Butcher (and Then Eat) a Whole Pig
After reading Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating a few years ago, all I’ve wanted to do is cook crazy things. I’ve been especially fascinated with the idea of buying a whole pig and using every single part of it. The recipe I want to try most is Brawn (a.k.a head cheese). It requires a pig’s head, trotters and tongue. Extremities galore.
For me, the first step is taking a class on butchering—so that, by the time I actually get down to the business of carving the pig up, I know what I'm doing. The next obstacle is buying a pig: your local butcher can connect you with local farmers who raise heritage pigs that roam free and forage in their natural environments. The reward is prized meat that’s extra tender and flavorful (also hormone- and antibiotic-free). Join me on my nose-to-tail adventure! Here are some awesome things to look forward to if you do:
Learn how to butcher. Your butcher can show you the ropes. Jake Dickson, the owner of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in NYC (purveyors of high-quality responsibly sourced meats), holds classes on how to butcher a whole hog: “We break the pigs down into many more cuts than are traditionally found in supermarkets. We borrow from cutting traditions around the world.” How cool.
Use your head. Ask for the pig’s head, too. There’s a ton of great meat hiding in there, perfect for making headcheese. Boil the head with the trotters, tongue and aromatics until the meat is super tender, then pick off all the meat. Pack it into a terrine mold with chopped herbs and cover with some of the strained cooking liquid. Chill overnight to set.
Bring home the bacon. Instead of curing the bacon, make a fresh version. Rub the belly with salt, black pepper, smoked paprika and light brown sugar, and marinate in the fridge for 2 days. Roast at 425° until tender. Slice and serve with eggs for brunch, or make sandwiches any time of day.
Create custom sausages. Grind pork shoulder along with some pork fat and your favorite spices. Use rubbed sage and black pepper for breakfast sausage, or fennel and crushed red pepper for spicy Italian sausages. The options are endless.
Get to know the off cuts. Take this opportunity to cook with rare cuts. Your butcher is the best resource for tips on how to handle them. Two fun ones:
1. Pig’s ears. They transform into the most addicting crispy snacks. Simply boil with mirepoix until tender, then dust with flour and deep-fry. Use as a topping on salads or as a cocktail snack at your next gathering.
2. Leaf lard. It’s the cleanest form of lard and creates the flakiest pie crust ever, without any porky aroma. Also perfect for deep-frying those pig’s ears.
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