Yesterday I attended a class at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture on pig butchering. No, it wasn’t as dramatic as it sounded – I was not personally given a pig to break down. That would have just been horrifying to see me attempt. Rather, it was a two-hour educational tour through the anatomy of the pig guided by Dan Barber’s expert butcher Jose Marquicio that went into details around not only how to break down the pig but also how to use and cook different cuts of meat.
Here are five fascinating things I learned – some about the pig, and some a bit broader:
1) If you haven’t had a pork cheek, you haven’t lived. Or so that’s kind of what I left thinking based on the way everyone was praising this very special (though tiny!) cut of meat. They’re a prized and special piece of pork and, given that each pig only has two of them, they’re trickier to find. I could have sworn I have had these before so I did a little searching online. It turns out I have enjoyed them (and, possibly, so have you) as pork cheeks are used to make guanciale – an italian cured meat that is often used in pasta dishes as a stronger alternative to pancetta. However, I’m now on a mission to find and eat them in their pure form.
2) There’s a secret cut of pork known to few called (appropriately) “Secreto.” Hidden in the belly of the pig, it’s essentially a very tasty skirt steak. Both the class instructor and the butcher Jose discouraged us from going to our local butchers seeking this cut of meat because they would either (A) be completely confused about what we were seeking (if they weren’t in the know), or (B) in the off-chance they were in the know, they would likely not have it available or think we were ridiculous for asking. I looked into this a bit more after I got home and found an interesting article about this special cut from the Chicago Tribune.
3) You only need two tools to butcher a whole pig – A very sharp carving knife and a hand saw (though you really only need the saw for about 2-3 cuts). Jose made the job look supremely easy but I was shocked to find out you only needed one tool to do the majority of the job. Even cooler, the knife he used was actually a chef’s knife he sharpened down to a size of his liking.
4) Sous-vide bags are the absolute best way to freeze meat — any kind of meat, not just pork. They prevent those nasty crystals from forming because they nearly eliminate the amount of air that can get into the bag. I might need to get one of these for Christmas this year (if my husband doesn’t roll his eyes at the suggestion).
5) Now for a non-pork fun fact. If you dine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, update your social media profile first. Like other fine dining establishments in New York, they Google all their guests in advance. This helps them know, say, if a chef will be joining them or someone who tends to be a more adventurous so they can prepare accordingly. If you fall in this camp, go public about your preferences before you dine! There’s a pinch of controversy about this tactic, but I personally am completely fine with a restaurant looking into a patron before a meal. In fact, I think it shows an incredible amount of savvy to go to this length to help make a special dining experience like this one even more memorable.
Coming off this class, I was so inspired to cook some pork that I of course made some for tonight’s Sunday Supper. I prepared a Roasted Pork Loin Stuffed with Swiss Chard, Parsnip Puree and a Mustard Crème Fraîche.
If you’re interested in checking out this great class for yourself, good news! A new class seems to have been added for December. You can sign up here: http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/products/break-it-down-pig.html.