Sunday, February 28, 2010

Butchery Continued: The Pig

Pork is my great love, holding in it some of the great wonders and mystic qualities of the culinary world. There are a few facts and ratios in food that give one glimpses into the cosmic, on of my favorites is that there is nearly perfect ratio of fat to lean meat in the pork shoulder for sausage production. There is nothing of the pig that is wasted in my kitchen. I will pickle the pigs tail to keep for wonderful stews or bean dishes, the skins is crisped for cracklings and used in a plantain dumpling, ribs (enough said), hams, sausage from every scrap, the feet used for enriching dishes or in hundreds of preparations of their own, the entire loan section is a treasure trove of chops and roasts, and the head we find jowl for bacon, checks for braising, tongue, or the whole head in glories of the world selections like head cheese or tete de cochon (a rolled deboned braised pigs head).

A quick reminder mentioned in the last butchery article, be prepared. If you are going to bring a whole pig into your home make sure you can work cleanly and be prepared to handle the massive amount of meat in a timely fashion. Do some research beyond this article and have a plan.

From here on out when it comes to butchery it is a lot of repetition, mammals that we eat are pretty much structured the same with only a few variations on the traditional uses of the parts. A lot of the variations come from the size of the animal. The pig is normal broken down into eight sections; the ham, ribs, belly, loin, butt or shoulder, picnic, feet or trotters, and head. Some additional pieces that can either be used for flavoring or eating portions are the tail and hock, and the head can be broken down into more sections; jowl, ear, snout, cheeks, tongue, and brain, or merely left whole. Outside of the cuts of muscle that are found on the pig there are a lot of good pieces of offal (organ meat) that the pig offers us; kidney, heart, stomach, intestine, spleen, and blood. The best way to insure that your pig comes with all of its lovely bits is to buy a pig before it is killed. You will be quoted a live weight prices by the farmer, this is the weight before slaughter that you will pay. To gain the maximum cost benefit it is good to get all of the part you can out of the pig, either way you get your whole pig you will find in the cavity one of the kidneys. This from the inspection of the pig, their will be a small cut in the kidney where the check the quality of the organ to insure the health of the pig, and is left for you to be able to do the same.

If you get your pig in whole (the extra bits will come in already removed) you will need to remove the spine from the loin, hip, and shoulder, this will call for a saw. You can have this done by a butcher, but you will have less control on how you portion the animal, so let use assume that you pig is whole. I like to start at the end of the pig and work my way up. Like remove the chick thigh, move around the base of the back leg with you knife keeping as close as possible to the area between the loin and leg working yourself to where the hip and thigh bone meet. Here you have a chose of how to remove the leg. You can either just saw thru the leg bone, quick and easy, or work the ball joint out slowly with the tip of you knife. The leg will break down into three sections; the vast majority of the leg is your ham. After the ham is your hock, which makes up the ankles of the pig (wonderful simply salted and smoked to flavor dishes), and any thing that remains is your foot or trotter. The decision as to where to separate these is based on the location of the joints, or, if going thru with a saw, you can fudge this a little by deciding on how much of the pieces you want to use. If you plan on serving a trotter dish or make a trotter sausage you might want to make the cut a little higher sacrificing some of the hock. Moving on, you will now do the same on the other side. Move down to the other side of the pig, and begin removing the head. Find the area where the shoulder ends and the neck begin and cut just down to the spine around the top and sides of the neck. Follow your cuts on either side down to separate the jowl from beast; this will be the low hanging front of the neck. The only pieces holding on to the head is the neck bone, just take your saw to the neck and the head will come free.

The fore legs of the pig are comprised of the shoulder (pork butt), picnic (upper arm), hock, and front trotters. They are removed in the same fashion as the hind leg, search for the area where the large muscle mass attach to the shoulder blade, and work your knife behind the blade to remove the fore arm from the carcass, it is held to the body by just a few tendons and a simple joint. Afterward you identify its three sections and make quick work on them with knife and saw.

