends some gelatinous moisture to the meat, but even after extensive cooking, it’s still a bit tough and filmy.  So it’s got to go.

 

Cooking Pork Ribs

Ages ago I posted my preferred process for real-deal barbecue pulled pork.  My process for ribs is almost identical, except that ribs, being a thin slab, cook much quicker.

  1. The day before you intend to smoke the ribs, set them on a wire rack on a sheet pan.  Season well with kosher salt and black pepper.  Leave uncovered in the fridge overnight to develop a pellicle.
  2. Smoke the ribs in a 225°F smoker until tender.  While you can use the crutch-method described in the pulled pork post, ribs are small enough that it’s unnecessary unless you are very rushed for time.  But if you’re very rushed for time, you probably shouldn’t be smoking your own meat, should you?
  3. Glaze with barbecue sauce.

I emphatically recommend eating ribs with at least one of the following side dishes: coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, brown beans, and potato salad.  The first three can be seen on the plates in the photo below.

A plate of side ribs, with all the fixin's.

Tourtière – Pork Pie

A traditional tourtière made for a NewYear's Eve réveillonTourtière is made differently in every home, and can incite intense feelings of loyalty to ones mother.  I will proceed cautiously with a definition, but I warn you: there are lots of qualifiers in this post.

Tourtière is meat pie.  It is often based on pork, though veal and game are also common.  If anyone tells you that it was traditionally made with pigeon, you can politely dismiss their story as folklore.  A false etymology has developed because of the similarity between the words for the pie tourtière and the Quebecois word for the now-extinct passenger pigeon, tourte.  Certainly many a pigeon has been baked into pie, but the similarity between the two words is entirely coincidental.  Tourte also happens to be an old French word for pie, both sweet and savoury, and the dish that a tourte is cooked in is called a tourtière.[1] In Quebec the name of the baking dish became the name of the pie itself.

So I can safely add another component to our definition of tourtière: it is baked in a dish.

The meat can be either ground or cubed.  I nervously propose that it is usually ground, though in one famous regional variation, the tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean, the meat is always cubed.

The meat, whether pork or veal or game, and whether ground or cubed, is usually flavoured with spices like cinnamon and clove.  This trait is rarely disputed.

To my mind, what makes tourtière really special, and what really distinguishes it from English pork pie, is that the meat is usually cooked before it is put in the pie, then bound together with potatoes or some manner of sauce.

The English pork pies I’ve eaten are made like this: mix raw, ground pork with onions and spices; shape the raw meat mixture into a disc; wrap pie dough around that disc; bake until the meat is cooked and the crust is golden brown.  The good things about this method are that the interior is very cohesive and the pie is easy to slice.  The bad things about this method are that the meat never gets browned, and frankly the cohesive, springy interior can be a bit boring, texturally.

With tourtière, the meat can be thoroughly browned in a heavy pan before being stuffed into pastry.  The interior is therefore caramelized, with lots of textural contrast (imagine little nuggets of pork).  The trade-off is that it is not very cohesive, and can be difficult to slice and present cleanly.  The simple solution is that the interior must be bound together somehow.

The final important characteristic of tourtière is that it is a festive dish meant to be shared by many people.  It is an essential component to a Quebecois réveillon.  The baking- and serving-vessel is usually quite wide and deep so that at least eight, possibly as many as sixteen, people can be served from it.

Okay.  Now that we’ve delicately explored the nebulous world of traditional tourtière, let me share my own not-so-traditional version.

I use pork.  This is a no brainer.  It’s flavoured lightly with cinnamon and clove, and it’s browned heavily in a pan, because that makes pork delicious, and makes for an interesting texture.  I forgo the stodgy potato binder and make a thick sauce with cider, pork reduction, and roux.

The real departure from tradition is that I like making “individual tourtières,” baked without the support of a pie-plate.  I know that by simple definition a tourtière must be baked in a dish.  I know this.  But doesn’t tourtière look cute as a little, star-shaped, personal, free-form pie, served with smooth-as-sin pumpkin purée and Savoy cabbage slaw?

