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Butcher and Cook a Pig

With Denver’s beast + bottle head chef Paul C. Reilly


At my restaurant beast + bottle in Denver’s uptown neighborhood, we purchase, butcher, and cook one 200-pound, local, heritage hog weekly. The yield then drives our menu. Our chefs learn to maximize the animal for cuts, roasts, braises, cures, and sausages. To chefs, the pig is a magnificent creature. Almost every piece of meat is delicious. By wasting almost no part of the animal, we honor it. If a rancher gives a hog the utmost care in pasture, why wouldn’t we extend the same diligence to preparation? All you need to replicate our recipes is a passion for good food and concern for where it came from. The rest is picking the right cut for a certain recipe, practicing, and testing your masterpiece on a pack of hungry people.

PigMain1. Shoulder

My favorite cut off the hog, the shoulder is a working muscle so it needs time to cook. Slow (30 minutes per pound) and low (300F) will make it super tender. Turn the shoulder meat into BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

2. Jowl
(located from the bottom of the jawbone and into the top of the shoulder blade)

This cut is the easiest to home cure. Just pack the jowl in salt and pepper and hang in your refrigerator. In a month, it’ll lose 30 percent of  its weight. Use a small knife to cut an incision on the top of the jowl and tie butcher’s string through it. Hang it near the back of the fridge (close to the Pliny the Elders). Leave it for a month—remove, slice thin, and add to beans, soups, or pizza.

3. Belly bacon

Pig belly is fabulous braised or cooked confit (meaning slowly poached in its own fat). But it’s best cured (think pancetta and bacon). A bacon cure involves three simple ingredients: salt, sugar, and smoke. Tell your butcher you want the belly cut to cure American-style bacon. Mix the salt and sugar. Apply to the meat and let sit for 7–10 days, flipping and massaging every 24 hours. Rinse the cure off and hot smoke over fruitwood until it reaches 150F internally.

4. Ham

The leg of the pig, extending from the lower back to the top of the shank, the ham is a highly versatile cut. It’s also leaner than other cuts, so cook it for less time. A quick brine (marinating the meat in a flavored salt solution), and flash on the grill yields a delicious and savory pork sirloin steak—great with your favorite seasonal sides.

All-Purpose Brine for Grilled Pork

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey

12 bay leaves

3 rosemary sprigs

1/2 ounce thyme sprigs

2 ounces parsley stems

1/2 cup garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

5 ounces kosher salt

2 quarts water

4 pounds pork ham

Combine all ingredients except pork, and bring to a boil. Let cool. Add pork. Brine for up to four hours refrigerated. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.

Easy Breakfast Sausage

The easiest beginner’s sausage is your classic breakfast patty. All you need is a meat grinder.

4 pounds Boston shoulder, diced

1 pound back fat, diced

1 tablespoon kosher salt

5 tablespoons ginger root, freshly grated

5 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons black pepper,

coarsely ground

1 cup ice water

Combine all ingredients except ice. Mix well and chill in the freezer until the edges of the meat begin to solidify (approximately 35 minutes). Meanwhile, chill your standing mixer’s meat grinder attachment and mixing bowl. Grind the meat quickly, straight into the chilled bowl. With the paddle attachment, whip the sausage meat with ice water until it begins to stick to the bowl. Form into patties and cook through on a stovetop griddle.

From our High Summer 2016 issue.

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