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).