When Pigs Fly
Jim Poris - April 2006
Three chefs go head over tails for head to tail pig parts. Jim Poris reports about the fun and games of this pork barrel project.
Whenever the Mystery Basket chefs give us grief about the grief we sometimes cause them with the limited number of disparate ingredients we ask them to build a dish with, we know the gears of their food brains are whirling round and round. What makes us happiest, though, is when their grousing turns into the "Eureka"! moment signifying that they've not only solved the cursed list with a stellar dish but that the thought process that went into it has helped them tackle the creative aspects of their profession with a new perspective.
We would have thought that in this porked-up decade that providing Holly Smith (Cafe Juanita, Kirkland, WA), Ben Barker (Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC), and Daniel Boulud (Daniel, Café Boulud, and DB Bistro Moderne, NYC) with pig parts that would make a charcutier weep for joy--neck, ears, belly, trotters, and tail--would have had them hot-dogging it to the kitchen. They were pleased, for sure. As usual, they had to utilize at least 17 of the ingredients in their dish. In the end, the chefs discovered that the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. That's something to chew on.
It was the rest of the ingredients that gave them pause. Not that we saw anything wrong with Asian pears, salt and pepper, Tabasco pepper sauce, white wine, garlic, onions, eggs, olive oil, tomatoes, peas in the pod, Arborio rice, celery, lemons, carrots with tops on, Swiss chard, fresh shiitake mushrooms, jumbo lump crabmeat, saffron, ancho chiles, and fromage frais (fresh cheese).
They had an herb selection that called for a choice of two from among fresh bay leaves, mint, marjoram, cilantro, lemon grass, rosemary, thyme, lavender, parsley, and tarragon.
Durham, North Carolina
"As a native North Carolinian, I feel like I was weaned on pork, so naturally and regularly did it permeate our diet. I mean, my grandfather fixed us pork brains and scrambled eggs on Sunday mornings for years before I identified what those little pink curds were. I was an adult before I found out that everybody didn't have Lexington barbecue for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day suppers.
"In the mid-1990s, our office administrator and my wife--and pastry chef/partner--Karen Barker, conspired to submit the restaurant's name as a candidate for National Pork Restaurant of the Year--justifiably, they alleged, since I use pork in everything. In fact, anointed by the National Pork Board, I became the Pork King--crown, trappings, license plate ("Pig Daddy"), and all. An agreeable honor but more important, it has perpetuated a love affair with the pig that manifests itself in the syntax of our menu, our prep sheet [there's a section labeled ‘nitrates'], and the rhythm of procuring, butchering, curing, smoking, grilling, and braising the greatest food animal known to man.
"We are very fortunate here in the Piedmont to have a tremendous resource of small farmer-growers, including Eliza MacLean at Cane Creek Farm, who is raising Ossabaw hogs, as well as hybrids of her own design. Our next–door neighbors at Chapel Hill Creamery (a Jersey cow artisanal cheese dairy) out in the country where we live are also rearing hogs on the whey by-product of their cheesemaking. The pigs forage among the oaks for acorns and greet us in the morning when we walk our dog. Having the opportunity to present naturally raised pork from growers we know and trust has been the most monumental advance in our sourcing agenda.
"When presented with the opportunity to participate in the Mystery Basket, it seemed like a natural for me, given its focus. However, a dish didn't readily fall into place even though I'm an accomplished ‘walk-in cook.' We're accustomed to using a lot more herbs and spices in our cooking, and the absence of sugar in any of its guises limited some of the normal avenues of brining and curing, as well as a Southern approach to the construction of the dish.
"Given that my style of cooking is fairly straightforward and unadulterated, it seemed contrived for me to bone out the trotters, stuff, and tie them, so they become the foundation, with the tails, for a stock to braise the belly and ears. Curing the jowl was obvious (we make smoked jowl ham here) to contribute the smoky salty quality we admire to the crab and mushroom "hash", contrasted texturally with the crunch and subtle sweetness of the Asian pear. Textural contrast is one of our hallmarks so this dish, with the crispy ears, unctuous fresh bacon, and smoky sweet and savory, re-creates our style within the context of given ingredients. An extremely pleasurable side benefit was the genesis of a headcheese and lardo appetizer for the menu and a corned ham for an upcoming wine dinner."
