Monthly Archives: June 2009

pork party (and head cheese)

head cheese with pickled vegetables

It was inevitable, really. How could we not?

Yesterday, we had a pork party.

Many of our friends gathered on the green grass in the backyard, under the cherry tree, or on the deck with drinks in hand. We were full of happy chatter, shared news, and funny stories. We watched the mass of small kids attack the tree swing and the strawberry patch with equal fervor. The first hour of the party was like a summer idyll.

And then we couldn’t wait any longer. We moved inside toward the table full of food. Platters full of appetizing pork dishes.

There was a collective sigh of happiness when the plates were first filled.

We’ll be telling you about these dishes for days, with recipes and links to websites where you can find more tempting pork recipes.

But for now, we’ll share some of what landed on our table:

grilled pork skewers with ginger, soy, and garlic

roasted pork loin with braised savoy cabbage

Cuban roast pork with black beans and lemony oregano sauce

pâté made with pork, duck, and rabbit

potato salad with bacon

Cuban pulled pork for sandwiches

melon with ham and hazelnuts

homemade pastrami

water chestnuts wrapped in bacon

brown-sugar caramels with bacon

And even more! (There may have been some non-pork dishes in the mix, including the salad that the six-year-old made with foods she foraged from our garden.)

The photo you see above is the head cheese. The dish for which Danny worked all weekend, breaking down the pig head, brining the meat, simmering stock, rendering fat, making aspic, and putting it all together. We’ll be telling you about each step of the way, with recipes, in the coming days. For this dish, he lined a jello mold from the 1950s with fresh swiss chard, jumbled the meat in, and carefully poured in the gelatinous stock. He let it set overnight, then unmolded it. Voila! The color you see on top is pickled vegetables (purple potatoes, Walla Walla onions, carrots, and cabbage), which we have been making for weeks.

It all came together beautifully.

And the head cheese? Well, I can tell you this. That is the worst-named dish in history. As our friend Tita said, she thought it would be something like haggis, made with bits that no one wants to eat. Instead, it’s meaty, with a delicious richness of densely packed meats and fat, with the stock that was patiently simmered for nearly 24 hours. I’d never tasted anything so purely made of love.

If you want to make one, we’ll show you how, soon.

And what would you bring to a pork party?

working with the head

pig head on our counter

For a brief time, there was a whole pig’s head on our kitchen counter today.

This afternoon, we drove into town. Danny was so excited he had to tap out a rhythm on the steering wheel as he drove. We were on our way to pick up a pig’s head from Seabreeze, the same pig farm we visited a couple of weeks ago.

Actually, I’m pretty sure this was one of the older pigs we saw walking around that day.

I kept flinching my feet on the floor as we talked with Matt, the manager of Seabreeze’s farm store. After all, I was a vegetarian for 10 years, for all of my 20s. Those days are long gone now. (obviously.) And I’ve come to love sweetbreads and make sausages with real casings of intestinal linings. Living with a chef who loves meat has changed me even more. I decided long ago that, if I eat meat, I want to know how it lived, and where it comes from.

Still, I never expected to be staring down at a whole pig’s head through the lens of my camera, on our kitchen counter.

I feared that breaking down the head into component parts would feel like watching Sweeney Todd. But actually, watching Danny at work was a thing of beauty. He loves butchering. Whenever we to go to Don and Joe’s in the Market, he just stands there with his mouth open. “I could be a butcher,” he says as we walk away. So even though he had never broken down a pig’s head before, he felt confident. Excited. As I typed next to him, he bent down his head and applied the knife to every part. Watching him, it doesn’t seem like he’s cutting. Just sliding the knife, this tender touch while he focuses down. Everything before him.

He did stop to show me the brain, smaller than the palm of his hand.

And then he had to go to work, so he left me the cutting board to clean. I was still squeamish. (I was a vegetarian for 10 years, after all.) But watching him, and cleaning up afterward, it became clear to me that this was right. At least we’re using the head, with reverence, instead of it being tossed away. As Danny said, “We’re doing traditional French cooking.”  (He just held the ear aloft from the brine for me to see, as I typed this.) We’re using everything. Funny how we say some parts of the animal are tender and succulent, and the rest we don’t want to see.

So it has been fascinating. He has made a stock with the bones, and it has been simmering all day. He rendered the fat down, slowly. And he will be brining the meat overnight.

