Alright, I’m not talking about some sort of porcine emotional ordeal where porky tears are shed and baconesque truths are revealed. I’m talking about the literal breaking down or taking apart of a whole 220 pound pig. Okay, so I didn’t personally do the actual breaking down of the pig, but I did witness it up close and personal. My friend Minh Tsai (aka Tofu master), the founder and proprietor of an Oakland based soy and tofu company which specializes in premium organic soy and tofu products – wait, why am I talking about soy and tofu when I should be talking about pork? Oh yeah, because Minh, being the mover and shaker that he is and becoming well known in the foodie circles of the Bay Area, hooked it up with the executive chef of this awesome Greek restaurant in SF called Kokkari to let me, Matt (of sourdough and dumpling fame) and Minh watch as he and his chef de cuisine break down a whole Berkshire heritage pig, something they do on a weekly basis.
Executive Chef Erik Cosselmon and the Chef de Cuisine Tony Cervone took about twenty minutes to break down the pig into basic cuts. After cutting off the head which is later brined and then boiled and made into a terrine, they cut the body into three sections: the shoulders, the belly and the hind quarters. These three sections they then split and then Chef Eric split the shoulders, separating the “butt” from the picnic ham. They keep these cuts simple because after brining them they cook them all on the rotisserie and slow roast them. But enough with the words. Check out the video.
If you didn’t catch it, here’s the recipe for the brine:
Because they’re brining such a large amount Chef Eric’s basic brine is 1 pound of salt to 4 gallons of water to which he adds 1 pound of brown sugar, and various spices and herbs (black pepper corns, mustard seed, coriander seed, fennel seed, bay leaves).
Since you probably won’t be using that much, I’ve calculated the basic brine proportions to be about 1 part salt to 7 parts water. And then you can put in however much of the spices you want.
Now, watching a pig being broken down might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, it was such a treat to see where these different cuts of meat come from. We grow so accustomed to seeing pieces of meat wrapped up in plastic and styrofoam without any sense that it comes from an animal. Obviously there are ethical and environmental concerns with eating meat and we could probably all benefit from limiting our intake of it, but I feel actually better for having seen how a whole animal is broken down and used in it’s entirety.