ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


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Pig Tails, Part 6: Carnitas

If I eat at an America-Mexican restaurant, I don’t order fajitas, I order carnitas. Carnitas is braised then charred pork. Recipes add flavorings like cumin or citrus to the mix. I couldn’t imagine a better way to cook a pork shoulder.

The pork shoulder is a well-marbled piece of meat with an awkward bone going through the whole piece. Pork shoulders make for a good roast because you can’t slice it up pretty. Pork shoulder has lots of connective tissues that break down into mouth-coating gelatin after low, slow cooking. All of this combines to make beautiful carnitas.

Recipes

We ate the carnitas with these lovely corn and wheat tortillas from the COOP, avocados and salsa. Wonderful!


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Pig Tails Part 5: Arista

Arista is a Tuscan style pork roast with pepper, rosemary, garlic and olive oil. My father taught me how to cook this roast.

Recipes

I started cooking the pig with the bone-in loin roast. This is a tender and well-marbled cut with plenty of connective tissue and tasty bones for gnawing (See pictures below). Typically this roast is cut into pork chops, but a better way of cooking it is to roast it.

I make a paste of rosemary, black pepper, garlic, salt and olive oil, then slice into the meat diagonally across the grain at 1/2″ cuts. I stuff the cuts with the paste and tie it all up. 400F until 150F. Rest for 30 minutes. Slice. Gnaw bones.


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Pig Tails, Part 4: The Roasts

I have 7 beautiful pork roasts, all 3 to 6 pounds, offers up a world of opportunities. However, I know myself, and I have to be smart today because I will inevitably be stupid later. I want to plan out the best way to cook each cut, and map that onto my most favorite recipes, to come up with a roadmap for how to eat this beautiful pig and give myself something to look forward to in the wintery months ahead.

The Cooks Illustrated Meat Book provided ample information on what to do with the roast, once I had mapped the Butcher’s labels onto pig anatomy. From this, I know that the loin is the tenderest meat that can be cooked rapidly on high heat, grilled, etc, but the shoulder will need more time and slower, lower cooking temperatures.

I also have a long, well-honed list of pork recipes that I love to cook and eat.

  • Char Siu is a Chinese-style pork roast with warm spices (star anise, cinnamon, clove) and soy. If I do it right, I can get that lovely red line around the outer edge of the meat. I love to make it, slice it very thin and freeze for recipes later. I can use slices of char siu in ramen noodles, made into a pâté with hoisin sauce to stuff pork buns, and add a little bit of meatyness to a stir fry.
  • Tonkatsu, or Japanese-style breaded pork cutlets. A Faerber family tradition, for some reason. The cutlets get deep fried, so Tonkatsu makes a giant mess of things in the kitchen and so only gets made on holidays. And, Panko are far superior bread crumbs. I’ll leave that one out there to debate with Nick Scheeler.
  • Arista – Tuscan style pork roast with ample black pepper, rosemary, garlic and olive oil rubbed into deep slashes in the meat.
  • Pulled pork, braised American style for BBQ sandwiches, or braised and grilled Mexican style for Carnitas. This is ideal with the pork butt roasts from the upper part of the pork shoulder.

Now to map on tasty dishes to roasts.


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Pig Tales, Part 2: Cutting up a pig

Once picked up my pig, I had to figure out what I got in my delivery, and what to do cook with it. For pork and other types of meats, there seems to be no consistency in what different cuts are called. I tracked down a basic map from the Cooks Illustrated Meat Book and tried to annotate, as best as I could, the locations of my roasts. This map can help me determine the best way to prepare the roasts.

The shoulder is the area with lots of connective tissue and should be slow cooked, braised, barbecued or stewed.

The loin is the tastiest bits of pork and can be roasted, but also sliced thin or made into chops.

The belly is bacon, plain and simple. Don’t mess around with perfection.

And the leg gets smoked and becomes a ham. Or maybe prosciutto. Next time.


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Pig tales, Part 1. Inventory

I got half a pig!

I found out on the Upper Valley Mailing list that there was a half of a hog available for sale. YES! I drove up to Bradford, VT to pick up my slaughtered, processed and frozen pork, with dreams of tasty tasty things. From the hog farmer, I found out some unfortunate soul had to back out of their pork order. Their loss.

I had to fill out a complex sheet for the butcher to process my pig. I do NOT want a bunch of ground pork and pork chops. We just don’t eat them. I want my pork in large roasts, which allow me to make roast pork, or, if I so choose, cut down the roast into smaller pieces. When I put food by, I want it to be as versatile as possible.

(That is not my pig, but is one of the porcine brethren that was raised with my pig.)

Here is what I got:

Bacon and Bacon Ends

Ground pork

2 bone-in rib end roasts

Shoulder roast

2 butt roasts

2 loin roasts

A ham

Spare ribs.


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Dog Mountain Financiers


We spent the afternoon at the Dog Mountain Summer Party. There were 50+ dogs, and ripe blackberries all over the mountain. 

Some background, Dog Mountain is the former home of Stephen Huneck, an artist that did woodblock prints and sculptures with dog themes. His black Labrador retriever, Sally, featured prominently in his work. He bought land in St Johnsbury Vermont, built studios and a home. He built a dog chapel and designated the land as an off leash dog park. Dog Mountain is pretty darn awesome. 

We took the dogs for a long walk around the mountain and found hundreds of blackberry bushes with beautiful, plump, ripe berries. What is a locavore to do? Pick berries into any available container and make blackberry financiers!


(Blackberries in the dog’s collapsible water bowl.)

Blackberry Financiers (they’re rich!)

7 tablespoon unsalted butter

1¾ cup sliced blanched almonds

½ cup granulated sugar 

½ cup powdered sugar

5 tablespoon flour

⅛ teaspoon salt

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon almond extract

6 ounce blackberries (or raspberries or blueberries

1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven
to 400 degrees. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin. (I use mini muffins instead.)

2.
In a skillet, heat the butter until it begins to sizzle. Continue to cook  over low heat until the edges begin to darken and the butter gives off a  nutty aroma. Remove from the heat. 

3.
In a food processor, grind the almonds with the granulated and
powdered sugars, the flour and salt. While the processor is running, gradually pour in the egg whites and add the almond extract. Stop the  machine, and add the warm butter, pulsing as you pour until the batter  is just mixed.

4. Divide the batter evenly among the buttered muffin cups and poke 3
or 4 berries into each cake. Bake for 18 minutes, (14 minutes for mini muffins) until puffy and deep
golden brown. Let stand a few minutes then remove them from the
pan and cool on a rack.