He’s making head cheese.

Next week, we’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

crispy pork skin

crispy pork skin

How could I have forgotten this?

When our friends Matt and Danika came over for the day, we ate his incredible clam chowder with pork belly. But before we sat down to eat, Matt offered us this. A bit of crispy pork skin.

It was gone in two minutes. Salty enough to make your tongue explore for more, but not greasy. These don’t come in a bag.

How did he do it? I’m going to let Matt tell you himself:

What I do is to trim off the skin from a decent fatty cut – either belly or shoulder. I make sure to leave about a 1/4″ to 1/2″ fat under the skin, to help basting when cooking.

Using a really sharp knife (or utility knife) score the skin – lines about 1″ apart. Rub salt into the skin. Roast in a low oven – 225 or so for maybe 1 hour – to get the fat rendering down a bit. I tend to baste the skin a few times during this.

I then crank it up to 450F to crisp up – for 20minutes or so. Should be eaten immediately really, but you can also set it to cool completely, and bung in the fridge before the high heat bit.

The absolute best way is to roast the skin on the pork shoulder (score it, rub with salt) for 4 hours, then crank up the heat. Keeping it on the meat makes it stay moister in my opinion, then you just pull it off the cut.


Well, what are you waiting for?



These are handmade sausages, flavored with fennel seeds, red wine, and chiles. (chilis? there’s no steadfast rule for how to spell those spicy little suckers.)

Danny poached these sausages until they reached an internal temperature of 155°. Then, he threw them on the grill, with a little oil to keep them slippery. Finally, while the onions grilled to caramely-burnt goodness, he threw them in the cast-iron skillet to finish cooking.

They tasted smoky and pungent with garlic, redolent of long afternoons in the backyard, like summer split open.

We love sausages in this house.

I think, originally, sausages must have been poor man’s eating. You take all the parts of the pig that aren’t popular, or attractive. Some fat. Some meat. Grind them all up. Throw in some herbs, the ones that are starting to wilt. Some spices to cover the stronger tastes. Mix them together. And then you take the lining of the intestines, which no one wants to use, and push the stuffing in. It’s like a little balloon. Cook them. Eat.

Even when I learned the origins of sausages, I still wanted to eat them.

Artichoke and garlic sausage. Jalapeno and cheddar sausage. Spinach and feta sausage. Sun-dried tomato and basil sausage.

The possibilities are nearly endless.

There are so many ways to cook sausages. Roast them. Poach them. Grill them. Bake them. Braise them. Sauté.

I’m sure we’ll be talking about sausages often here. But for now, we’d like to hear from you.

What is your favorite kind of sausages? (both flavors and brands) How do you like to eat them? Do you make your own?

We’d love to know.

pork inspiration on Flickr

extravaganza of pork from other people

1. breaded pork chop, 2. “Little Pork on the Prairie”, 3. Stir Fry Baby Pork Ribs in Honey, 4. steamed pork bun, 5. day 79: pulled pork panini, 6. Giant Pork Rind, 7. Pork & Spicy Noodles, 8. Pork Ribs, 9. Double bone pork chop

If you’re ever in need of a little inspiration for what to cook for dinner, just head on over to Flickr.

Actually, Flickr is one of Shauna’s favorite places for inspiration, whether she wants to see Polaroid photographs that will blow your mind, handmade skirts that make anything she has crafted look silly, and the porch at the end of a long, hot afternoon, waiting.

And then there are bacon-wrapped dates.

There are so many good photographers out there, amateurs with passion and digital cameras. Just look at some of those photographs above. Don’t you want to eat now?

(Okay, maybe the Little Pork on the Prairie doesn’t make you hungry. But it did make you laugh, right?)

Most of these photos are attached to websites where you can find recipes and hallelujahs to pork dishes that beg to be made in your kitchen.

Just click on one and see.

loin blade chop

shoulder blade chop

“Regardless of cultural preferences, good pork chops are worth their weight in culinary gold. When a quality pork chop is perfectly cooked, the buttery texture and unique flavor are simply dream-worthy.” (Art Culinaire)

Face it. You’ve probably eaten your weight in shoe-leather pork chops in your time. For decades, mothers (and some fathers) cooked their pork anxiously, trying to avoid trichinosis, waiting until the internal temperature of your pork chop reached 180°. And, therefore, until the meat had the chewing consistency of jerky, or a baseball glove. Or the back of the shoe the dog was gnawing on. Nothing good. Not the way you want good meat to taste.

