The Corner Table’s Pig! Butchering & Cooking class
It would be disingenuous to the animal not to make the most of the whole beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavorsome, which lie beyond the fillet. – Fergus Henderson
Some girls hang photos of hot guys or kittens on their office walls. I’ll admit I once had a photo of Adrian Paul on my wall but I had a BIGGER photo of Fergus Henderson . . . sitting in a window display of meat. So it’s no surprise that I would approach a hog butchering class with the giddiness of a schoolgirl. I did resisted jumping up and down and squealing only because my 22-year-old son was taking the class too.
We were the first to arrive at Rustica, where The Corner Table’s classes are held. Chef Scott Pampuch and his class assistant, Meghan, were setting up and getting ready, so we had a chance to watch Scott up close and in action cooking up appetizers. Scott is hard to photograph. He is always in motion.
We had a lovely spread of homemade sausages, house-cured ham, and rillettes on baguettes accompanied by Prosecco.
While our mouths were full, Scott gave an introduction to the evening, telling us a bit about our guest of honor, a Duroc hog from Eric Klein’s Hidden Stream farm. Although Duroc sounded like a Klingon name to me, these pigs are red, large-framed, medium length, and muscular, with partially drooping ears, and tend to be one of the most aggressive of all the swine breeds. So, actually they have a lot in common with Klingons.
Breaking down the pig
We now moved to the back of the kitchen, where our pig was wheeled out and we met “face to face.” Scott went to work, and what better place to start than the cheeks, which are always one of the best parts of any animal.
Scott moved on to the body of the pig, first removing the ham. He began by cutting the muscle around the joint . . .
Even though this is a large animal, the best way to go through the joint is to use some good old-fashioned elbow grease to pop it. It took a lot of strength to pop that joint, but a kitchen shears wasn’t going to cut it here. . .
And the result was a nice clean separation.
Since the rest of the pig doesn’t come apart that “easily”, some heavier tools came out. Personally I was hoping for a Sawzall, but apparently they’re not allowed in a commercial kitchen. Scott now went to work on my favorite part, the pork shoulder.
We were allowed to get as involved as we wanted to be. Off camera, appropriately enough, a surgeon was boning out the ham.
Below, Scott used his prized antique cleaver on some chops. I wish I had a photo of that cleaver. It was so beautiful and coveted by everyone there. It was passed around the room to many ooohs and aaahs.
A fellow classmate, who was also a vet, examined the joints of the ham bone (below).
Check out the beautiful fat cap on these chops!
Here is a beautifully marbled roast salvaged from meat around the neck. I’d choose this over pork loin any day.
Scott illustrated how NOT to measure how much curing mixture to use. In other words, be generous.
A classmate boned out the shoulder and it was rubbed with curing mixture and topped with thyme. Isn’t it beautiful?
Here the pork belly is being separated from the ribs. Pork belly and ribs are tied for second place as my favorite pig parts. One of my son’s favorite dishes is roasted pork belly with a nice layer of crackling over the top. As a side note, I asked Scott why it is almost impossible to find skin-on pork around here, and it is because there is only one scalding facility in the area, at the U of M. We need a grassroots movement to make skin-on pork more available.
Some of us were put to work cutting pork and fat into cubes, and others prepping herbs for making sausage.
A couple of guys use a mixer attachment to grind pork. It’s important to keep the pork cold while grinding so that the fat doesn’t get soft and begin to melt.
Scott demonstrates grinding pork by hand.
Scott made it look easy to stuff sausage casings.
I’ve made sausage before, but I’ve never had a chance to stuff casings. I couldn’t wait to try, but discovered it’s not as easy as it looks. I did not have a delicate touch and kept tearing casings. I admired the chef’s restraint in letting me make a mess of it
Dinner is served
We all worked up an appetite working with all of that beautiful pork. It was time for Scott to start making us dinner.
I was so focused on the pork that I only kept track of two of the beverages that accompanied our courses. The locally brewed Lift Bridge Chestnut Hill, an American-style spiced dark brown ale; and my favorite of the evening, Deus Brut des Flandres, which was a refreshing combination of a dry sparkling wine and a pilsner.
Lardo and microgreens salad
Scott cut thin slices of cured lardo . . .
And quickly seared them in a smoking hot pan until they were transparent.
The lardo slices were laid on a bed of microgreens and dressed with a vinaigrette made from a red onion pickling brine.
Lardo has a texture that is familiar in Chinese cuisines, but it can be an acquired taste to Americans. Slippery, silky, with a slight crunch like cartilage, it reminds me of jellyfish or fungus. The difference, is that while jelly fish and fungus are prized more for their texture than flavor, cured lardo has the bonus of wonderful flavor. We were asked to hold it in our mouths to taste a progression of flavors.
I cut a piece and put it on my tongue. I felt a bit like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The first impression was the slipperiness of fat, followed by the bite of the vinaigrette. Then the slight hint of porkiness developing into a smoky flavor. It was delicious, not to mention it felt slightly naughty. I was eating pure fat and loving it! And I was not embarrassed to be eating it either. Everyone else at the table was doing it too.
“Bacon & Eggs”
This was my favorite course of the night. It had so many flavors and textures, as well as being comfort food.
Scott called this bacon and eggs, or pork cooked four ways: eggs and cream scrambled in rendered lardo; diced fried bacon; a lightly sauteed pork medallion from our pig; a rich pork stock. As long as I was eating fat, could I throw caution to the wind and drink the stock out of my soup bowl? I opted for sopping up the broth with Rustica baguette slices; a win-win solution.
Pork sirloin chop with cabbage and apples
These chops had been cured for about an hour to demonstrate how much flavor could be achieved in that short a time. To avoid overcooking, they were seared in a smoking hot cast iron pan on one side for a few minutes. Then the flame was turned off and the cooking was finished with the residual heat of the pan. Once again, we were encouraged to eat the fat because the flavor of the cure would really come through there. The chop was accompanied by sauteed cabbage and apples with scrumptious pan juices. Almost as scrumptious as that fat!
Of course there would be pork for dessert! A slice of rich pastry topped with a slice of glazed pancetta and a schmear of sheep’s milk blue cheese. Since I can never resist playing with my food, I cut a slit in my pastry and stuffed it with the blue cheese and wrapped the bacon around it before eating. What better way to end the evening?