The belly or bacon is easily removed now. Returning to the hind section of the pig examine the cross section of the back end of the belly, this will be quickly recognized by the familiar pattern of meat and fat we know of as bacon, and determine the how far up the belly goes toward the spine. Begin your cut running parallel to the spine thru the belly till you reach the ribs, and continue your cut along the top of the ribs; cutting thru the belly on the top of the ribs. This gives you a guide for you next two cuts to fully remove the belly and ribs. First, start by running your knife along inside of your cut, pulling up on the belly, and scraping along the ribs to release the belly. Keep the knife at a 20 degree angle with the blade pointed to the rib to remove the belly cleanly without loosening too much meat to the ribs. Once the belly has come free repeat this cut on the other side. The now exposed ribs came be removed with a saw following your original cut giving you two sides of ribs.

Our big challenge comes in removing the loin sections. There is a lot going on in here, and since it has been two months since I have done this my visualization of the area may be a bit grey, so if you get lost here simple email me for clarification. We will start with removing the remaining neck bones and tail. The tail is easily recognized by its end, and its beginning is I mark by the remainder of the hip bone. I simple cut right thru all of this with a saw; afterwards I will cut this into one inch sections for use in rice or braised dishes. The mound of bone and small flesh that makes up the neck is treated just the same. I cut this off around the beginning of the ribs then saw it thru in center (along the spine) and into smaller cuts for braising. The loin itself is simple to break down once it is removed from the spine. You want to begin with a shallow cut to the side of the spine to reveal where the ribs and spine meet just under the skin and fat. Use your saw to cut thru these bones, while being careful not cut into the loin just below. Once the two loins are removed the spine can be cut into sections for stock production.

The loins them selves are made up into four sections, the tender loin (a thin strip of flesh found on the underside of each loin to the end), the end roast, center loin (where our best chops come from), and front loin. The two end pieces came be spotted by the bulging at either end, which give the whole loin a slight hourglass shape. You can take you knife between the ribs just to the inside of the bulge. The three sections of the loin can be keep whole for roast, or cut between the ribs to produce rough chops. To clean the chops just remove the area of fat and skin on the outside of the bone; even scraping down the bone for a cleaner presentation. If you are planning on clean chops you may want to remove the layer of fat and skin before breaking down the loin to give yourself a nice sheet of fat back for sausage production or curing whole for Lardo (a Italain cured fat).

Yeast Productions

Bread is life, and when it comes to creating a reproducing food source in your kitchen there is nothing cheaper or more filling. The basic ingredients in bread are flour, water, salt, and yeast, and the only ones of these you need to buy is the flour and salt. Water we will always just chalk up to the cost of living, it either comes free or is with housing cost. Salt, despite it history as one of the most costly and desired kitchen items, comes to us very cheaply, and even though flour can be purchased very cheaply it is one of the items that I suggests exploring to find good bread flour that excites your palate. Yeast is the true free one, yeasts are a single cellular fungi that exist every where. Once I wanted to make bread for my sister for her wedding, so I called my father to give him my starter recipe. He argued the point that the recipe called for no yeast. I told him he had plenty of yeast floating in the air he just need to catch them, but he promised me that he keep his kitchen very clean and he had no yeast, but two days later he called to tell me of the bubbling alien life that was growing in a bowl on his counter. Yeast simply roams the world looking for a home, and our job as a baker is to give them a home in exchange for bread. Here is my ideal recipe for a yeast farm (I think the concept of a farm or home is better in understanding the nature of yeast then calling it a bread starter),

1lb flour

16 fl oz water

1 bunch of grapes (squeezed and strain of solids)