Slow cooked pork belly on lump crab/roasted shiitake hash with Asian pears & crispy listeners. "Start by making a stock. Coat eight split pig's trotters and four pig's tails in olive oil; roast at 375 degrees until browned, turning once. Sweat two cups diced onions, one cup diced carrots, one-half cup diced celery, and a split garlic head in olive oil. Add trotters and tails; deglaze the roasting pan with two cups white wine; add sucs to the vegetable pot. Add a gallon of cold water and bring to a simmer, skimming as necessary; add one tablespoon black peppercorns; simmer until reduced by 50 percent; strain; discard solids; chill the stock.
"Cure a two-and-a-half-pound pork neck overnight in the refrigerator by rubbing it copiously with kosher salt and ground black pepper and then a mixture of one large toasted ground ancho chile, two tablespoons chopped garlic, and two tablespoons fresh thyme leaves. Wipe the cure off the pork neck; smoke it over hardwood [hickory and/or oak] for about three hours; rub with olive oil; sear on a grill. Caramelize one sliced onion and two peeled and sliced carrots in olive oil; add a split garlic head; place the pork neck on the vegetables; add enough trotter stock to come one-third of the way up the pork neck; braise until tender, about two and a half hours. When cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones and coarsely shred with fingers; season with salt and pepper; moisten with some of the strained braising stock.
"Season a one-pound skin-off pork belly with salt and pepper; refrigerate overnight. Wipe dry; sear skin side down until browned in a small rondeau set over medium-high heat; flip; cook two minutes; remove from the rondeau; pour off excess fat, reserving one-quarter cup. Caramelize two cups diced onions and one cup diced carrots dusted with a pinch of salt in the reserved pork fat; add four sliced garlic cloves and one cup peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped tomatoes; cook two minutes; add one cup white wine, one quart trotter stock, four sprigs fresh thyme, and two sprigs fresh mint; place pork belly skin side up atop vegetables; cover with parchment paper and a lid; bring to a simmer; braise one hour in a 350 degree oven; remove the lid and parchment; braise another 30 minutes in the oven to caramelize the pork belly; place the pork belly in a bowl; strain braising liquid over it; refrigerate overnight.
"Now for the pig's ears. Simmer two singed and washed ears in one cup trotter stock, one-half cup white wine, one-half cup sliced onion, one-quarter cup sliced carrot, one-quarter cup sliced celery, two garlic cloves, six black peppercorns, the peel of half a lemon, and one teaspoon kosher salt for one hour; remove the ears; strain the liquid over them; reserve in the refrigerator.
"Begin a hash by cooking one cup diced onion and one-half cup diced celery in olive oil until they begin to color; add one tablespoon minced garlic and cook one minute; remove from heat; reserve ingredients in the pan for final assembly. Roast one-quarter pound meaty, quartered, and roasted shiitake. Marinate one-half pound jumbo lump crabmeat in olive oil, the grated zest of one-half lemon, and salt and pepper.
"Make an aïoli by whisking one minced garlic clove, one egg yolk, a pinch of saffron, and one teaspoon lemon juice in a nonreactive bowl; whisk in one-half cup fruity olive oil and zest of one-half lemon; season with salt, Tabasco pepper sauce, and, if needed, lemon juice; whisk in two to three tablespoons room-temperature pork belly braising liquid to achieve a consistency for drizzling.
"To bring the dish together, first remove the pork belly from its braising liquid; cut pork belly into four portions; place skin side up in a sautoir; pour in enough braising liquid to come halfway up the sides; simmer until heated through; place sautoir under a salamander to crisp the belly; keep hot. Now remove the pig's ears from their braising liquid and dry them well. Julienne the ears and toss with a rice flour made by grinding one cup Arborio rice and a pinch of saffron in a spice mill. Heat olive oil in a deep sauté pan and fry the pig's ears until well browned, stirring so they don't clump; remove with a spider; drain on paper towels; keep warm. Set the hash base over high heat; add two cups pulled smoked pork neck meat; cook until heated through; add the reserved roasted shiitake, crabmeat, one and one-half cups Swiss chard leaves cut into one-half inch squares, one cup peeled and diced Asian pear that's been seasoned with lemon juice, a vinaigrette made from two tablespoons lemon juice and two tablespoons fruity olive oil, salt, two tablespoons fresh mint chiffonade, and one teaspoon fresh thyme leaves; cook just until the Swiss chard begins to wilt. To serve, place some hash in the center of each plate; top with a pork belly; drizzle with the aïoli; sprinkle with the pig's ears.
