Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hog Butchery 101

My pork odyssey began with the butchery project on March 5, 2010.

1 half organic heritage hog, with the head and 4 feet. Due to USDA regulations, I couldn't get the half-hog in one piece (the USDA inspects primal quarters at the abattoir). Primal quarters = shoulder, side, ham.

1 butcher's saw
1 cleaver
1 boning knife
butcher's block
Bic razors - several (any Berkshire or other heritage hog will likely still have a lot of hair to be shaved)

Step 1: Study. In my case, two years of reading obsession, and one video "pig-in-a-day" course (thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage. Link:

Step 2: Torch and shave head, trotters, any other spots with disturbing tufts of fur.

Step 3: Saw through head. Prepare for several stages of resistance as you move through skull and brain matter. Remove tongue whole rather than sawing through. Try your best not to look at the eye.
Set brain aside for poaching and frying:
Step 4: Remove jowls for curing (jowls at right).

Step 5: Spot-shave trotters; saw off the shanks from the trotters. The shanks make fantastic braising and roasting cuts (to be revisited in a later post).

Shanks on the left, trotters on the right.

(Couldn't resist a "Gold Rush" reference.)

Step 6: Lay out the side. Side is heavy. May require help. Remove the kidney . . .

. . . and tenderloin.
Trim tenderloin. Note the rosy color. "The Other White Meat" was a campaign promoting miserable, fast-growing, intensively-raised hogs designed to grow as quickly as possible. For now I'll refrain from ranting about all this entails in terms of animal welfare and environmental damage, but suffice to say the notion is toxic bullshit and must be buried with prejudice. Quality pork should have a healthy pink-to-red color.
Step 6: Separate Loin (left) from Belly (right). This necessitates sawing through one rib at a time, whilst supporting each rib from underneath with your other hand. Do not do this if you have blood pressure or heart problems. Nerve-wracking as this is, you may take comfort from the fact that the saw slows down once it moves from bone to flesh, so the odds of cutting through to your finger are slim. For the record, I still have all my fingers.

The loin piece may be separated into baby-backs and a boneless loin roast, or cut into chops. I opted for the former (post on rolled loin roast with crackling to come). The belly I split and cured along with the jowls for pancetta-style bacon. The short-end (closest to the viewer) I later opted to baste in maple syrup and smoke for breakfast rashers. The lean texture made for the ideal breakfast or sandwich bacon. The thick (fattier) end is hanging as a bone-in pancetta, to be sliced up as needed for soups, stews, or to wrap lean meat or birds.

Step 7: Trim meat off of shoulder. My photographer quit, out of either fatigue or unease at the hog's eye still staring at him. However, he returned once I had ground the meat and was turning it into sausage:

Always hang sausage for at least a few hours to allow the excess moisture to sweat out. The skin should be firm and reasonably dry when your little helper takes it down.At the end of the day, I had the following:

  • 2 rolled loin roasts with crackling
  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 1 belly roast; 1 spare-rib roast
  • 2 belly cuts curing as bacon
  • 2 guanciale (jowls) curing
  • 4 shanks for braising/roasting
  • 1 23-lb ham buried in salt, to be hung for prosciutto-style ham
  • 10-lb sausage - 5 lb bangers, 5 lb Italian.
And bonuses:
  • 6 lbs of liver for pate
  • 1 heart and kidney
  • Lots of bone-in braising meat (spine and neck)
  • Countless pounds of fatback for rendering (and tallow fat)
  • Rind
  • Bones for stock
  • Head minus jowls for braise, brawn (headcheese) or some other terrine
In the coming weeks and months, I will update the progress of the curing items, and monitor the deployment of all of these ingredients into Chez Gristle's menu.

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