From the Bird to the Pig, a Step at a Time
For the first month, give or take, of working at the ‘Block, I dealt mostly with chicken. It was the obvious first step – there’s only so much you can do with chicken. It began with trimming breasts, removing the excess fat and undesirable bits, wrapping them on trays and displaying in the case. Standard, straightforward work. Then there were deboning thighs, spatchcocking, trussing, and pincushions – don’t get me started on the pincushions. To this day, I dread them. Most recently, I learned how to debone a whole chicken without separating the parts, which is a lot more difficult than the demonstration made it look. Now that I’m the delegated “chicken guy,” I frequently find pork under my knife.
Working with pork is considerably more complex and laborious than chicken. Sure, there’s the simple stuff: cutting chops from a boneless loin, for example, which even still has some nuance to it; how thick to cut them, making sure you keep your knife straight so you don’t have uneven sides, and so on. Then there’s the bone-in loin, made up of, of course, the whole loin, back ribs, and the porterhouse portion which includes the tenderloin, the rib portion etc. Working around bones that lie on a slant opposed to the meat while attempting to keep a straight cut is particularly difficult – removing the porterhouse involves significantly more twisting and breaking of bones than I expected.
Up to this point, the most technical pork cutting I’ve had my hand in was preparing a crown roast. This is when you form a circle out of a bone-in loin, rib tips facing up, creating the shape of its name: a crown. The rib tips are cleaned of sinew and meat to show the bone clearly; small cuts are made on the outside of the meat between the bones so the crown can be formed; the roast is tied with twine to keep its shape. It sounds simple, but considerable technique is involved to make it to the display case.
Recently, we’ve been making a lot of sausages at the shop. We start with the grind: pork butts, deboned and cut into strips, loins and tenderloins make their way through the grinder twice. First through the fine grind to combine and homogenize the meat and fat. Then through the coarse grind to create the texture best for mixing with seasonings and piping into casings. We’ve made a number of different kinds of sausages, all of which, for the record, are delicious (yes, I bought one of each and had nothing but sausage for dinner two nights in a row… no, I don’t need to see a doctor, thanks). There are the usual suspects like mild and hot Italian, kielbasa, breakfast & hot breakfast, and the regular brat. Then we have some more unique types: Bavarian, pineapple, ancho pepper & tequila, mango habanero, bacon blue, green chili & tomato, maple blueberry and my personal favorite, the butcher brat, a combination of the ground pork and bacon trim with morsels of cheddar cheese mixed throughout. It’s like a cheese hotdog, but about 100 times better. Keep your eyes peeled, there’s no telling what we will come up with next!
Only very recently have I been trying my hand at the beef table. That’s what I’d consider the big leagues, where the most technique, labor and risk come into play. For now, it’s chicken and pork with some minor beef and seafood cutting in between. I want to say “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” but really, it’s more like a long, very long walk where I am learning something new with each step. And so, for now, that’s the scoop with me, Coop, wishing you happy cookin’ because it seems there’s a slew of turkeys gobbling for my attention…