OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old. But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.
Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”. It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked. Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.
Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog. Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog. These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s. As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically pure European swine on the planet. These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.
Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am. Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws. We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets. Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.
While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge. The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way. They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project. As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.
Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now. I posted on that one several months ago. In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating. I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to. And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown. In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself. Here’s the photo tutorial.
Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.
And now a word from our sponsor: find the best, freshest coffee at:
WARNING: THIS POST IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THE SQUEAMISH
After 12 years of living in the southeastern United States, I consider myself a southerner. But every once in a while, my Pennsylvania Yankee roots show themselves, usually in connection with my food preferences. And one of my guilty food pleasures is a food that is loved by some and loathed by others: scrapple. Also known by the slightly more appetizing Dutch name of Pon Haus, or “ponhaws”, or the more descriptive name “pork mush”, scrapple is a unique Pennsylvania delicacy that does vary somewhat region to region. The common threads, however, are that it’s a food made from pork scraps, spices and cornmeal. Variations include the specific scraps of meat used (more specifically, whether the recipes include organs), the specific spice melange employed, and whether grains other than or in addition to corn are used.
I might not have ever been possessed to make scrapple myself, but for “the Ossabaw Project” I embarked on with a friend a couple years ago, and which is still ongoing. To make a long story short, we bought a couple Ossabaw gilts, which my friend raised on his Orange County, NC farm. Ossabaws are a heritage breed swine from Ossabaw Island, GA, and they are reknowned for their spectacular flavor and texture. We bred our gilts with a Duroc boar, another breed with wonderful eating characteristics. The resulting piglets have been some of the best pork I have ever tasted. In keeping with my desire to minimize waste and respect the animal, scrapple is a perfect food to make from scratch. It also happens to be exactly the kind of food that should be the focus of this blog: something that utilize “unusual” ingredients that people generally don’t know how to handle any longer. Including me, as it turned out.
Because even though I’ve eaten my share of scrapple, I really had very little idea how to make it. So I started where I usually start when I’m stumped: with a Google search. It turns out there are as many scrapple recipes as their are scrapple recipe authors. What I usually do in that situation is read as many as I can stand, and start to mentally construct my own recipes and techniques from the best of what I read.
The common threads I kept coming back to were some of the spices. Many of the recipes leveraged one or more of three spices: salt,
coriander seed and sage. I knew my recipe would include those in some way. I became very enamored of one recipe in particular, from the Food Network, of all places (I’m a big enough man to admit when I admire a Food Network recipe), and even more surprisingly, from Bobby Flay (I say surprisingly only because scrapple seems so unlike Bobby Flay’s usual cuisine choices). The thing I liked about the Food Network recipe was that it specified the use of roasted cornmeal, which is exactly what we make at our coffee roastery. Score! I also knew that any recipe I made would have to include pork liver (because what else would I do with it), and pork head, because while many other variations are possible, using the head for this purpose is very traditional.
Here’s the recipe I ultimately concocted:
1 lbs pork jowls, trimmed of fat
1 lbs pork liver
1.5 qts water
2 bay leaves
10 whole peppercorns
1-1/2 TBSP smoked sea salt
1-1/2 TBSP sea salt
1/2 TBSP dried sage
1/2 TBSP coriander seed, toasted and crushed
1/2 TBSP ground black pepper
3-1/3 cups roasted cornmeal
Here’s the photo tutorial on how to do it:
In any case, if you make your own (and I highly recommend you do – like everything else of this type, making your own is infinitely superior to what you can buy), be sure to share the recipe here. And make sure you’re drinking some fine Muddy Dog coffee when you eat it.
So I’m hopelessly behind on the Charcutepalooza challenge. I accept that. I will not finish all 12 challenges this year. My goal, then, is to make the challenges I do complete worthwhile.
The duck prosciutto challenge is now in the rear-view mirror, and I can say without a doubt it was a smashing success. The curing took a bit longer than expected – 2 weeks instead of one to achieve the 30% weight loss desired – but the result was so worthwhile. The prosciutto is slightly salty, but not so much that its “duckness” is lost. It has a smooth, almost creamy texture. We ate a little tonight with some beautiful cheese from the Hillsborough Cheese Co., and some nice wines. Fabulous.
With this one behind me, I’m looking forward to starting on one of the newer challenges.
It’s been 24 hours since I broke down my duck and salted the breast for proscuitto. It’s time clean it, dry it, wrap it, tie it and hang it. This is one of those times I miss my dad (more than other times) – that man was an idiot savant with ropes and cords, there was nothing he couldn’t lash, secure, bind and make beg for mercy. Me, I’m not so good with knots and ropes. So I checked my volumes of books (no luck), but found a good video on how to tie a roast HERE.
Here’s my pictorial on step 2 of the process:
Update in about one week!