Well, the good news is this: “When it comes to cooking pork chops, think “pink.” Contrary to popular belief, pork chops do not need to be incinerated in order to be safe to eat. Overcooking is the largest contributor to pork’s reputation of being overly dry.” You only need to cook pork to 160°. (Some chefs cook it lower, and they swear by 150°. But here, we’ll keep to standard form.)

Pork chops can be a glorious eating experience, if you have a thick-cut, bone-in chop. Like this loin blade chop, pictured above. (This one is from SeaBreeze Farms.)

The loin blade chop (sometimes called the blade pork chop or the pork chop end cut) comes from the part of the loin closest to the shoulder. (If you would like a refresher course on the cuts of the loin, see here.) You might confuse this chop with a cut called pork blade steak (and really, who wouldn’t? we need better, more differentiating names for these cuts), which comes from the shoulder. That one’s fattier. This pork chop is leaner than a shoulder steak, but fattier than the center-cut loin chop. (Blade chops contain more connective tissue than does the center of the loin. The muscles near the shoulder are used more often.)

Now, some folks say these loin blade chops are tough. They insist they must be braised or marinated before cooking. We think that’s because they are probably buying thin chops, which can dry out quickly. Also, boneless pork chops (all the rage in grocery stores) dry out almost immediately. The bone in a bone-in pork chop will help keep the meat tender while cooking and add more flavor for the eating. Ask your butcher for a thick-cut, bone-in blade chop (there’s a mouthful) and cook it at home. Let us know what you think.

The boneless pork chop has become so ubiquitous in this culture that it’s almost impossible to find recipes for loin blade chops on the internet. (Believe us, we looked.) So here are a few recipes for bone-in pork chops, just a start. Let us know what you think.

Maybe it’s time for you to create the best loin blade chop recipe around. We’d love to try it.

How to Make the Juiciest Grilled Pork Chops, by Bruce Aidells (you have to start a free trial membership to see this article)

Grilled Monster Pork Chops with Tomatillo and Green Applesauce from Gourmet (2004)

Curried Cider-Braised Pork Chops from Bon Appetit (1999)

Mom’s Perfect Pork Chops from Simply Recipes

buttermilk bacon pralines

buttermilk bacon pralines

Saturday was just about the perfect afternoon.

(Well, except for the fact that Danny wasn’t here. He was off working, cooking food for other people.)

My friend Jeanne, who keeps a lovely blog called Four Chickens (because she also keeps four chickens in her yard) brought a giant canning pot and supplies, a flat of strawberries, her darling daughter, and her sunny smile into our home. We spent the afternoon slicing strawberries and turning them into jam.

All the while, we were nibbling on pralines with bacon.

Have you eaten these? You should.

Jeanne recommends the book these come from, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook. “Every recipe works,” she exulted. Full of stories and recipes (many involving pork, of course), this is the kind of book you need for a slow afternoon. Porch rocking chair is optional.

These pralines alone are enough reason to buy the book. (Or borrow it from the library, of course.) The crisp, crumbled bacon jumbled in with brown sugar and sweetness means a melt in the mouth experience, with the bacon being the last taste.

Oh yeah.

Buttermilk Bacon Pralines, from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

Grab a baking tray and cover it with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Butter the parchment paper, but not the silicone mat.

Combine the the sugars, buttermilk, corn syrup, baking soda, and salt in a large saucepan. Cook on medium until the temperature reaches 220° on a candy thermometer (about 20 minutes).

Remove the pan from the heat. Pour in the vanilla, butter, pecans, orange zest, and bacon pieces. Beat the mixture vigorously (the author says you should “beat like the dickens”), taking care not to slop the hot mixture onto your skin. When it has all become smooth and creamy, stop stirring.

Drop a teaspoon full of the praline mixture onto the baking tray. Repeat until the tray is filled. (Come to think of it, you might need more than one tray.) Let the pralines stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or until they have firmed up and are entirely cool.

Store in an airtight container. (Good luck. They’re going to go in bellies fast.)

Makes 24 small pralines.

bacon vodka?

