Archive for the ‘Irvings Farm Fresh’ Category

Cassoulet w/ Hocks & Belly


I was going to cure and rotisserie some pork hocks. I was going to make a slab of bacon. But I did neither, and ended up here. Being sick has the odd virtue. My cold-laziness opted out of curing and smoking, and instead threw the whole whack in the oven so I could quit thinking about it waiting in my fridge. So I ended up with: belly par-confit’d [top was roasted, good combo], with some soy, green onion, and mollases and hocks braised in sage and saksatoon wine lees. The hocks went into a bean dish [wonderful use, btw], the belly fried up a bit and plopped on top. And laziness yields a dish I’d be happy to serve to the most discriminating guests. Go figure.

Worthwhile note: I’ve developed a 5 hr rule for slow cooking the right cuts of pork. No less than 5, at 150-175C. Optimally, leave the stuff in the oven after it’s turned off to finish cooking with the residual heat for another hour or two.

Worthwhile note 2: this would kick ass more if it were fall and cold out. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all.

Bacon. Again.

Yep. Bacon. Again. It seems I’ve written about it so much it must be redundant to do so again. But it is not.

The more I work with pork, the more I love it. So versatile. It seems to embrace transformation and elevation while maintaining an undeniable humility. This batch was 10 lbs of skin-on belly from our last pig. My 3 year old [who loves bacon] had a chance recently to meet our local pork farmer I buy whole hogs from, and it made me think: ‘why am I the only guy I know who buys hogs from a local farmer and cuts them myself?‘ I sincerely hope that one day that practice ceases to be deemed ‘odd’ or ‘hardcore’ and instead becomes seen as ‘sensible’ and ‘normal’. Ah, a man can dream.

Best. Ribs. Ever.

Although it’s nice when recipes get some attention, I really get excited when posting about concepts. This concept shalt be called: ‘Best. Ribs. Ever‘ concept. That name won because ‘Don’t invite anybody over ’cause they’re too good to share and there’s only so many ribs on a pig ribs‘ was simply too long.

As you may know, I start with very excellent pork, whole-hog-style. And I’ve used many various techniques, mostly simmering related for an hour or two, prior to a shot on the grill. But recently, I had a moment of clarity: “If the pork shoulder & neck roasts seem to benefit from a 175C 5 hour braise, then why not throw some ribs in the roasting pan while I cook a roast, then have ribs the next day?” Last night: braised shoulder. Tonight: Best. Ribs. Ever. Seasonings/recipe is virtually irrelevant, as the grill sauce and flavor take control there, and the hero of the show: supple, delicate, perfectly texture pork ribs.

So the take away? When taking a braising roast out of the oven, take a few racks of ribs out too, and do them together. Energy efficient. Time efficient. Pleasure efficient. 5 hrs at 175C with a touch of fluid in it, seasoned of course. Grill [I got lucky and hit a sweet spot of fire-cooking-bliss with some fir and apple] & sauce as you please. Revel in the awesomeness. Thank me later.

Rendering Lard – my new bff

Why, oh why, have I never done this before? I’ve cut 10 sides of pork in the past 13 months, and never, not once, did I render lard. Stupid. I will forever and ever, from this day forward, consider the leaf lard in the pig a very valuable piece of yield. Not only is it excessively easy to harvest – lightly attached on one side around the tenderloin area – it is the choicest of fats for making pastry dough. Or frying potatoes [ok, duck fat and beef tallow have good reps here too]. Or frying, say, pork. Or, well, anything, really. So why didn’t I try it? Stupidity. Only saving grace is that it wasn’t wasted – it was simply ground before. Never again.

The process is simple, and has been well documented here and here. I did about half of my stash at 120C in the oven, it took 8hrs give or take, and the smell made me want to barf. I don’t understand. It’s cooking pork. Creating a product – lard – that is very neutral in general. Some people do it outside, and I don’t blame them. I’ll likely stick to the oven for the heat control, and I found that any nausea is quickly forgotten once you’ve gotten on with using the stuff.

