Monday, March 05, 2012

A Really Great Day

The e-mail's subject line was enough to grab my attention: "Oink oink."

Turns out my friend Matt Berson, winemaker under his own Love and Squalor and Behemoth labels, had bought half a pig from Chris and Amy at Square Peg Farm and was looking for some moral support. He'd observed a couple of other butcherings, and taken the hands-on pig butchering class from Melinda at Portland's Culinary Workshop, but this was his first solo effort.

I told him I'd only butchered a pig once under close supervision, but he said the company would be helpful, so I was (more than) happy to come and lend a hand. I climbed the stairs at his friend Matt Johnson's Secret Society and up to the kitchen where Peg the pig (named after its former home) was waiting on a long table.

After consulting a couple of online resources, Matt set to work cutting it into the large primal sections, leaving the leg in a single piece for prosciutto. The jowl came off, then the belly, a nice long slab of bacon-to-be. We threw scraps of meat and fat into a bin for sausage, then after removing the backbone and dividing the rib sections, I had to leave Matt to do the rest of the piecework since I was meeting my friend Kathryn for a lunch date.

Kevin was just turning the "CLOSED" sign around as I got to Evoe, so I grabbed two seats at the prep table, the better to observe the chopping, shaving and mixing of the ingredients that makes this place my personal choice for the best restaurant in town. By the time I'd perused the chalkboard with the day's offerings, Kathryn had arrived and we promptly ordered two house-made elderflower spritzers and the pickle plate.

Knowing as I do that Kathryn's appetite for Kevin's food is as prodigious as mine, despite the fact that she is (quite astonishingly) petite, we set about ordering. Nettle dumplings with cream (left) were the essence of spring, three light-as-a-feather quenelles arranged in a dish of cream and briefly set under the broiler to warm and brown.

To follow that we chose a light salad. Kevin has had a way with butter lettuce salad since the early days of Castagna, and we knew this one would be the perfect mid-meal break with lightly dressed whole leaves tossed with chopped anchovies. The culmination of lunch was duck confit (right), a whole leg that had been sitting in duck fat for several days, which was then toasted to crunchy, crusted perfection and served with a spoonful of thick applesauce. After that we considered splitting the spicy pork sandwich for dessert, but decided that might be a bit too much even for us.

Dave came home that evening in the mood for a martini, so while I cubed up some of the jowl from Roger the pig that he'd cured and smoked the weekend before, he shook up a couple of his house specials. In Italy a cured, unsmoked jowl is called guanciale and, when sliced, looks a lot like bacon with ribbons of fat streaked with meat. It's used in dishes like carbonara and pasta all'amatriciana, and since I had a couple dozen of Clare's amazing eggs, I decided to go with the carbonara, a fitting tribute to Roger's home and an appropriate end to a spectacular day.


David Padberg said...

That does indeed sound like a really great day, and when things line up like that, they are worth sharing with others.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, David!

Anonymous said...

Some Pig!