"For a wine I'd choose an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, especially one from 2004 that has bright acidity."
Dear Food Arts,
"Thanks for the Mystery Basket. What a way to begin 2006: pig's trotter, neck, tail, and ear. What more could a girl ask for? Maybe some flour? Maybe some bread crumbs or red wine? I don't mean to be crass, but may I ask what the hell you editors were thinking?
"Where to begin? I do my best thinking with a shopping basket in my hand, and I know just where to go for inspiration. I live in an area just north of Seattle, where you are more likely to see signs in Korean or Japanese than in English. Ranch 99, an Asian market, is the land of obscure animal parts. Ranch 99 makes me want to cook. Imagine this: a short, fair white chick with a tow-headed baby strapped to her back scouring the pig section for fresh trotters, contemplating coagulated pork blood, comparing prices on shrink-wrapped trays of bung and face. I suddenly want to put zampone on my menu, buy the blood for sausage. Oh, and that package of liver forces me to reconsider dinner plans. I ask the man stocking black chickens if the store ever carries cocks' combs, and the language barrier makes for a very vehement exchange of hand motions. My son, Oliver, starts making chicken noises.
"Avoiding a teetering tower of shrimp chips, I turn the corner and come across beautiful crab. Now those darn shiitake are calling to me. There they are. I'm firmly convinced that I'm going to make a pork broth with rice noodles and pork and crab dumplings. Sigh. Just my split personality rearing its head again. One last stop in the sweets aisle for lychee gummies to share with the staff. In the end, I leave Ranch 99 with a beautiful pack of pig's ears, a front and a hind foot, a thick hunk of neck, and a tail dusted with bristles. I'm ready, head to toe and everything in between, because the belly is already in-house resting in salt. I'm off, out of Little Korea and back to Cafe Juanita.
"While negotiating the wet parking lot and legions of strip mall Sunday shoppers, I begin to tick through the ingredient list again. Maybe it's the location of my pig purchases, but this list of ingredients seems to lead directly to an Asian-inspired dish. I fret over the word ‘obvious,' which your assignment e-mail cautioned me not to be. What dish, Foodie Artsies, would be too obvious? And the sheer number of ingredients! I tend to think less is more; 17 ingredients scare the hoo-hoo out of me. As Ranch 99 falls away from my rearview mirror, I search my Northern Italian sensibility for what to make. I focus on the possibilities and the pitfalls of the decision to reject my original plan and work toward an Italian plate. Now that I'm all done, oddly, I understand I really enjoyed pushing past the details that worried me most. I just let loose and played. Hopefully, this sense of fun and lightness will appeal to you.
"My first major obstacle was a binder. You didn't give flour or bread, and I wanted to make crespelle or gnocchi to show off a sugo made from that meaty neck and gelatinous tail and ear. I also wanted to stuff braised trotters and peas into arancini, but those need a bread crumb or flour coating before frying. I don't usually do fusion, but I can be crafty. A staple in my house, one that had been floating in my mind since Ranch 99, is toasted rice powder. I must confess I thought you'd be proud of me for using the Arborio rice in an unorthodox way. In the end, it worked better than I thought it would, making a tender crespelle as well as a thin crisp shell for the arancini. Who knew?
"Really, though, thanks for the Mystery Basket. I can't wait to see how my fellow chefs approached this list. Come see us the next time you're in Seattle. Oh, and give me a call if you ever come up with a list with cocks' combs on it. I need outside motivation sometimes.
An ode to the piggie & his parts: arancino stuffed with pig's trotters & peas with fresh tomato coulis; roasted pork belly with Dungeness crab/shiitake/Asian pear salad; Swiss chard/ sheep's milk cheese crespelle with pork sugo. "This dish is full of rich textures and bright acidity to cut through the rich and gelatinous qualities of the pork. To start, make a large quantity of vegetable stock from diced carrots, onions, and celery sweated in olive oil, deglazed with white wine and then simmered in water with tomato peels and shiitake trimmings.
"Sear two pig's trotters in olive oil until browned, then remove from the pan. Add a diced onion and a few garlic cloves to the pan and cook until slightly brown; deglaze with white wine; return trotters to the pan; add thyme branches and enough strained vegetable stock to come three-quarters of the way up the trotters; cover; reduce heat to medium-low; braise for three hours. Once done, strain; reserve braising liquid and pick meat from the bones. Place braising liquid and meat in a saucepan set over medium heat and reduce to a thick consistency.