I found a lot of methods of storing the stuff. Many use jars, which unless you have a straight sided jar seems like an annoying idea to me when it comes to trying to get lard out. I also have had bad luck breaking jars in the freezer. One cool idea was muffin tins to get individual portions. But I swooned when I read about pouring it into a cake pan of some kind, so that it can be cut into butter-like sticks, and wrapped in convenient portions – which is what I did, illustrated in the photo top left.

So thank you, lard, for filling a void in my life I did not know existed.

Pig Butchering, Fall 2009

A long awaited day – ‘PIG DAY’ – has come and gone. A couple friends and I had ordered 3 pigs from Irvings Farm Fresh – a local Berkshire pork producer. They’d raised the hogs a few weeks longer than normal as per our request to size up the pigs, and fatten them up a bit – as is evidenced by the mostly vertical white stripe of back fat cutting the photo above roughly in half. It was an ass-kicking long day of work, but wrapped up with a dinner of pork shoulder roast tossed in early in the day with sage, garlic, salt, and pepper – washed down with this fall’s apple wine that’s just reaching a nice dose of american oak. Despite being ridiculously tired, it was a very blissful moment of payola.

All-in, our pigs were $325. We got roughly 140+ pounds of cut meat per pig. That works out to $2.34/lb. However. We also harvested 7.7kg of fat – mostly leaf lard, and were lucky enough to be handed a large bag of offal the farmer hooked us up with. We saved about 7kg of liver and heart. So all things considered, our cost per lb ended up closer to $2 and change. I’ve done my homework and posted about it before. Superb value for money, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty.

I broke the animals and cut loin and belly, one guy cut joints and deboned hams and shoulders, and one lady wrapped as we went. All-in-all, a good strategy – but my body certainly would have liked me better had we had more hands. We had more hands near the end, and it helped a lot. A couple people per pig is likely a far wiser way to share the load. Grinding as we went at the end of each pig was certainly a smart way to handle the ground pork. By far, the biggest error of the day was simply getting started late – hoping to save some km driving by meeting the farmer half-way to the slaughterhouse. Next time, earlier start. It took 9 hrs. Finishing when you’re nearly ready for bed is neither fun nor smart.

I must give some pretty major props to this website. It guides you through cutting pig without a bandsaw. There’s a lot of great videos on youtube on butchering pig – but they generally involve the use of a bandsaw.

More to come.

My Ham is Better Than Your Ham

I basically avoid ham. One reason: despite the fact that ham you buy at a supergrocer is already cooked, people seem compelled to toss it in the oven or slow cooker a ridiculously long period of time. Longer than it would take to actually cook a ham, nevermind reheat it. To the point where you can peel strands of meat-dryness, more similar to jerky than to ham. Yuck. Best thing that happened to this incarnation of ham-hacking is mustard. Or the eager dog under the table, perhaps.

But my opinion on ham has changed. I took a pack of large ham [read: hind leg] roast from our recent pork-butchering-escapade and brined it according to Charcuterie’s brine ratios with the addition of garlic, rosemary, and bay. Brined it from 4pm til the next morning. Let it rest on a rack for most of that day. Then it went onto a rotisserie over a bed of hardwood charcoal coals for a couple hours, until my probe thermometer read 155F. Just prior, a glaze of honey, garlic, and mustard went on it. I should have taken a picture of that, as it was magnificent. But I didn’t.

It is the best ham I’ve had. There’s some room for improvement on brine concentration/penetration, etc as I had 2 issues: 1] the gradient of pink salt [long live pink salt btw] stopped prior to the center, which makes it look at tad funny, and 2] the extremeties are on the ‘too salty’ side, but when eaten with the rest is balanced in seasoning. Despite these flaws, best ham. No contest. I’d wager that if you could brine and cook your own hunk-of-any-cut-of-pork, even supergrocer quality pork, that you could exceed the crap you have had. So please. Do. Proper ham is bloody good.

