Saturday, November 15, 2008

P-I-G. part 1.

I am not sure where I first heard about Mangalitsa pigs, but once I did I knew that I had to try them. They are a European breed that produces a much fattier, richer-tasting meat, unlike the commonplace modern pig, bred for leanness and aimed at the fat-fearing public looking for "the other white meat." The only question was, how was I going to get my hands on some? I met a couple at the Lark Whole Beast dinner who told me about their adventures with some Mangalitsa pork jowls, but I am a lazy person and somehow never made it up to the University District farmer's market, where Wooly Pigs sells their pork. Months went by. Summer passed, with jaunts to my own neighborhood market, where I bought berries, eggs, the occasional chicken, and all kinds of leafy dark greens previously foreign to me. Then it was fall, and K. told me all about her plans to order half a Mangalitsa pig. Alas, I would be out of town. I had to take matters into my own hands.

Somehow C. and I finally made it to the U District farmer's market last weekend. I came back with three pounds of "pork trimmings," roughly half fat and half meat, and the suggestion that I make sausages or rillettes with it. Just thinking about it made me nervous, and I quickly stuck my package back into the freezer, hoping that I had not made a very expensive mistake, like those high-heeled sandals I bought four years ago for a then-astronomical price and never wore. The week went by, a week where I savored that curried goat pie from the market and made another pot of borsch from leftover prime rib bones. Then the weekend loomed, and I decided to experiment. I left the meat in the refrigerator to defrost, took stock of what ingredients I had to hand, and decided to divide the meat and try different methods of cooking.

First, the rillettes. I found a recipe in Pork and Sons, a French cookbook whimsically decorated with pen-and-ink drawings of pigs, the padded cover wrapped in pink gingham. It seemed simple enough, white wine and rosemary, pork fat and...fat pork. I simplified things even more, halving the recipe, leaving out the bacon - I didn't have any - and the bay leaf, thinking no bay leaf was better than a sad, crumbly dried bay leaf that might be left over from the 80's. The fat, trimmed away from the meat, went into the pot with a sprig of rosemary, a sliced onion, and some white wine. While the fat melted, I diced up the pork, cursing the cookbook for not specifying how large a dice I should be chopping, and scraped it aside while I dealt with the remaining meat. It was a lot, more than I had anticipated. The leaner cut was sliced, as for stir-fry, and the fattier parts cubed, for braising in soy sauce and rice wine. But that is another story.

Next came the boring part, leaving the diced pork to slowly cook in the aromatic wine and, not to put too fine a point on it, its own fat. I left it to simmer as gently as possible for as long as I could stand it. The afternoon passed. I made myself some dinner, and ate it between peeking into the heavy pot and poking at the cubes of pork cooking away. (I may have sampled a bite or several at various points). Finally, the meat began to fall apart when I teased it with a fork. At this point, you are supposed to scoop out the pork with a slotted spoon or something, and shred the meat with two forks, mashing it all together with a little of the fat until it becomes a sort of rough paste. I got bored with this very quickly, and switched to my food processor. Working carefully so it didn't all get processed into mush, I pulsed the machine just enough so it all came together into a coarsely-textured pâté. I spread some, still warm, onto a cracker; it was rich, intense, deeply flavored with the herbs and the taste of the Mangalitsa pork. Later, it will be scraped into plastic tubs and chilled in the refrigerator. After I have another taste.


Sean said...

My wife makes all sorts of complaints whenever I even mention cooking up something good and fatty. Do you have any hints on how to persuade her to eat this, or should I just save myself the trouble and eat it all myself?

kairu said...

Eat it all yourself!

No, just kidding. You might be able to get away with rillettes, since the meat is cooked in wine and fat, and then mostly drained off before the meat is mashed into a pâté-like spread.

I have seen fat-fearing friends scrape that heavenly layer of fat off their pork belly, handing it over to a nearby spouse. Some people are funny about fat. Does your wife eat bacon? You might point out that it's just like eating bacon.

I know I am not much help, because I was raised to eat just about any part of an animal that showed up on my plate. Maybe pork belly served up in a restaurant, all in tidy, two-bite portions, would be less alarming than watching one's husband wrestle with a hunk of raw pork, all pink-and-white striped with flesh and fat?