An individual tourtière, with pumpkin purée and Savoy cabbage

Reference

1.  Various Authors.  Larousse.  © 2001 Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, NY.  Page 1229.

Other Sources

An amusing discussion on what makes an “authentic tourtière” in this old CBC Radio show.

Pork Liver Pâté

Seared liver and ground pork

“What the hell is pâté?”

Pâté is fancy French meatloaf: it’s ground meat, bound with dairy, eggs, and bread.  The only difference is that pâté usually contains some liver, and it’s usually eaten cold.  If it’s baked in a special ceramic dish, it can be called a terrine.

Within that definition, there is a spectrum of pâtés that runs from rustic to refined. The two qualities that decide a pâté’s place on the spectrum are texture and ingredients. Rustic pâtés are coarser in texture and made with cheaper, heartier ingredients, like liver. They are often described by words like campagne (“country”), grandmère (“grandma”), and maison (“house”). Refined pâtés have a finer, creamier texture and feature meat more prominently than liver. They may also have fancy interior garnishes, like foie gras or pistachio nuts.  The following pâté is on the far rustic end of that spectrum, as it is coarsely ground and is half liver, half pork shoulder.

If you’re hesitant to work with liver, this is the dish for you.  You still get a clear idea of what liver tastes like, but it is somewhat tempered.  The slightly grainy, pasty texture is smoothed out by the presence of pork fat.  This dish is your gateway to liver enjoyment.

A heavy ceramic terrine
Special equipment.  Besides having some way to grind the meat and liver, the only special equipment required is a baking vessel.  I use a traditional a terrine.  You can make a terrine out of any cooking vessel, but the heavy, ceramic versions are best because they retain and evenly distribute heat.

Pâté has a delicate, almost spreadable texture.  There is a bit of egg, a bit of bread, and a brief mixing period, but the majority of the binding is going to be done by weighing down the pâté after baking.  For this I use a 2 kg brick wrapped in tin foil, and a piece of cardboard, roughly the size of the terrine, also wrapped in foil, to evenly distribute the weight of the brick.

Some things to keep in mind.  For the best texture, we want to absolutely minimize leaching fat.  As with sausages, or really any ground preparation, the meat, fat, liver, and grinder parts must be super-chilled.  Once ground, mixed, and packed into the mold, the terrine is baked to an internal temperature of 150°F, or medium-well.  There should be a faint blush of pink in the centre.  Overcooking will tighten up the meat and leach fat from the meat, yielding a dry meatloaf.  Finally, weigh the terrine heavily and chill for at least 24 hours before cutting.  Cutting with a serrated knife will help keep the terrine’s shape.

 

Pork Liver Pâté

Ingredients
  • 500 g pork liver, large dice, chilled thoroughly
  • 500 g pork shoulder, large dice
  • 25 g kosher salt
  • 4 g black pepper, finely ground
  • 30 mL canola oil
  • 60 g onion, fine dice
  • 60 mL apple brandy or schnapps
  • 2 stale white buns
  • 125 mL whole milk
  • 60 mL heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • fresh thyme and summer savory to taste

Procedure

  1. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the canola oil.  Sear the liver aggressively, without cooking the interior.  Remove the liver from the pan.  Quickly sauté onions, then deglaze with the brandy.  Add onion mixture to liver then chill thoroughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F and put a pot of water on to simmer.
  3. Form the panada by combining the buns, milk, cream, and eggs.
  4. Grind the chilled pork shoulder through a small die.
  5. Combine the chilled liver mix, the ground pork, the panada, salt, and pepper.  Grind through small die.
  6. Add herbs and mix in stand mixer for about 1 minute.
  7. Line the terrine with plastic wrap and pack tightly with farce.  Avoid air pockets.
  8. Put a folded dishtowel in a high-sided roasting pan.  This will keep the terrine from resting on the bottom and help the pâté cook evenly.  Place terrine on the towel and fill the pan with the simmering water so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the terrine.  Bake in oven until centre of pâté is 150°F, maybe one hour.
  9. Remove from oven.  Remove terrine from water bath.  Press with 1 kg weight overnight in fridge.

