Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day 31: The Finale. Holding Court

With all the excitement of today’s Moth of Pork finale, breakfast was the last thing on my mind.  I got off to a late start and picked up my 20lb suckling pig at about 10:30 am; I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to cook it, but Mike at Totera assured me that all I’d need was 3 hours at 350 degrees and then maybe a little time under the broiler to crisp up the skin.
I was handed a cardboard box and placed it on the front seat of my car since the trunk was already full.  When I opened the box on my counter I experienced the briefest of shocks, the pig that was tucked inside a plastic bag was positioned in such a way that it looked like it was both sleeping and smiling.  I wasn’t trying to be morbid or sensational when I began to take pictures, but I wanted to document the finale.  The truth is this: if pictures of dead animals make you uncomfortable, you should probably give up meat.  More and more often I seem to run into people who will happily cut into a piece of meat so long as they don’t have to acknowledge where it comes from.  I impatiently request that the ignorant masses who believe meat comes from magical Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic give their heads a shake and acknowledge the real source of their meal…dead animals.

This is where the meat you eat comes with it.

As I pulled the young pig from the bag and placed it in my sink to give it a rinse I knew I had a problem.  It was simply too big to fit on my barbecue.  I scrubbed the skin and placed it on my counter where I turned it over and salted the inside with Italian sea salt infused with sage, rosemary and thyme.  It’s my own version of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce since “I put that s*** on everything”.   I decided to cook it in two parts, one on the barbecue the other in the oven.  I drew a sharp blade through the skin at a point just past the last rib and cut right through to the spine on both sides.  Then I sharply cracked the spine and cut through the ligaments to split the pig in half.  It sounded like something out of a movie.  As if to protest my rough handling from the afterlife, I cut my finger on the pig’s teeth as I grabbed its mouth.

Prepared with a light seasoning of salt

Placing either half in separate pans, the hind end went into the oven, while the front went into the barbeque with the ears covered in foil.  The preparation was just as simple as what I described…salt the inside and place in the grill.  Since pork skin doesn’t lend itself to seasoning (it just falls off) there’s not much that you can do to it.  Furthermore, there’s not much that you need to do to it.  I rushed off to the grocery store and bakery to pick up some last minute supplies while the pig roasted and filled my neighbourhood with its mouth-watering aroma.  I opened the door on my return and the scent of roasted pork had already filled the house.  I left the front door open to share it with my neighbours; I was like the pied piper of pork!

Back: Oven.  Front: Barbecue.

What’s surprising about roasting the whole pig is how easy it is.  Apart from maintaining a constant temperature there was absolutely nothing to be done except covering the ears so they didn’t burn.  There’s no basting required since the skin seals everything in; you can actually see the juices bubbling up under the surface and hear the pops and crackles as the skin cooks and crisps up.
Guests slowly began to trickle in and eventually I had packed 18 hungry people into my humble home.  I lost interest in eating and concentrated on hosting.  Each half of the pig spent some time under the broiler to turn the skin into crackling… and crackle it did.  I first carved the hind quarters and used the “some for me, some for you” serving technique since it smelled so good.  The strange part is that after my cannibalism discussion with space in Taiwan a couple of years ago the hind quarters roasting in the oven looked like what I imaged “honey glazed children” would look like, if the child had a tail.  

Prompts memories of "Honey Glazed Children"

I dipped some bread into the pan dripping and made a mini sandwich of dripping bread, pork and crackling.  It was no bigger than two bites but so intense in its porkosity that it resulted in a taste bud shattering porkgasm.  Bowl after bowl was doled out to my hungry guests and I couldn’t help but smile when the compliments started rolling in.  But as I’ve already admitted, I hadn’t done much, if anything, other than picking the pig up, salting it and roasting it for a few hours.  I know people brag about cats being amazing animals because they can take care of themselves, but show me a cat that can cook itself!
The skin was a crowd favourite.  Thin and crispy, and with the smallest sprinklings of salt…absolutely delicious.  My brother Paul looked at a piece lovingly and just before popping it into his mouth remarked “if they could find a way to package this stuff, potato chips would be a thing of the past”.

Crispy skin: better than potato chips

Getting down to the business of carving

Pan drippings

Sandwich condiments

We moved onto the head and I stripped the skin in one piece and in one motion.  It was kind of like the first step to a piggy face transplant.  Skin aside, I popped the eyeballs out with a spoon and invited my guests into a rite of passage for people who expect to escape the horrors of “food loserdom”.  I cut each in three and game the pieces a dose of seasoned salt.  The pork eyeball virgins were invited to join me and I had a few takers.  My father refused yet another of my invitations saying “I know I’m a food loser, and I’m fine with it.”  Next on the food oddity journey was the brain.  With a couple of quick and sharp blows with the heel of my knife, I split the skull and extracted the fatty tissue.  I drizzled it with olive oil and spread it on some crostini to create another escape from the label of “food loser”.