"Run four peeled and seeded ripe Brandywine tomatoes through the processor and add four tablespoons brunoised onion and one tablespoon minced garlic that's been sweated in two tablespoons olive oil. Deglaze with white wine and add the tomato coulis. Cook two minutes, season with salt and pepper, and whisk in some olive oil to smooth it out.
"Toast two cups Arborio rice until fragrant and lightly colored. When cool, grind in a spice grinder until it resembles flour. Use one cup for coating the arancini and reserve one cup for the crespelle. Begin the arancini by first making a risotto: cook a diced onion in two tablespoons olive oil until lightly golden; add one cup Arborio rice and stir to coat with oil; then add saffron and white wine; reduce until dry; finish with four additions of vegetable stock and salt. Once done, stir after two minutes and let rest three more minutes, adding a touch of stock if it's too dry. Vigorously stir in three tablespoons fresh cheese. Spread on a sheet pan to cool, then toss the rice in a bowl with a beaten free range egg yolk. Reserve in the refrigerator. Shell, blanch, and shock fresh petite spring peas, then fold into finished trotter mixture. Heat oil to 350 degrees. To shape arancini, flatten two tablespoons of risotto into a round in the palm of the hand, place a generous pinch of pea/trotter mix in the center, and carefully form the risotto into a ball around the meat mixture, making sure not to leave any holes. Dip arancini in one beaten egg yolk, roll in reserved rice flour, and fry until browned, about five minutes.
"Cure a pork belly in salt, flaked ancho chiles, and thyme for five to seven days. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wipe cure off the pork belly and cut into five-ounce portions. Score, place skin side up in a roasting pan, and roast for one hour, then reduce oven to 350 degrees and roast for one more hour, occasionally basting with the rendered fats.
"Next is this salad of sorts, which in the end will garnish the roasted pork belly. Toss shiitake with olive oil and roast on a sheet tray at 500 degrees until they begin to crisp. When slightly cooled, toss with Dungeness crabmeat, julienned Asian pears, lemon zest, extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and a light dust of cayenne.
"For the sugo, season chopped pig's ears, pig's tail meat, and pig's neck meat with salt and pepper; sear in olive oil. Deglaze several times with white wine, allowing wine to reduce by 95 percent each time. Cover with vegetable stock and slowly reduce for about three hours, until rich and sticky. When cool, finely chop the meat.
"For the crespelle, place three tablespoons fresh cheese in the bowl of a processor and, with the motor running, gradually add one cup warm water until well mixed. Whisk with three eggs and the remaining one cup rice flour. Heat a small sauté pan until very hot, lightly coat with olive oil, ladle in one-quarter ounce of batter, and cook as for a crêpe, until lightly colored on both sides. Set crespelle aside. For the filling, heat blanched chopped Swiss chard leaves in olive oil. Mix fresh sheep's cheese with egg yolk, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. This filling will be more greens than cheese. The mild sheep's milk cheese provides a gentle fat foil for the sticky rich pork sugo and the greens. Place one to two teaspoons of the cheese mixture and some of sautéed chard down the center of each crespelle, fold in half, and repeat along center line of the half; fold in half again so the crespelle is folded into quarters with two layers of filling. Heat sauté pan with a little olive oil; place crespelle in the pan to heat through. Return the sugo to the heat, deglaze with white wine, reduce until almost dry, and finish with chopped marjoram. It can be enriched with a tablespoon of fresh cheese if you wish. The final plate is a trio of pig in three forms: at the bottom of the plate an arancino atop the tomato coulis; center stage, a caramelized hunk of roasted belly garnished with the salad; and at top, a crespelle dressed with the sugo.
"As for wine I would go Italian for sure, perhaps something earthy, like a Teroldego from the Trentino on the darker side or a Pinot Nero on the lighter side."
Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne
New York City
"Where I'm from in Lyons we proudly cook and eat every part of the pig, so the Mystery Basket's focus on pork was right up my alley. While Lyonnais cooking was my initial inspiration, I had to leave my roots behind and take off in a new direction for some of the cooking here.
