When Pigs Fly Part Deux
Jim Poris - September 2011
Seen this one before? Let’s see how it turns out this time.
OK. Please roll back the curtain so the Mystery Basket contestants can see. And…there it is, folks. The big secret Food Arts hid from them. Why, it’s the April 2006 issue, right there on page 64. None other than “When Pigs Fly,” opposite Ben Barker’s plate o’ pork and PIGDADDY North Carolina license plate. Yep, that was piggy parts, numero uno. And in an unprecedented move, Food Arts reprises the theme that Barker (Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC), Holly Smith (Cafe Juanita, Kirkland, WA), and Daniel Boulud (Daniel, New York City) so gamely and admirably tackled back then. Sorry about that little sleight of hand, contestants.
So let’s meet these contestants and tell them what’s up. Say hello to Anne Kearney of Rue Dumaine Restaurant in Dayton, Ohio. And there’s Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, South Carolina. As well as Alex Stupak of Empellón in New York City. Now, you see, Mystery Basket has covered almost every kind of meat and fish and cut thereof (while trying hard to stay away from the easy and obvious) in the 10 years since it first appeared in September 2001. Since chefs’ infatuation with the pig shows no signs of abating—and the enthusiasm for the odd parts grows in this game of culinary double-dare—we thought we’d bring back a winner and give Kearney, Brock, and Stupak a shot at the head, jowl, neck, ears, belly, trotters, and tail.
One change, however. They got a few more ingredients to play with, since they now had to use at least 23 instead of 17. So we tacked some on to the exact list Baker, Smith, and Boulud got over five years ago. For the record they received piggy parts—head, jowl, neck, ears, belly, trotters, and tail; salt and pepper; garlic; carrots with tops on; eggs; Swiss chard; olive oil; lemons; tomatoes; Asian pears; Tabasco pepper sauce; white wine; onions; peas in the pod; Arborio rice; celery; fresh shiitake mushrooms; jumbo lump crabmeat; ancho chiles; fresh goat’s milk cheese; sorghum syrup; whole milk; anchovies; huckleberries, and no more than six of the following herbs and spices: bay leaves, mint, marjoram, cilantro, saffron, rosemary, thyme, sage, mustard seeds, juniper berries, parsley, tarragon, basil, hot or sweet paprika, coriander seeds, cloves, nutmeg, savory, and curry powder.
Heads up, future Mystery Basketeers. You never know when we might repeat ourselves, repeat ourselves. Need we say more?
New York City
“Owning a restaurant—Empellón opened in early spring—has been a crazy experience that has given me little time to do anything else. Once I managed to carve out time to actually open my Mystery Basket, the goal was clear: to utilize all these great pork off-cuts while avoiding what the world of cooking needs least right now—another pork-centric dish. I’ve been extremely into Mexican cooking these days to the point of not wanting to think about anything else. Unfortunately, cooking a real Mexican dish is virtually impossible with this arsenal of ingredients. There was no masa or limes in sight and not really a variety of chiles either. What I was, however, able to preserve was a Mexican sensibility when it comes to balance in contrast both in flavor and texture. Using acid, seafood, and vegetables to balance all the meaty richness seem to yield a lighter dish while not pulling any porky punches.”
Pork terrine with crispy pig’s tail, chicharrón & crab-stuffed chard. “To make the terrine: peel the skin away from the pig’s belly; reserve. Soak all the piggy parts except the tail—head, jowls, neck, belly, ears, and trotters—in a brine of 20 parts water to one part salt for three days under refrigeration. Rinse the pig pieces and soak in water under refrigeration for three more days. Place the pig parts in a large pot; cover with water; add bay leaves, marjoram, onion, celery, carrots, and garlic; simmer 12 hours. Remove the head and trotters from the broth; debone, saving all the meat, fat, and skin; combine with all the other cooked pork parts. While still warm, run all the pig parts through a coarse meat grinder; flavor the mixture with salt, black pepper, saffron, ground mustard seeds, and ground coriander seeds; push the mixture into a third-size hotel pan lined with plastic wrap; refrigerate the terrine with a weight on it for at least 24 hours.