just like us yeast need food and water, and they live on water and sugar. They obtain the sugar from both the grapes juice, as well as eating the carbohydrates of the flour. It is the flour that needs to be replenished as time goes on to keep you farm alive. Now we have dealt with housing and feeding our yeast we must get into that all so unpleasant next steps when keeping a pet, cleaning up after its poo. Yeast, like any other critter, does two things; eats and shits, and the byproduct of all of it sugar gouging is carbon dioxide, which will be wonderfully helpful when we start making bread, and alcohol. Yeast make all of that wonderful alcohol we find in our wines and beers, and the reason that we don’t open up a aged bottle of wine and find it over run with yeast is that yeast dies after their environment reaches a 16% alcohol solution (to understand spend a week in your room till you room is filled up to 16% by your own waste, and see how you feel). So we need to clean the litter box ever few days to insure that our yeast live long happy life (which in fact is very brief, we are just creating an ever growing civilization of yeast). This can be achieved in two methods, both of which involves the removing a portion of the farm and replace it which an equal portion of flour and water equal to the amount of farm you have removed. The first is removing a third of the product and throwing it a way, but what a waste of the yeast that you have so carefully raised. The best solution is to bake a loaf of bread. Take that portion that is to be thrown away, add some more flour, water, and salt, and turn it into wonderful chewy crusty bread.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Home butchery is the one of the best method in controlling cost in your kitchen, as well as giving you a better relationship with your food. Though it does require some tools that you may not have in your kitchen, their will be some need to get through some pretty heavy bones, and, as any gruesome civil war movie will show you, the best method is a saw. A simple hack saw with a metal cutting blade will make quick work of a bone and give you pause to wonder how you have ever manage to break bone. A good sharp knife, and it is important to keep you knife very sharp for butchery, is a absolute necessaite and having a boning knife help a great deal (though I have taken apart a whole pig with just a saw and chefs knife, it is advisable to have a boning knife).

In addition to your equipment, before you even make a cut or bring the animal into your kitchen, a plan is a must. With a pig you are more than likely to be getting into some curing, so have all of you cures and brines ready to go. It would even to good to have some assistance, so that as the pieces come off they can be handed off to go straight to their cure. Pieces to be kept fresh should be place immediately on ice, keep a bowl of ice near by with another bowl on top of the ice to place chops, roast, or loins to be packet up and stored for later use. Nothing should come off the animal without you know where they are going and what they will be used for. In the end you will have plentiful supply of bones for stock and fat for sausage or rendering which should be start right away.


The basics of the break down of a chicken can be applied to any fowl with only a little tweaking, such as the trimming of fat from the duck, or some small fowl may come to you viscera intact. The fowl is either prepared whole or broken down into some basics components, breast, leg and thigh (either left whole, or separated for certain preparations), and some times the wings. The wings I will divide into to two parts. The first section, the drumette, I will leave attached to the breast. In the classical culinary cannon this is often done for appearance, but has the added benefit of flavor that bone-on-meats have. It also allows for the flavorful nugget of meat you will get in your hot wings left attach to the breast (the use of the wing for production of hot wings is a bit of a mess of logistics, since each chicken only provide a four pieces meal). The remainder section of the wing made up of the fore arm of the chicken and tip is called the wing tip, which will is reserved for stock. Though there is one good use for the wings, which is in the classic breakdown for the great eight piece chicken (a favorite cut of mine for fried chicken), in this style I will cut off the tip at the last joint and steel a little of the breast meat to give my wing portion a little more meat. I have little problem in sacrificing the breast since I find it to be typically a uninteresting section of meat its only real useful property is it is easily deboned, lean, and convenient for cooking, but has a lack of flavor and easily dries out.

Deboning a chicken

Begin by placing the chicken breast side down and make a shallow cut along the back bone from neck to tail. Then locate the oysters, they are to marble sized ball just above the hip on either side of the spine. Create a second line, just above the oysters, about two inches long making a cross. With your knife point release the oysters without removing then by coming at them from the center of the cross, and sliding underneath them with a circular motion scraping along the bone basin they sit in. Take hold of the thigh with one hand and, with your other inside the cavity of the carcass hold on to the spine, bend the thigh back till you feel it pop out of sock, repeat with the other side. Starting from the cut to remove the oyster pull your knife around the inside of the thigh to the front; cutting down close to bone being careful not to remove too much skin from the breast. With this last cut you should be able to see the joint that you dislocated earlier, simply follow thru with the knife and fully remove the thigh. If you wish to separate the leg and thigh at this point place the piece skin side down on your cutting board and examine the area of flesh where the two pieces meet. You will see a thin white line of fat, if you cut thru just on the leg side of the line, with the cut running parallel to the line, you should cut cleanly without hitting any bone. Turn the bird on to its back with the point of the breast point away from you. With you fingers feel in the fleshy area of the breast where the meet the neck opening, you should feel a triangular bone, the wishbone, running along it. Carefully slide your knife just above the bone on either breast; just enough to reach in to the cut grab the bone. Give a firm pull and it should come out with minimal tearing to the breast (do not worry if it doesn’t come out whole, the bone is often broken during the process of butchering). Turn the bird around now so that the point of the breast is come toward you. Like on the back, make a shallow cut thru the skin down the line separating the two breasts. Follow thru with shallow cuts to the breast bone. Continue the cut on one side using the bone as a guide to your knife. As you continue the cut you will see the beast coming off of the carcass, there are two warnings here for you. First as the point of the breast comes off you will see that it is mostly attached by cartilage, be careful that you are not cutting thru the cartilage leaving part of it on your breast. Secondly, as you remove the front part of the breast (you will also see how easily this comes off thanks to removing the wishbone first) you will come across where the breast, carcass, and wing come together. First concern yourself with removing the wings from carcass by finding three tendons around the joint, once removed you should be able to follow thru with the cut removing the breast and wing still attached. From here you need to decide what will happen to the wing. If you wish to keep the wing whole as another portion cut thru the breast sacrificing some of its meat toward the wing, making it a little more of a substation portion. If the wing is not to be used as a potion I would leave the drumette attached to the breast by cutting thru the wing at its first joint past the breast. The remainder of the wing goes to stock, while you have a breast with the drumette attach as a flag, which makes a lovely and classical presentation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Importance of Sharing