Have you heard of bacon vodka? Have you ever wanted to try such a thing?

Called BAKON, this potato vodka is making the rounds of bloggers and tv personalities both. The makers of BAKON claim:

“Bakon Vodka is a superior quality potato vodka with a savory bacon flavor. It’s clean, crisp, and delicious. This is the only vodka you’ll ever want to use to make a Bloody Mary, and it’s a complementary element of both sweet and savory drinks.”

Hm. It’s an interesting twist. And of course, since we are fans of (nearly) all things bacon, we’re intrigued.

Conan O’Brien had his sidekick, the fabulous Andy Richter, try some BAKON on tv. Take a look.

That seems pretty decisive. However, he did finish the bottle by the end of the show…

So we want to know. Has anyone tried the bacon vodka yet? What did you think? And how would you drink it, besides late at night, alone?

SeaBreeze pig farm

SeaBreeze farm II

This is a pig farm.

It’s not what I expected a pig farm to look like. And in fact, most pig farms don’t look like this. Small pig farms are the anomaly in this country. But they are growing in number.

This is the farm where pigs grow before they become the pork we buy from SeaBreeze farms. Since we have been eating their incredible pork for over a year  — first buying it at the farmers’ markets in Seattle, and now buying it on the island — Danny and I wanted to see where the pigs lived.

Matt Lawrence, the manager of SeaBreeze, allowed us to walk around with him as he checked out the current state of the pigs.

SeaBreeze pigs I

This is one of the youngest pigs. The folks at SeaBreeze buy young piglets (“weaners” Matt called them) from farms off-island. [Earlier, I wrote "weiners," which is probably an unintentionally cruel joke on my part. Thanks to a reader for pointing out that spelling error!] Over the years, they have found a number of sources for quality piglets, but they like two farms the best now. I can’t tell you where — that’s their source  — but both raise their young piglets on grass and food slops. The way pigs should be fed, Matt told us.

These young pigs had their own space to roam. They ran in different directions when they saw us coming — they aren’t used to human contact. For the most part, they eat, drink, play, and do what pigs do, all without human supervision.

SeaBreeze pigs II

Here are the older pigs. These were born in February (it’s June as I write this), so they have a bit more meat on their bones. Actually, these pigs cracked us up. They squealed and butted heads and seemed to be playing much of the time we saw them. Frolicking, even.

The owner of SeaBreeze, George Page, says this on his website about their philosophy of raising animals:

“We practice intensive grazing management for the health of our pastures, which ensures the health of our animals, which in turn ensures the health of our customers. Maintaining our pastures in the highest state of vigor produces meat of unsurpassed quality and flavor. The vitality and freshness of the foraged feeds translates into vibrancy and succulence on the plate. Our pasture rotation system is modeled on the migratory grazing habits of cattle and birds in the prairies and grasslands of the world.”

These pigs definitely do forage.

SeaBreeze pigs III

And they drink water from this spout, set up so they can drink whenever they need. You should have seen his tongue curling around the spigot, reaching for water.

(I can’t help it. Some part of me is still 11. This pig reminds me of Wilbur.)

These pigs looked happy.

SeaBreeze pigs IV

When I saw these behinds and tails and legs, all lined up, I had to take a photograph. They looked so strong and supple, gleaming in the sun.

When Danny saw this sight, he thought, “Hmmm. Lovely legs. What a wonderful prosciutto you would make.”

SeaBreeze farm

This is Danny and Matt, walking to the back pasture, to meet the largest pigs, the ones closest to slaughter.

Most of us don’t want to think about that part. But it’s how pork chops end up in the store.

We think it’s best to face it. This isn’t a bad place to live, if you’re headed that way.

SeaBreeze pigs V

The SeaBreeze pigs are mutts, a cross of Lincolnshire, Berkshire, and Yorkshire breeds. You can see the variation in these two.

There’s a fence here, but that’s because this is the edge of the pasture. We didn’t see the dozen other larger pigs. They never came to look at us. Only these two grew curious enough to look.

We didn’t stay for the slaughter that day. Our baby daughter was with us, and we had to be somewhere soon. Danny, however, wants to go back, to witness it, to see the process. Perhaps we’ll write about that soon. Maybe not.