“Simmer the pig’s tail in water for three hours; remove; cool; remove the skin and bones; shred the meat as finely as possible by hand; fry the shredded tail meat in 375 degree olive oil until crisp; drain on paper towels; season with salt.
“For the chicharrón, boil the reserved pig’s belly skin for one hour; remove; cool; scrape off any fat; cut the skin into one-inch strips; dehydrate in a low oven for 12 hours.
“Blanch and shock the largest Swiss chard leaves you have; trim the stem; lay them top side down on paper towels. Beat goat’s milk cheese in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until soft; flavor with Tabasco pepper sauce, minced celery, minced parsley, minced anchovies, and some ground ancho chile; fold just enough of the cheese mixture into the crabmeat to bind it; place a spoonful of the stuffing onto each chard leaf; roll into packages.
“Roast some tomatoes; puree until smooth; season with lemon juice, olive oil, sorghum syrup, salt, and ancho chile. For other components for the dish: blanch and shock peas; remove their skins. Poach and chill shiitake mushrooms. Trim some baby Swiss chard leaves.
“Fry the chicharrón in olive oil; season with salt. Cut the pork terrine into bâtons. Place a pool of the tomato dressing in the bottom of a bowl. Place two of the pork terrine bâtons on top of the dressing along with three of the Swiss chard packages; garnish the dish with peas, shiitake mushrooms, baby chard leaves, cilantro, crispy pig’s tail, and chicharrón. As for a wine to match this, something far from Mexico, like the Austrian Johanneshof Reinisch Saint Laurent Qualitätswein Trocken Thermenregion 2008.”
Rue Dumaine Restaurant
“Early this spring, my husband, Tom, and I planned a three day trip to Chicago for late May, our first trip away in some time. A few weeks later I received a call from Food Arts, which set me to this Mystery Basket task. Turns out we were leaving for Chicago in 10 days, with many restaurants on our itinerary.
“During a great weekend in Chi-Town, we managed to devour a few tasty piggy parts: shoulder, neck, ears, tail, and blade steak, to name a few. While none of the dishes matched the flavors of the items I would ultimately create for Mystery Basket, I was inspired by the techniques used to achieve them. Nothing fancy here folks, just a few of the classics—braise, poach, sear, roast, and flash-fry.
“Upon our return to Dayton, I started this assignment by looking at the list of ingredients (nearly eight flipping times actually) and figuring out just how this unusual combination of ingredients would come together. I was blessed by the selection of piggy parts as the main protein, as I could live on pig alone. The first thing I did was start a new batch of preserved lemons; yeah, you got it—lemons and salt—two items on the list. Oh happy day! I have limited experience working with ears and tails—I can cook a tasty trotter, our pancetta rocks, and my sous chef, Brian Griffey, makes a mean air-dried sausage—so I asked Tom, a sausage maker in his formative days, to procure the more obscure parts as I began working with the easily obtained pieces. Because of the different techniques that needed to be applied to the more off-the-wall parts, I decided to create a tasting of pig that I could serve family-style.
“While I look forward to most food-related calls, I especially enjoyed this one asking me to participate in this project. There are times when the world just takes over, and I get pulled away from the whole reason I’m in the restaurant business: I like to cook. Focusing on this allowed me to think outside of my comfort zone to ultimately create some great food. Piggy parts: oh, how I enjoyed this!”
This little piggy went to market: Flash-fried golden boulette of pork neck, shiitake mushrooms & goat’s milk cheese risotto with roasted tomato coulis. “Pressure cook the pig’s neck in a broth boosted by white wine, shiitake mushroom stems, onions, celery, and thyme. Toast Arborio rice; grind into a flour; season with salt and black pepper. Make an egg wash. Pick the meat from the neck; make a risotto using Arborio rice and the neck broth, starting with a finely diced onion, celery, and sliced shiitake mushrooms; fold in the neck meat and a knob of fresh goat’s milk cheese; adjust seasoning; pour onto a tray to cool. Scoop into small balls; dredge in the Arborio rice flour, egg wash, then the rice flour again; chill. Make a coulis from onion, garlic, and roasted tomatoes. Flash-fry the petites boulettes [French for little balls] in olive oil until golden. Serve with the coulis. So tasty!