My friend Sarah speaks of this mythological grandmother that is capable of producing enough food for any number of people no matter the time or restraints of her larder. This is not legendary Greek figure of the harvest, but simply the long standing tradition of hospitality. In Tannahill's Food in History she spoke of the transformation that occurred in the twentieth century in hospitality. How people changed their perception that to take a person out for dinner was a reflection of you cooking skills and hospitality to the modern standard of treating someone to a restaurant was a gracious act. Today it is a show of financial security, but against us strapped the ability to feed our friends and guest is not just a gesture of kindness it allows us to relish in our own, even if small, bounty.

Siting in my pantry is a 25 lb bag of rice. It is an ever present reminder that no matter what happens I will not starve, I may come to resent the smell of a steaming bowl of rice, but it also means that whom ever may enter my house can be feed. When ever I cook dinner, which is normally a bowl of rice with onion, thyme, and jalapeno, with, ever other day or so, about seventy to eighty cents of pork, I always make sure to make enough for three. After taking my portion I leave the rest on the top of the stove, so that any who wish can take. Most nights this is packed away for the next few days, but their is always food for others.

On of the greatest struggles of poverty is not the lack of food, which can always be found, but the segregation from society. After bills and grocery this is nothing for social affairs that allow for meeting or entertaining. This keeps most of us restricted to the home outside of work, and the hope for company. The allure of food is our only hope to keep us social integrated. So here is my favorite recipe to feed lots of people, as well as the one dish that driven all of my culinary studies.

Red Beans and Rice

Red beans and rice is what it says, when I hear red beans and rice is offered I know that their no promises of sausage or unique spices. The list of ingredients is as follows red beans, onion, fat, salt, rice and water. Many people have tried to play up the dish with a long list of ingredient in attempt to cover the blandness of the rice and beans failing to understand that a well salted bean develops massive flavour and a real butteriness. The addition of a nice bit of smokey pork either on the bone or as sausage is not damaging, in fact helps, but is by no means necessary to the dish.

3lbs Red Beans
1 Onion, chopped

Sweet the onions in a large pot (the fat is based on what is available, olive oil adds a beautiful richness to the beans, but I always have raw lard in my house). Once the onions have become clear, but not brown, add the beans and enough water to come two to three inches above the bean. More water can be added later, and if you add to much you can cook it down later (it only helps add to the fullness of the liquor)

Once the beans are fully cook and tender salt the dish; adding a little at a time and stirring till the salt fully dissolves in the dish before adding more. The goal is for you to push what you believe to be the proper salt level. It should taste salty, as opposed to most dishes where the salt should bring out the flavor with out being salty. To understand the balance of flavor taste a piece of well salted butter on bread. Let the pot sit and blossoms while you cook your rice.

Rice is cook at a 2:1 ratio, that is two cups of water for every one cup of rice. Bring the water to a bowl, add rice, and cover. Once the water returns to a bowl you will reduce the heat, and the rice will be ready in twenty minutes.

To serve spoon rice in bowl or plate and cover with plenty of beans and the liquor. The liquor is the term for the gravy or liquid that the beans are in, this is also used to describe the vinegary liquid around braised greens.