I can tell you this — we’re grateful for the chance to have met the pigs that become our pork.

pork party at Rover’s

the grill

When you receive an invitation (via email) from someone who runs a restaurant not too far away from you, someone who knows how much you love pork, and that someone says, “Would you like to be my guests at a celebration of pastured pork at Rover’s?” Well, if you are us, you say yes. Immediately.

Today, in glorious afternoon sunlight, we stood in the courtyard of the best French restaurant in Seattle, watching Thierry Rautureau grill up some sausages.

Hell, yeah.

Thierry grilling

If you don’t live in Seattle, you may not have heard of Rover’s. (However, many people travel from across the country to sample the tasting menu.) If you live in Seattle, you might not have eaten at Rover’s. For most of us with modest budgets, it’s a celebration space. However, everyone should want to come eat food overseen by this man.

Chef Rautureau grew up in the Muscadet region of France, where he learned traditional cooking methods and respect for ingredients. In his early 20s, he traveled to the United States, cooking for a great while in Los Angeles. A visit to Seattle in 1987 brought him to Rover’s, which had just been put up for sale. Rautureau bought the place and transformed it into the fine dining (and yet still not stuffy) restaurant experience it is today. He has won the James Beard award for Best Chef of the Northwest. And if you would like to hear him expound on food, Rautureau has a rollicking great radio show with Tom Douglas, one of Seattle’s other great chefs. (Shauna would like you to know that appearing on that radio show, twice, has been her favorite publicity stop for her book yet.)

But that’s all biography. What we love best about Thierry is his capacious heart and fabulous sense of humor. And what other restaurant owner is out grilling ribs on his day off?

pork ribs

And some mighty fine ribs they were.

Don’t you just want to dive into that plate right now? Smokey and meaty, with no hint of bottled barbeque sauce, these were fingers-clamped-to-the-bone-and-they-are-not-coming-up-until-all-the-meat-is-stripped-by-the-teeth ribs.

sliced pork with farro

Here we had tender pork belly with farro. (Shauna can’t eat farro, of course, but Danny reported this was fantastic. That is, only after he wolfed down second helpings.)

pulled pork

And here, pulled pork. It was a different kind of pulled pork than our friend Lorna’s delicious dish, so we don’t have to compare. We just ate it. And it was good.

kielbasa at Rover

Kielbasa. House-made, made with local ingredients, in season, and oh my god look at those pockets of fat. Can you imagine the taste? Yes, it was that good.

housemade bacon

This one was almost obscene. House-made bacon, thick cut (as you can see) from Skagit River Ranch pork belly. I don’t know what they did or how they did it, but this was the most delicious full-bite of bacon, slightly brined and beautifully smoked, that I have ever eaten.

(We want to make our own bacon this summer.)

Thierry, Adam, and Seth

Everyone there beamed in the sunlight, eating such fine pork. Some of the top chefs in Seattle had gathered, along with food writers, caterers, cooking teachers, and generalized pork lovers. Just being there would have been enough. But we were there for a good cause.

The man on the right (the one talking in this photo) is Seth Caswell, formerly the executive chef at Stumbling Goat Bistro, and soon to open his own restaurant, perhaps by the end of the summer. (Between him and Thierry is the talented Adam Hoffman, chef de cuisine at Rover’s, and the one doing most of the heavy lifting in its kitchen.) He’s also the president of Seattle Chef’s Collaborative, which is a group of chefs dedicated to keeping the sustainable food supply strong. Chef’s Collaborative organized this lunch to enlighten folks about local pastured pork, and the people who make that pork happen.

the pork purveyors

The gentleman on the left is Mark Baker, who runs Cascade Natural Farms in Port Orchard. His mostly Berkshire pigs have a “…firm, white fat and sweet, juicy tender meat that will leave you wanting more.” (That’s his quote, but after eating his pork, we believe him.)

And the cheerful woman on the right is Cheryl the Pig Lady. (Don’t worry. She named herself that.) She has been advocating for happy pork for years. And she sells her pork at the Puyallup farmers’ market every Thursday, should you wish to sample some of the pork we ate.

Not at the party (but their bellies and trotters were): Skagit River Ranch and Lopez Island Farm.


We listened to impassioned speeches and earnest conversations. Everyone was eager to understand each other. It felt like an important day.

And then we all returned to the buffet table for more pâté.