“Next, a dish I’ll call salad of crisp pig’s ears, jowl, Asian pear, and peas. Poach pig’s ears in a broth seasoned with onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and salt and pepper until very tender; cool slightly; cut the skin from the cartilage; julienne the skin. Dice the pig’s jowl; render slowly until crisp; drain; set aside to cool for a few minutes. Julienne the peas in the pod; blanch; shock; drain; place in a bowl; add chopped tarragon and carrot tops, jowl, a micro brunoise of preserved lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Peel and julienne the Asian pears; flash-fry the pig’s ear julienne; add both to the bowl. Season with salt and black pepper; adjust the acid with lemon juice, and dive in! This dish made me happy!
“As did the next one, which made some people surprisingly happy. This is coriander braised pig’s tail with charred tomato and ancho chiles. Sear pig’s tails seasoned with freshly ground toasted coriander seeds, salt, and black pepper; add chopped onion and garlic; cook until wilted; add charred tomatoes, ancho chiles, and diced carrots; deglaze with white wine; add water to nearly cover; cover; braise in a 300 degree oven until the tails are tender. Reduce the braising liquid; add a shot of Tabasco pepper sauce and a generous amount of chopped cilantro; mix with the tails and then eat it up. Yum! Even our vegetarian gm tasted it. Pig’s tail! Really?!
“And one more—slow-roasted pork belly with huckleberries—which can be put down in the center of the dinner table and served right out of the pan. Score the meat side of the pig’s belly and liberally rub all over—as well as deep into the grooves—with olive oil, chopped garlic, sorghum syrup, and black pepper; refrigerate overnight. The next day, season the belly with salt; place skin side up in a large sauté pan or roaster; roast in a 275 degree oven for four and a half to five hours. Make a compote by combining the huckleberries with a shot of sorghum syrup, black pepper, and a pinch of rosemary; simmer until thickened and syrupy; chill. Pull off a nice piece of belly, top with a dollop of compote, and enjoy.
“I chose to place the various preparations on an oval plate with the intention of the guests eating their way through the pig clockwise from head to tail. Pull a nice piece off of the pork belly; place at 12 o’clock; garnish with the huckleberry compote. At 3 o’clock place two or three tail pieces, complete with anchos and tomatoes and a drizzle of sauce. Put a few boulettes at 9 o’clock and garnish with tomato coulis. Complete the plate with a freshly tossed pig’s ear/jowl salad. While a plated presentation may fulfill the requirements of Mystery Basket, I’d approach this a bit more casually and just serve this family-style. Either way—pinky raised or shirt-stained—this makes for good eating. I think the Von Othegraven Riesling Kabinett Feinherb Mosel Wiltingenkupp 2008 should cover the bases here.”
McCrady’s and Husk
Charleston, South Carolina
“I love reading the Mystery Basket segments in Food Arts. Maybe it’s because I like to see people squirm. Every time I read it, I try and put myself in the other person’s shoes. What would I do? Is it fun? Is it hard? More often that not, I am thankful I’m the reader and not the cook. But when Food Arts called to ask if I’d be interested in trying, I was so pumped that I immediately agreed. Then I hung up the phone and remembered how I always felt sorry for the people cooking the Mystery Basket. When the email came through with the list of ingredients, I sat there reading it, shaking my head. Oh boy, here we go—this is what is feels like to stare at the Mystery Basket ingredients with no clue or direction. When my head stopped spinning, I decided to get organized. First, I placed everything into groups: vegetables, fruits, dairy, seafood, protein, spices, herbs, starches, and, of course, ‘other.’ Once that was done, I started feeling better, because this is exactly how we write the menu every night at Husk. No problem, I got this! Then I realized I wasn’t writing a menu. All these ingredients had to go into ONE DISH! My head started spinning again. How was I going to make one plate with all these pig parts?