Apple-wood-smoked Berkshire Bacon

Charcuterie item #1 from my Berkshire hog is in the bag: Bacon. Apple-wood smoked bacon, to be precise. Perhaps of all my bacon-achievements, this is my proudest. It was my first smoking in my new yard, with apple pruned from my very apple tree, smoking pork that a friend and I butchered with our very own hands, from a pig that was lovingly raised not too far from here.

It had the usual dry cure for a week with a couple bay leaves I bought in Lacoste this summer. For some reason I’ve grown attached to bay leaves as a souvenir. I suppose they’re light and inexpensive – two very important criteria. But more likely, it’s because every time I pull a bay leaf from my stash, it brings me back to lovely places. For the past 2-3 years, the bay leaves in my kitchen have all been sourced from markets in France.

Anyway, after a week and change of curing, it sat overnight in my fridge to form its pellicle. Today, surrounded by our first blanket of snow of the season, my fire seemed to be in a sweet spot of just hot enough to last a good time, but just cool enough to not render fat or cook it too hot. After a few hours of pork-belly-and-apple-smoke-love, it now sits for yet another night to let the smoke flavors permeate.

Ah, bacon.

There’s a good chance I’m leaving in the morning for my annual calf moose hunt, and I can’t wait!! Bacon-wrapped moose tenderloin medallions are on the menu.

Little known fact: I spent many years of my adult life with a bacon aversion. One sad day, I made trips back and forth from my bed to the toilet to get sick – one of the times tripping on a guitar case latch and slicing open the top of my foot. Whilst these fun events unfolded, my dear mom was rendering bacon [god bless her]. For years thereafter, the thought of bacon made me sick.

If a Pig could MATE with a Ruffed Grouse…


This was my first taste of the Berkshire I’ve been going on about. First and foremost, it’s the most glorious chop I’ve ever had in my hands – no contest.

How does it taste? If it were possible for a Berkshire boar to mate with a female ruffed grouse to make a new animal [name suggestions welcome], this might be what that would taste like [the meat, not the mating...ew]. If you’ve never had ruffed grouse before, this is zero help, I know. Sorry.

Lastly – sage and pork is a classic pairing, but I’ve seldom played with it. I thought the sage would dominate – boy was I wrong. It is indeed a perfect pairing, so more fried sage with pork it is.



So is it worth it? Is there any savings to buying a whole or side of animal?

First Step
I tromped down to the freezer, and yanked all the packs I’d previously put there to freeze, back out. My inn
er cheap-ass required it. Required I weigh it. Required I do some math. 28.8kg, my scale says. So roughly 63 lbs. $155 [$130 for farmer, $25 for 'kill and chill']. $2.45/lb.

Second Step
Is $2.45/lb good? I peruse some online-flyers for a few box-store-grocers. $2.29 for blade steak. Blade roasts: $3. Loin seems to go for $4-6. Tenderloin: $5-6. So far so good.

Third Step
A heritage breed of locally produced pork, raised in a fashion where they are free to roam and forage outdoors would likely be less comparable to a Walmart product and moreso to another farmer’s-market-available-small-producing-carefully-raised-product. I thought a peer comparison might be more sensible. So I got in touch with one. First, they don’t sell whole sides, but offered I could buy a side of pig at retail at the markets. How sweet! And? Chops $9/lb. Tenderloin $15, Back Ribs $11.45, GROUND $7.89, Ham, $8.91. Not an entirely fair comparison [cut/wrap costs, etc], but close enough. This kind of sticker shock is what has, over the past few years, turned our morning shopping at the market to a morning walk through the market instead.

Because I use a wide variety of retail cuts anyway, the math instantly made me very, very chuffed. In my mind, I obtained superior product to the box-store pork I normally consumed, for significantly less cost. My inner cheap-ass and my inner food snob are having a rare moment of mutual happiness.