ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


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Pig Tails, Part 8: Tonkatsu

Jan 13, 2018 Correction. I incorrectly translated tonkatsu as pork fried. According to Kenji Lopez-Alt, Katsu is a phonetic translation of the English word cutlet.

“The word “katsu” is gairaigo, the Japanese term for words borrowed from other languages. The simplest phonetic translation of “cutlet” to Japanese vocalizations is katsuretsu, which in turn is shortened to katsu. Add ton—the Sino-Japanese word for “pork”—to the front of that and you’ve got tonkatsu, or breaded fried pork cutlets… Got it? Good. Let’s move on to more fun stuff.” (HT)

For Christmas Day dinner, I defrosted the smaller of the loin roasts (3.6 lbs), deboned it, cut it into thin loin slices and deep fried up some tonkatsu. Tonkatsu is Japanese pork cutlet: Ton = Pork, Katsu = cutletfried. It’s Japanese because it is breaded with panko bread crumbs and traditionally served with special Tonkatsu sauce. Clearly though, this is a modern Japanese dish.

Tonkatsu has been a special dish in my family because it is a giant pain to deep fry food, so we only made it on special occasions like Christmas or birthdays. I remember mom and dad filling the wok with hot oil and setting this special grate on the side of the wok to let the pork cutlets drip oil back into the wok, like pictured below. When I make tonkatsu, I use a deep cast iron pot because I don’t own a wok. The cast iron pot weighs a ton, which means it has a lot of thermal mass, so keeps the oil at a more stable temperature when frying. I do a lot less fussing with the temperature. Set the heat, wait, and done.

If you want to make Tonkatsu, don’t. It’s a gigantic pain in the ass and you end up with fried pork cutlets. There are faster and easier ways to make good pork. But this is nostalgia. That is powerful.

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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 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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Kimchi is done. Time for Korean BBQ.

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I declared that the Kimchi had fermented and was ready to eat! That means a celebration with Korean BBQ. I put the grill basket directly onto the charcoal to generate maximum heat.

The side dishes were:

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The best pie… EVER

Strawberry Icebox Pie from Cooks Illustrated is the best pie I have ever eaten. Icebox pie is a gelatin-based pie with fresh fruit in a pie shell, topped with strawberry whipped cream. It has all of the qualities of a perfect dessert:

  • Ripe strawberry flavor really shines through
  • Pieces of real fruit
  • Cold, refreshing and you eat it when its hot outside.
  • A positive uplifting note at the end of the meal.

I do one minor variation. I substitute goat cheese for cream cheese in the whipped topping. The slightly goaty and tangy flavor is unexpected in the topping and is a wonderful complement to the fresh strawberries.

My mom used to make these pies when she worked at Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant in Dayton, OH. Seems like it’s still on the menu. No way it can be this good.

 

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