"Incorporating the crabmeat into a pork recipe took me in a vaguely Southeast Asian style for one dish. I was moved further along this road by an initially frustrating absence of mustard and vinegar that would have provided the tartness, spiciness, and acidity I was looking for. I happily grabbed the lemons, Asian pears, and Thai basil instead. The dish's texture reminds me of the lamb's feet salad served in Lyons, except that its seasoning is more associated with crab or seafood. It's best served at room temperature so it's more tasty and the natural gelatin in the pork is not too gummy.
"I used the pork neck to make caillettes ardéchoise, a rustic, oversized pork meatball you might find in a good village charcuterie in the Ardèche region of the western side of the Rhône Valley. This is a dish I associate with my friend the great winemaker Jean-Louis Chave, who makes it for me when I visit him in the tiny village of Mauves. I added a Lyonnais touch by serving it with a sauce that reminds me of cervelles des canuts--whipped fromage blanc with herbs and shallots--that you would find in any Lyonnais bouchon with a frisée aux lardons salad.
"The centerpiece of all this is the braised pork belly. The fat is the most delicious part of the belly and makes up at least 60 percent of the dish. As a result, the garnish plays a minor role. The carrots were the perfect choice, and their sweetness works well with the belly when prepared very simply as carottes Vichy.
"I used the Mystery Basket to create three distinct recipes that were made to complement each other in a single course as a trio of tastes. Alternatively, they might work nicely for a buffet or a family-style meal where you try a little of everything on your plate. However, I suggest arranging each dish on its own serving plate due to the different temperature at which each should be served."
Salade indochine with pig's ear, tail & trotter; caillette ardéchoise with herbed fromage blanc; pork belly with carottes Vichy & soubise. "Blanch pig's trotters, pig's tail, and pig's ears; drain and rinse. Make a bouillon with water, white wine, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, thyme, and salt. Add the tail and trotters; simmer until very tender, approximately two hours; cool until lukewarm; drain. Remove and shred the meat from trotters; separate the tail into knuckle segments; slice the ears into julienne. Carefully mix the trotter meat with jumbo lump crabmeat in order to keep the crabmeat whole; toss with Thai basil, finely grated lemon zest, and Tabasco pepper sauce; season with salt. Using plastic wrap to encase the mixture, roll it into a cylinder two inches in diameter; refrigerate three hours; cut into one-half-inch thick slices; remove plastic wrap; reserve in a cool place. Slice pig's ears into julienne; toss with chopped parsley and shaved Asian pear; drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil; season with salt and pepper; reserve in a cool place. Pan-fry the tail pieces in olive oil until crisp; place on paper towels to drain; season with salt and pepper. Arrange the pig's ear/Asian pear salad in the center of a rectangle plate; set crisp tail pieces to the left; place chilled slices of the trotter/crab roll to the right. As for wine, a Pinot Noir from the Santa Barbara region of California would be an interesting complement.
"Next is the caillette ardéchoise. Blanch Swiss chard leaves and squeeze out all the water. Run pig's neck meat, blanched Swiss chard, ancho chiles, garlic, parsley, and salt through a meat grinder; shape into meatballs about two inches in diameter; roast in the oven in hot olive oil until browned on all sides and cooked through; drain off excess oil. While the meatballs are cooking, whip fromage frais, chopped onion, chopped parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the fromage blanc mixture in the center of the plate and sprinkle with diced tomato; place a caillette (meatball) on top and garnish with parsley leaves. Naturally, Jean-Louis Chave makes the perfect wine for this dish, Côtes du Rhône Mon Coeur 2004, a Syrah/Grenache blend.
"Now for the pork belly. Rub a pork belly with salt and pepper; envelop in plastic wrap; refrigerate 36 hours. Pat the belly dry; seal in a sous-vide cooking bag with thyme, crushed garlic cloves, white wine, pepper, and a touch of water; cook 36 hours in 145 degree water. Remove the pork belly from the pouch and slice into rectangles; reserve the liquid from the bag. Fry the belly squares in olive oil skin side down under a weight until the skin crisps; place on paper towels to drain. Make a soubise by blending caramelized onions with some of the reserved sous-vide liquid and a touch of olive oil until smooth. Peel and shape carrots into four-inch lengths, leaving on one inch of green tops; braise carrots Vichy-style with some of the reserved sous-vide liquid, salted water, and olive oil until tender. Make a salad of thinly minced celery stalks and whole celery leaves tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper. Arrange soubise in a shallow plate; place carrots over the sauce; place crisped pork belly skin side up over carrots; place celery salad alongside. The rich belly and onion combination calls for an Alsatian Gewürztraminer."