I never grew up eating much pork and until last year I had actually never cooked it before, except for some sausages, which I botched. It's actually pretty amazing how little I knew about cooking, it's no wonder people my age have such a hard time cooking healthy. Thankfully, New York City has become a capital of all things pork and there are tons of workshops and talkative butchers who have guided me well enough that my decision to buy pig shares at two farms (The Piggery and Old Field Farm) has not been a disaster.
In fact, it's gotten me cooking eating plenty of pork cuts I would never think to buy. I also got the Momofuku cookbook. I'm ashamed to say I am a David Chang/Momofuku groupie (does that make me a PaleoHipster?). Momofuku restaurants serve good food at fairly reasonable prices and I really really admire that since I don't make tons of money, but besides that, his food really is damn delicious.
The thing I really like about his book is that it's so systematic. You can trace the ingredient cycle and see how far certain ingredients go. It's a pork-based nose to tail kitchen with pork meat, pork stock, and pork fat serving as the core of most dishes. That's great for me because I happen to know lots of hog farmers and so I have more pork than I know what to do with. It's great to learn how to extend your recipe for days. I'll make a cut of pork and while I might only eat the actual meat for one day, I'll be eating soups made for its bones and vegetables cooked in its fat for much longer.
Some of his recipes are a little time consuming, but I'm plebianized several with a crock pot. The technique of braising in a very simple brine of honey and salt, is actually very effective in a crock pot. Pork belly with just a little bit of Chang's brine, turn the crockpot on low, go to bed, and voila! you have not only pork belly (crisp it up to make it super delicious), but if you put the leftover liquid in the fridge, you get a layer of lard on top of a golden liquid that can be used to delicious-ize other less well endowed foods.
Here are my favorite cuts I've discovered:
- Pork belly: I really think this is better than bacon, but maybe I'm sensitive to amines in cured products. It's also quite simple with my crock pot method.
- Cheek: I use the same braising method and it comes out tender and succulent, thought it's less rich in fat, so it's advisible to brown it in whatever lard you have.
- Blood sausage: Unctuous and flavorful, don't be put off by the sludge-like color.
- Pate: a delicious way to eat liver and kidney, but unfortunately almost always contains dairy.
- Rilettes: A fatty pork jam? Count me in, but I will write later on my quest to find something paleo to spread it on.
- Tail: Fry it in lard and eat it up!
Least favorite: Tenderloin is too lean and bland for my tastes and I think I must be sensitive to something in bacon/cured sausages.
According to Natsuko I'm right in my instinct that pork is seasonal. I tend to only crave it in the winter, which also happens to be when most pigs slaughtering happens on small/scale traditional farms.