Slices of pork liver pâté on a charcuterie board

Pig Kill in Sangudo, Alberta

It takes a village to kill a pig.

-Jeffrey Steingarten

 

The drip cooler at Sangudo Custom MeatsThis happened ages ago, back in September, and Kevin has long since posted a fantastic video about it, but I want to write about a pork butchery workshop that took place out in Sangudo, Alberta.  The workshop was put together by Kevin Kossowan, and hosted by Jeff Senger of Sangudo Custom Meats.  The day started with the killing and processing of one of Jeff’s own pigs.  Since it was Saturday and there were no inspectors present, the kill took place on Jeff’s farm, then the pig was processed at Sangudo Meats.  The day continued with a hands-on meat-cutting class, and finally some demonstrations of sausage-making and other charcuterie preparations.  I’d like to tell you about how the actual kill happens, and how a pig becomes two sides of pork.  I’ve spent a bit of time with the pigs at Tipi Creek, and I’ve cut more than a few sides of pork, but this was a part of the cycle that I knew very little about.

All my culinary references tell me that animals are stunned either by electric shock or a captive bolt.  This may be true in larger abattoirs, but in smaller operations the pig is stunned by a rifle shot to the forehead.  I knew this before visiting Sangudo because a few times I’ve found the bullet in the side of pork I purchased.  Once it was lodged in the atlas joint, where the head meets the neck.  Another time there was a trail of bloody, damaged meat running through the head, shoulder, and into the belly.  The skin of the belly had stopped the bullet, and it lay in the fatty meat.

Immediately after Jeff shot the pig, it fell and started writhing violently.  Two men held it down, one kneeling on the neck, the other where the belly meets the leg, near the groin.  A third man wielding a boning knife cut the pig’s throat, just above the heart, severing the major aorta.  Blood ran like water from a tap.  The kicking subsided after half a minute or so.

The pig was taken into the abattoir, dragged by a hook in its mouth, and hoisted by the same hook into a scalding tub, which was steaming generously, but not boiling.  The pig wanted to float, so a stiff rod was used to keep it submerged.  Jeff occasionally let the pig bob to the surface so that he could pull at the hair.  After about thirty seconds the hair came off easily, at which point a large basket transferred the pig from the scalding tank to the debristler.

The debristler rapidly rolled the pig so that its flesh rubbed against a grate, pulling off hair and the first few layers of skin.  As the pig spun, Jeff directed a large blowtorch that singed hairs that could not be reached by the debristler, especially around the head and legs.

The debristler was stopped so that the trotters could be singed to remove hair and loosen the toenails, which were then removed with a special hook.  Attached to the hook was a bell-shaped scraper that was used to clean burnt debris from the skin.

An incision was made in each foot, between the bone and the Achilles tendon.  The two ends of a special, curved bar were slid into the incisions and the pig was hoisted so that it was hanging by its feet.

Jeff made a circular cut around the anus, then sliced towards the belly, around the genitals.  The end of the bowel was tucked into the guts to prevent spillage, though this shouldn’t have been a huge issue, as the pig was starved for a day before being killed.

The organs were removed more or less in one piece, following the digestive tract from the rectum, past the kidneys to the intestines and stomach, pulling out the nearby liver, heart, and lungs, and finally the esophagus and tongue.  These organs are inspected by the government employee who is present for the kill and evisceration of every animal that will be sold to the public.

With the organs removed, the carcass was washed with a spray hose, inside and out.  The carcass, still suspended by the feet, was cut with a huge saw hanging from the ceiling.  The pig was broken into two halves along the spine, but remained connected at the head.  The hanging carcass was then slid along a track to the weigh station, then into the drip cooler to chill.

