High on the Hog
As told to me by those that are in the know, living high on the hog is a pretty easy concept. Imagine in your mind the image of a pretty pink pig as seen from the side. Curly tail on the left and rooter on the right. With me so far? Now picture that squealy fellow as various delicious meaty parts. The tenderloin is right up on his back and is arguably the most expensive part. His shoulders are also very well marbled and in perfect natural ratio of meat to fat to make even the most awkward home cook a hero. But when is the last time you can remember cooking his feet or lower legs? The demand for these cuts are almost non existent. When we do find them used regularly they are either in food traditions that value being thrifty or are ones based in generations of poverty. Our depression area family members certainly know what to do with some of the less prized parts of the pig, and slowly but surely with the help of some popular food trends those bits are being re - remembered. With the help of some pretty kick butt culinarians the forgotten parts are being eaten once again in surprisingly new and delicious ways.
For the last few years of our food journey I have been making Mother's day dinner. Most of the time I include the kids in this task which to me is half the fun. Sure I'm slow, use too many dishes, make a mess and read the directions at least twice but I really do enjoy it. I'd love to do more cooking but the truth is Renee' is really really good at it and my talents are better used elsewhere. We're a team right? This Mother's day I decided to take it up a notch and not only make dinner for our family, but make homemade pasta too. As if giving our first attempt at making pasta wasn't enough, Layla and I tackled tortellini. Since I was already biting off a whole lot to chew, why not make the filling for the tortellini by smoking a whole pig head, skimming and reducing the pan drippings and serve it in broth? I mean what could go wrong? And if the pressure wasn't high enough already Renee' says "I hope you don't mind but I invited some of our friends over." Now these aren't just friends, they are mentors and confidants and you can wear your stretchy pants around them if you'd like because they are really cool people. However, I was still nervous as I have never tried any of this before.
here is a link to the process that we loosely followed courtesy of Mario Batalli.
Sorry there aren't any pictures. That would just be way too much for farmer to pull off in addition to making the meal. So the verdict? Well the truth is that it turned out way better than I thought but still had room for improvement. My technique and novice were very apparent but the good news is smoky rich pork broth can really save your hinnie in a pinch.
So as most of you regular readers know, a major driver of our food journey has been Seamus' peanut allergy. I sometimes feel down that he doesn't get a lot of different flavors or ethnic food exposure because of the peanut risk and we specifically avoid a lot of Asian foods. I think that maybe he has had one or two very nervous and plain Chinese food attempts but no where near exploring even the very Americanized versions of Asian food. The whole family pretty much doesn't eat Asian food together trying to be both safe and sensitive to our Seamy boy, but you better believe that if we get a date night that 9 times out of 10 we are headed to a Thai restaurant. I came across this today and it is really adventurous for me but Chef Chris ( a longtime friend of our and the farm) says I can pull it off. He may have a little too much confidence in me or just thinks it will be hilarious to see me try, but I think I may be able to give Seamus and our family an Asian flavor experience. Check out this process and article from Eater NY featuring General Tso's Pig head from Cannibal.
I'll certainly take some pictures of this process I promise - even if it turns out to be a disaster.
Who cares Geoff? This is all gross!
I know, and i get what you're saying. Nobody wakes up one day and says " I can't wait to cook a pig head". Well that's not entirely true as I know at least a few fine fellows that would agree to a day spent cooking pigs head. I mention this whole conversation for a few reasons. First of all, your farmers eat adventurously because we sell most of the "high on the hog" parts. Your farmers do eat well, but we seldom get the prime cuts unless it's a special occasion. Instead, we eat the things that require a little planning and adventure. This is by no means a guilt trip I only bring it up to give you a peak behind the curtain of this farming life. Bacon, pork chops, shoulder roasts, ham and sausage all leave the farm store quickly. Pig head, shanks, feet and organs.....not so much. Secondly, sometimes we get the feed back "I'd buy more things from you guys but it can be kinda pricey". We hear you we really do. I appreciate the sacrifice and effort it takes to buy from a local farm directly. It isn't the most "convenient" thing to do. But, I submit respectfully that it may be more costly because we are only picking the expensive items. The tortellini en brodo fed 7 people with left overs for under 20.00. That is not even close to expensive even by the fast food, "I'm too busy" cheap food crowd. And lastly, consider the love and adventure that was involved in cooking this way. It was slower, Layla learned to fold tortellini, we listened to classic arias on Pandora and our house smelled like roasted smoky pork. A slower home kitchen gathers people and flavor and given a chance can make our houses into homes. I believe in the power of cooking and food to bring families together.