Eyeball.  Food losers need not apply.

With all appetites satisfied, I finally made my own sandwich and didn’t hold back.  The bun was completely soaked in pan drippings, and then piled high with pork with a couple of layers of crackling and a slice of havarti cheese.  A final drizzle of pan drippings and some bomba (hot pepper sauce) elevated it to the status of “cult sandwich” and prompted my second porkgasm of the day.

The bun was merely a formality

Embracing my family’s peasant roots, I refused to let any of the pig go to waste and set to work stripping the bones of all the remaining meat.  My efforts resulted in 5 ziploc bags full of pork that I sent home with my guests.  My sister in law said that the bags of pork were better than any wedding bonboniere that she had ever received.

A different kind of strip Romanians!

Pork...better than bonboniere!

My Month of Pork had elevated the humble pig into an animal to be honoured and revered.  To close out the final feast, we raised shot glasses of grappa.  It’s another example of something humble being elevated to elegance since grappa, although now seen as a classy spirit, was originally distilled as a way to extract the last but of alcohol from the remains of wine production.   Straight home made stuff for the stronger of throat and stomach, my blueberry infused version for the weaker/fruitier set.
And so ended the Month of Pork, with a meal that completely met the criteria for being described as “holding court”.  I was surrounded by family and friends sharing a meal prepared with my hands, and more importantly prepared with my heart.  Thanks to my family, making meals with equal parts hands and heart is the way I like to do it, and the only way I know how to do it.
Salute a tutti!

Me with my "tea towel on the shoulder" look

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 30: the calm before the storm

Here I was, the second last day.  Tomorrow was already planned, a lunch with my family where a suckling pig would be the guest of honour.   But something about a big finish can make you take your attention off the here and now.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I had no will to make breakfast this morning, the other being that I was tired and cranky from a distinct lack of sleep.  The flap on the fan in my bathroom was slapping open and shut all night.  Sometimes I can tune it out, and other times it drives me nuts.  Last night was the latter.
I thought I could make up lost ground by picking up something close to work, but a packed schedule conspired against me… I gave up and vowed to make up for my breakfast laziness/failure at lunch…and I did.  By the time I got to eat, my stomach was making more noises than an old arthritic man climbing a set of steep stairs.  The groaning could be heard all across the office.  The cure was found in leftovers.  Not only did I assemble a kick-ass sandwich using last night’s pork cutlets topped with mayonnaise, grainy mustard, havarti cheese and a squeeze of lemon, but I also managed to find some fried pork dumplings at a place I go to often, but where I never noticed they made them.  Let’s call those dumplings buried treasure…even though they were quite fresh.

Pork cutlet sandwich

The pork dumpling cousin of the cookie monster...nom nom nom!

Blood sausage made another appearance at dinner.  In searching it out, I had made a quick sweep of St. Lawrence Market, but there was none to be found.  There was all manner of other sausages, game meats and every type of kebab known to man.  But still, no blood sausage.  Undeterred, I ventured into the recesses of the basement, where I found a small European grocer who had a long coil that looked like something out of an adult film…not that I would know of course.  I asked the girl “what do you serve with this?”  She looked at me blankly and said “You serve it hot” as if “hot” was an ingredient.  Dinner was hot blood sausage, pork liver pate with goat’s cheese brie and an arugula salad with avocado. 

Blook sausage...with the secret ingredient...heat

Pork liver pate on crostini

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day 29: More than just cooking

There’s no question that my cooking skills have improved since the beginning of March.  Not necessarily knife skills or technique, but more along the lines of what I’m able to cook.  Opening your horizons on what you will eat is just as important as improving your skills on how you will cook it.  I would have never thought that I would become a fan of kidneys, tails, feet and blood, but I did.  The doors of perception on what is possible with the humble pig have been blown wide open.
My cleaning skills are another thing that has improved since the beginning of March.  I’ve always been known for keeping a meticulous kitchen, but I’ve had to step up my cleaning regimen.  A lot of pork has gone through my kitchen, and with it, the splatters, drips and spills that go along with cooking.  I almost pulled my geriatric ripcord when I considered covering my whole stove top with aluminum foil so that cleanup would be easier, but esthetics got the better of me and I chose to stock up on Windex and paper towels instead.
Just saying aluminum foil reminds me of people who call it “foil paper”.  Where the hell did they come up with that?  They’re probably the same people who say tuna fish.  Why do they do that?  You don’t call salmon “salmon fish” or halibut “halibut fish”, so why “tuna fish”?  I don’t get it.  Maybe the foil paper people got wax paper and aluminum foil mixed up in their childhood after head trauma and never recovered.
Breakfast was another version of quick and easy.  In honour of my “anything goes” approach to breakfast, I made some pork and watercress wontons, and topped them with a drizzle of olive oil, soy sauce and some cracked black pepper.  I hate to admit it, but I showed this meal no respect and ate the wontons standing up while I caught the news on TV.  It’s sad when a meal gets reduced to an inconvenient necessity, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. 