“I really wanted to make sure that the dish wouldn’t be out of place at either of my restaurants. That wasn’t going to be easy. Here is my attempt. I hope you like it. While putting this dish together, the song Pigs in Zen from Jane’s Addiction just happened to be playing in the kitchen. It seemed only fair to name the dish after such a great song.”
Pig in Zen with goat’s milk cheese custard, English peas & raw huckleberries. “Bring five gallons water, five cups salt, two cups sorghum syrup, five bay leaves, two tablespoons black peppercorns, three tablespoons coriander seeds, four tablespoons juniper berries, and some freshly grated nutmeg to a simmer; cool to room temperature; refrigerate until cool; add all the piggy parts—head, jowl, neck, ears, belly, trotters, and tail—to the brine; refrigerate 24 hours.
“Remove the piggy parts from the brine and rinse under cold running water. Place the ears in a pressure cooker; season with salt; cover with water; pressure cook on high for 90 minutes; remove from the pressure cooker; reserve the cooking liquid; refrigerate ears until cool; cut the ears into long, thin strips; reserve.
“Remove the skin from the belly; place the skin in single layers inside plastic food bags; vacuum seal; cook sous-vide in a water bath set at 83 degrees Celsius [181˚F] for 24 hours; chill in an ice bath; remove the skins from the bags; scrape away all the fat [this will take some time]. Place the skins in a dehydrator; dehydrate overnight; when dry, snap them into small pieces; place in a blender; cover with liquid nitrogen; blend into a fine powder; sift through a tamis to remove any large pieces. Just before plating, fry these larger pieces in olive oil heated to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. They will come out like pork popcorn.
“Mix five tablespoons sorghum syrup, three tablespoons Tabasco pepper sauce, and one tablespoon sweet paprika; rub over the pork belly; smoke pork belly six hours over hickory wood heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit; reserve, keep warm.
“Saw the head in half; remove the brain; reserve. Place the head, including the jowls, into a large pot along with the tail, neck, and trotters; add roughly chopped celery, onion, and carrots, reserving the carrot tops for garnish; cover with water and two cups white wine; add two bay leaves, one tablespoon juniper berries, one tablespoon coriander seeds, and seven garlic cloves; bring to a simmer; simmer four hours, skimming often. When the meat is tender, remove from the pot; cool; strain the braising liquid; reduce by half, skimming away impurities. Pick the meat from the bones; peel and dice the tongue; place all the picked meat into a bowl; add lots of chopped tarragon and the zest and juice of two lemons; season with salt and pepper; reserve, keep warm.
“Remove the stem from the shiitake mushrooms; toss the caps in olive oil; season with salt and black pepper; grill over a very hot flame on both sides. Dice the mushrooms; add the pulled and chopped pork mixture, lightly folding everything together. Place in a two-inch deep hotel pan; cover with the reduced braising liquid; refrigerate at least four hours; when firm, cut into one-inch by three-inch rectangles; refrigerate.
“Grind Arborio rice in a wheat mill to produce rice flour; season with salt. Make an egg wash with the milk and eggs, adding a splash of water to thin it out. Dip the pork terrine into the egg wash and then into the rice flour. These will be pan-fried in olive oil right before plating.
“Mix one and one-half cups milk with two eggs and 1 cup goat’s milk cheese; season with the zest of one lemon and salt; place into ramekins; bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees; cool slightly.
“Remove the peas from their pods; put the pods through a juicer along with one cup shelled peas; heat the peas in the pod juice to order, seasoning with a chiffonade of mint and salt; finish with a swirl of olive oil.
“To serve, fry the julienned pig’s ears in olive oil; place on paper towels to drain. Place the peas in the center of the plate, dotting them with fresh huckleberries. Place the flan on the peas; garnish with fried pig’s ear, picked carrot tops, and tarragon leaves. Pull some smoked meat from the belly; place off to the side; top this with the pan-fried crispy terrine rectangles. Sprinkle the plate with the pork popcorn. Going with Pinot Noir here, the 2008 Domaine Serene Dundee Hills Mark Bradford Vineyard.”