Some time ago, I took advantage of a pig butchering class that was being offered a few blocks from my home. Now I do not live on a farm or in the country so the urbanness of the class added an additional layer of excitement and anticipation.
Going over the registration literature, there were a few basic items I was encouraged to bring, but were by no means necessary. An apron, chef’s knife, paring knife, boning knife, and cleaver – presumably for cleaving. I had all the items except the final two in my quiver and made a trip to the locally owned restaurant supply store as a best bet to find the missing items.
For me, a trip to the restaurant supply store is as good as it gets. Sure, they sell things that I need, and things I want, but they also have things that are no longer needed or wanted by restaurants and commercial kitchens for sale on consignment. The consigned items probably would not be of any interest to a couple completing a wedding registry, but I see the value in a used steam table, outfitted with a whip holder to keep any foams, sauces, or starches held at the perfect temperature before plating. As much as I wanted to go home with a two-burner crepe maker, I ended up settling on just a boning knife for the class and saved the novel items for another day.
I was clever to cut the cleaver from the quiver because, although it was on the list, we never used the medieval-looking cutting device in the class. Instead, we mostly used our fingers, the boning knife and the paring knife to separate the primal cuts, roasts, and chops. As we took down the pig into recognizable portions, our instructor pointed out the premium bits you will almost never be able to buy at the local butcher shop, and never at the box store.
One such bit you can sometimes find still attached to the pork ribs is the pork flank steak. It was a gorgeous thin cut of meat. The instructor severed the cut from its connection to the rib area with a confident smile as if she had a better ending to the funniest joke in the world. The pork flank steak turned out to be a treat for the class that has changed the way I go about respecting heritage meats.
The instructor adorned the pork flank steak simply with salt and pepper before it went into a hot sauté pan with butter. It seared boisterously on both sides for a couple minutes each side. The meat sat no taller than a deck of playing cards and rested for twice as long as it took to cook. The instructor cut the meat into thin slices and fanned them out on the cutting board. Wine was poured, but no plates were put out; hey were not needed. I shared the slices with the other seven or eight students and instructors but knew well that any one of us would have been delighted to dine on the flank steak as an entree.
I learned the same lesson twice that evening. The lesson is that in the kitchen, so much more can be done with less. We took down an entire pig mostly by using our fingers and a knife no longer than my smallest finger.
Although I had aspirations of butchering the pig using stainless steel power tools on loan from the high school, the grace and simplicity of the human hands and small knife seemed far superior to the Sawzall. Being hands-on created a much stronger connection between me and my food. It is a connection that very few people have the opportunity to experience because much of today’s supermarket meats come pre-cut and packaged for quick sale.
My tasting of the heritage breed bacon maker exemplified that same philosophy that more can be done with less. Watching the pork cook, I was convinced it needed much more time in the heat. It was barely medium rare which scared me enough in its own right, but I also felt that the simplest of salt and pepper seasoning would leave the meat under-cooked and understated. The opposite happened. The meat stood on its own trotters and needed no symphony of spices to amuse my palette. Through the quick application of heat, the meat became far tenderer than it would be at any other doneness. The understated simplicity of preparation was a strong reminder of the power of good ingredients.
When I share my experiences cooking on the grill, I often like to share the why and the how. This week, I made a boneless, heritage pork roast similar to the one we took home from our class.
The pork shoulder was slathered in equal parts Dijon mustard and Sriracha sauce. It got a liberal coating of one of my favorite spice blends and went on the Big Green Egg that was preheated to 250F. About a cup each of apple and cherry wood chips began to smolder as the seasoned pork went on to the grill. The meat smoked and roasted slowly and indirectly for about three hours until it hit about 155F on the thermometer probe. After that, I double-wrapped the meat in foil and returned it for another almost four hours until it hit an internal temperature of 203F. Then it rested off the flame.
Out of respect, I decided to try and keep the shoulder simple, reminiscent of the class I attended on that swine day. Just low heat, smoke, and a few seasonings. The meat was as tender, juicy, hearty, and flavorful as I had remembered it in the class.