I didn’t realize how much food was leftover from last night until I piled it into a plate at work.  This lunch of shoulder blade steak and pasta didn’t align with my portion control strategy, but I had a hard time pushing the plate away and ate most of it.  Alex was shocked to first see me eat that much, and then throw what remained of the pasta out.  “Two days in a row” I told him.  “It’s done.”

My original idea for dinner was to bread and fry some pork cutlets and have them with a salad, but that plan got thrown out the window when the phone rang and my mom invited me over for dinner.  Nino, a close friend of the family had brought dinner over and I they wanted me to join them.  In a complete and total acknowledgement of my mission, my mom said “We’re having pork.”  It was like music to my ears.  I told my mother that I’d come over, but only if we could make the cutlets; she assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.  Nino had prepared fettine di maiale alla pizzaiola, which loosely translated means pork cutlet with the toppings from a pizza: oregano, tomato, onion, garlic, peppers and mushrooms.

I only had half a portion while my mother got to work preparing the breaded cutlets.  It didn’t take her long, and before I knew it I had topped it with a squeeze of lemon and was half way to fried pork heaven.  I can’t be sure, but I think that I prefer the breaded pork to veal or chicken.  A blind taste test is in order.

Expert hands at work

We closed out the meal with zeppole, a traditional Italian dessert made in the weeks surrounding the feast of Saint Joseph on March 19th.  While the whole world gets drunk for St. Patrick’s day, the Italians eat zeppole and get fat for St. Joseph.  I have a suggestion for next year, bacon zeppole…trust me, it’ll work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 28: Restating the Goals

I stopped in to see the guys at Totera yesterday to order a suckling pig for the final dinner.  In speaking with Sam and Mike, I confirmed that I had eaten every “available” part of the pig, quite different from my original goal of “every” part of the pig; but I would have to be satisfied with that.  A combination of regulations and lack of a market for certain parts had conspired against me.  The guys told me that I could probably get those strange off cuts, but I wouldn’t be able to trust the source.  I’m a little disappointed in this setback, but I'll be successful in my main goal of featuring and not merely incorporating pork in each meal.

I hadn’t planned for breakfast, and my fridge which typically has a couple of tubs of yogurt in it was yogurtless.  I’ve been told by many that looking into my fridge you’d expect a family of four to be living in my house; not a single guy who loves to cook and eat.
I decided to stick with my original bacon yogurt idea from yesterday and picked up some greek-style plain yogurt and a takeout container full of bacon and a couple of breakfast sausages, I combined the two of them and used it as a dipping sauce for two Asian steamed buns; one with barbecued pork, the other with ham and egg.  I won’t claim that the experiment was a complete success; perhaps because the yogurt was too thick, or there wasn’t enough bacon in the yogurt, or maybe it was because I didn’t let the yogurt sit for long enough to absorb the bacon-ness.  I'll get it right next time.
Bacon holds amazing potential.

An aside about yogurt.  I watch a lot of cooking shows and have noticed that the Brits pronounce it “ya-gurt” and not “yo-gurt”.

I entered the boardroom where my working lunch webinar was taking place.  The rest of the people in the room were waiting for pizza to be delivered, but I didn’t plan on waiting for them to start my lunch.  It was piping hot from the microwave and when I opened the container, the aromas of both the sauce and the pork tongue in it filled the room.  I felt slightly self-conscious as I tucked into it.  Since I was the only one eating, I was reminded of those “celebrities eating” photos you sometimes see in the newspaper.  Against every instinct I cut small pieces, and ate very slowly so as not to give off the impression of being a glutton.  When it arrived, the pizza the others were eating looked undercooked and unappetizing, as if it was rushed through the cooking process to meet the “delivery in xx minutes or it’s free” deadline.  I declined a slice for that reason alone, but would have done so anyways since I’ve learned that pepperoni on mass market pizza is actually made of beef.  Sacrilege!

Dinner was simple.  I still had some sauce left from last night’s tongue, so I prepared a bit of pasta for it.  And then some pork shoulder blade steaks grilled quickly on the barbecue on account of their thickness, which was quite thin in fact.  I was thankful for the quick preparation since the meals for the last couple of nights we more like weekend meals that required at least a couple of hours to cook.  After work, a quick and easy dinner works for me; quick and easy…but don’t you accuse my pork of being dirty, that’s just plain ignorant.

"Pride of Szeged" rub in full effect.  Hungary shouldn't be so proud; it was just OK.

Day 28: Pork Based Media

I've been meaning to include some of these gems in my daily postings, but I keep forgetting.

Here they are in rapid fire fashion.

© 2011 – 2013 Alyson Thomas, available at

© 2011 – 2013 Alyson Thomas, available at