The Porcine Revolution
Beginnings. I have been looking out over the food landscape for a while, and, now that I am riding on the seas a bit with this blog, I starting thinking about what finally pushed me to start posting (for my background in cooking, see my About page). I started thinking about what I love about food, and keep focusing on incredible meals I have eaten or made with pig. I also noticed that pig is a pretty hot topic in restaurants, books and online. All of this crystallized when I made my own bacon after deciding I couldn’t find the real sort of stuff I had tried a few times while on vacation in Vermont or in a rural breakfast spot somewhere around New Orleans. We’re talking thick, meaty slices of pork, with fat that is not soggy or burnt, but instead somewhere between creamy and toothy. Bacon that you don’t just consume, but savor. As I started reading about making bacon (Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing is an incredible source), I realized that I didn’t even fully know where on a pig bacon comes from. I was surprised as to how easy it was to buy a pig belly, cure it and cook it until it became bacon. It hit me while tasting the sweet and earthy flavor of my own batch of bacon that I was part of a movement, a revolution is thinking about food that had been growing slowly over the years. I call this the Porcine Revolution, because the re-discovery of the art of pig cookery is, to me, one of the best example of the know-your-food and eat-closer-to-earth movement that ranges from small farmers to local markets and then to home cooks and restaurants. When I was a kid, pork was just in watery, processed products like commerical bacon, packaged ham and tasteless bologna. Thing is, I wasn’t even aware I was eating pork - there was nothing to connect these different types of food to each other. For instance, I had always loved salami, but never thought about where it came from or what it was made out of. These simply weren’t things I thought about as a child, but also things that no one I knew thought about. Food items were processed to the point that salami was salami and ham was ham. It wasn’t until I got to cooking school that I started to learn about products like prosciutto and pancetta. And even there, I wasn’t learning much about breaking down hogs and cooking or curing them. Most of the amazing pig dishes I ate were from Domincan joints selling pernil or Mexican taco trucks selling carnitas. But somewhere along the way, organizations like Slow Food and chefs like Mario Batali started piercing the American consciousness with the importance and, basically, down right joy, of learning about and eating local products with as little adulteration as possible. Batali’s cooking shows mostly turned me on the regional differences of Italian cooking, but also were intriging to me for the interesting cured and smoked meats he would use in dishes or as appetizers. I learned later that his father, Armandino, was making some pretty incredible old-style cured pork products out of his shop, Salumi, in Seattle. Something beyond folks getting their hands on the latest cool thing must’ve been going on for businesses like this to survie. Salumi, and other ventrue like it, sell very specialized products, which they likely have to introduce and explain to their clientele, who then have to be willing to pay $10, $20 or in some cases over $100 per pound.
Warriors of the Revolution. An example of a shop on the forefront of Porcine Revolution in New York is Stinky bklyn on Smith Street in Brooklyn. Stinky is mostly known for its killer cheeses, but serves up some great dried, cured and or smoked pork products in the back that they throw on the slicer for you. The real specialties, though, are the whole legs they have up front, cured in different styles, at their Ham Bar.
Along with speciality cured hams from around the world, Stinky buys whole, live pigs, and gets cuts as they become ready, after the long curing process has finished. Whatever they have is great, but the leg of the pig they owned, through a speciality charcuterie provider named Quercia, has fat that melts on the tongue and a complex flavor that only the most expensive hams can achieve. These organic pigs are raised, slaughtered and cured by small producers in the Midwest, producing an artisanal product. The pig’s acorn-only diet helps produce the clean, smooth and almost sweet fat.
They get fresh parts of the pig, as well, and they used the head to cook up some testa, which is Italian head cheese. Basically, they slow cook the head in aromatics and chill it with gelatin (usually made from pig’s feet.) This stuff is the essence of porky love. Really good spread on some good bread.
Also on Smith Street in Brooklyn, Char No. 4, a restaurant/whiskey bar, is a fort in the Revolution. They make their own bacon in the restaurant, and it is killer stuff.
They also make a variety of sausages that rotate throughout the year (the Grub Blogger’s favorite is the House Smoked Hot Beef Link.) With these flavors still on my mind, if not my palate, I starting thinking that it can’t just be these fairly new ventures that were bringing out the great flavor of pork. I was searching around a bit, and came across G. Esposito and Sons Jersey Pork Store in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. These guys have been making their own hot and regular dry Italian sausage for well over 80 years.
These links have an intense, dry pork flavor that is best eaten on its own in thick slices.
Cultural Pork. So I got to thinking that I could get into pork cookery in my own kitchen with two goals. One, to create good grub for me, my lady, friends and family. Two, to learn something about how different cultures use pork to get by and to celebrate. I have turned out some tasty dishes, and even got a few of my non pork-eating friends to sample a little, under the pre-text of the meals being “cultural pork”, and therefore falling out of whatever restrictions they had. The next bunch of posts will be dedicated to the Grub Blogger’s small skirmishs in the Porcine Revolution. I hope you enjoy.
Porcine Revolution posts:
G. Esposito and Sons Jersey Pork Store
357 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
261 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Char No. 4
196 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231