Over the next few hours rigor mortis sets in and the muscles stiffen.  It takes a couple days for the muscles to soften again.  This is mostly through enzymatic activity.  The pig is now familiar to any meat-cutter, and ready to be broken into primals.

This was an experience.  Thinking ahead to the day, I was sure that the evisceration would be the most difficult part to handle, but in actuality it was the kill itself.  As when watching Kevin’s other videos about abattoirs, I found myself nervous or maybe anxious in the few minutes immediately before the kill, but once the animal had died and was still, the feeling left.  After that there was no anxiety or revulsion at all, just a profound interest in what Jeff was doing to transform the animal into meat.

I’m hugely appreciative to have been invited to Sangudo that morning, and very grateful to Jeff and others like him who do this work every day with diligence and respect.  It’s not pleasant by any means, but God is it important.

Pork Belly

While the most famous incarnation of this cut of pork still bacon, fresh pork belly has become very popular over the last few years.  In the butcher shop it is also called pork side, or side meat.  Before I started buying pigs by the side, I ordered slabs of belly from Irvings Farm Fresh, a 5 lb slab costing somewhere around $25.

A Quick Tour of the Pork Belly

Below is a slab of pork belly.  You’re looking at the inside of the pig; the opposite side is covered with skin.  The right side of this slab would have connected to the front shoulder of the hog.  The left side would have connected to the hind leg.  The top was once connected to the loin, and the bottom to another belly slab at the sternum of the pig.  Do you see the diagonal line that runs roughly from the top left to the bottom right?  That would be the perimeter of the rib cage.  The section to the top right once clung to the pig’s ribs, and you can actually see the pattern of the ribs in the vertical lines of meat and fat.  The lower left section of the slab was outside the rib cage. The boundary between those two sections is the diaphragm, though most of the actual diaphragm muscle has been trimmed off.

A cured slab of belly

Since we’re discussing anatomy, I might as well point out that the different parts of the belly have different eating and cooking qualities.

Here is a picture of the right end of the above belly slab, that is, the side once attached to the front shoulder of the pig.

Pork belly, shoulder side

Here is the left side of the belly, which connected to the leg.  You can see that it doesn’t have nice, alternating layers of meat and fat, but rather a few isolated muscles separated by a large amount of fat.  I find this “leg end” a bit fatty to be cooked and eaten as is.  I might consider curing this part, then chopping it up and frying it to render out the fat, then cook Brussels sprouts or beans in the same pan.  It would also be most welcome in a sausage mix.  Also be aware of glands: there are several where the belly meats the leg, near the groin.

Pork belly, leg end

Finally is a cross-section from the middle of the belly.  Here we have meat and fat in almost equal proportions, and in the nice, alternating, streaky pattern we expect from pork belly.

Pork belly, centre

 

Cooking Pork Belly

Pork belly is roughly equal parts meat and fat, though obviously the exact ratio will depend on how the pig was raised.  The high fat content means that belly should be cooked low and slow to render properly.  The meat itself is made of fairly tough muscles, another reason belly requires lengthy cooking.  It can be braised or slow-roasted.  I prefer slow-roasting, unless I absolutely need to make a sauce, in which case braising is useful.

You can brine pork belly for a bit more moisture, but there is enough fat that I don’t think this is necessary.  The cut does benefit from judicious salting well before you intend to cook it (say, 6 hours earlier) so that it’s seasoned throughout.

To slow roast I season early, then cook the belly in a 250°F oven for a few hours.

Because the belly is a flat, rectangular prism, it is often cut into tidy little cubes or prisms.  The irregular leg-end tends to bunch up when cooked, but if you weigh the belly down for an hour or two after cooking it will flatten out again.

The flat shape also means that it can be rolled into a cylinder.  Say, filled with herbage for a modern porchetta.

An entire herb garden rolled into a pork belly.

Tying up a rolled pork belly

Rolled, roasted pork belly

 

Like bacon, fresh belly can benefit from a secondary cook to crisp and render further, those this isn’t strictly necessary.