Tag Archives: the salty pig

7 Facts About Me (Part 2: Versatile Blogger Awards)

I'm looking at turtles on the ocean floor. My back is roasting to a nice crispy texture.Yesterday, I blogged about how Christina Zarrella awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award. Part one of receiving the award was to nominate 15 bloggers I think you should check out; part two is sharing 7 facts about me. Yesterday’s blog got a bit long, so today here are some more facts (facts, and nothing but the facts). Check out Christina’s blog, Turbulence in the Veins, if you haven’t already.

7 Facts About Me:

1. My first (paid) writing gig was as one of the inaugural writers for NeXt, the teen section of The Buffalo News. I mostly covered science fiction events, including movie reviews and even a Star Trek convention. During my 2-year stint as a correspondent, I got to interview people like George Takei (briefly, at a local Star Trek convention) and Michael DeLuise (who I knew and loved from NBC’s short-lived seaQuest DSV).

2. One of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced was swimming with turtles in St. Maarten last year. Even though I got the worst sunburn of my life, it was totally worth it. While I’d do it again in a heartbeat, I might choose to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the water, next time.

3. As of this year, New York City overtook Edinburgh as the place I’ve lived the longest, other than my childhood hometown.

4. Growing up, I studied ballet lessons, gymnastics, swim team, the French Horn, the flute and the piano. I no longer do any of those things.

5. I have only seen each of the original Star Wars movies once, only seen the first of the prequels, and have no intention of watching any more of them ever again.

butchering a pig

Left: Kevin O’Donnell, chef at The Salty Pig, Boston. Right: Me, tearing fat out of a pig carcass.

6. Two years ago, I won a lesson in how to butcher a pig by claiming “it’s a skill I’ll need in order to survive after the zombie apocalypse.” I’m not sure they realized my main goal would not be to catch wild pigs with my bare hands after zombies took over the planet. (Too subtle? Or too tasteless? Either way, I joke.)

7. Beneath my cynical and direct exterior, I’m actually a total pushover, but I mostly try to keep that a secret. 😉

Thus concludes my acceptance of my Versatile Blogger Award!

 

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Butchery, Part III: Makin’ the Bacon

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 12 PMWelcome to the third and final part of my Butchery adventure. Check out parts one and two to get caught up. This blog was written in the immediate aftermath of the butchery lesson, but it’s taken me a while to up and post here.

Written: 3/29/13

A few years ago, a friend challenged me to do one new thing a month for the entire year. I think today would have impressed him, because today I helped butcher a pig.

If you’ve read parts one and two of my porcine journey, you’ll know I had serious misgivings about how I might make it through once the pig parts started to fly.

My friend and I made our way to the restaurant; we arrived a little after ten. After introducing us around, they asked what kind of experience, if any, my friend and I had in butchery. I haven’t had any; my friend had taken part in something similar with a lamb and had been studying pig butchery for weeks.

IMAG1143We were given chef’s jackets and aprons before being shown the pig we were about to butcher.

I’ve never been confronted with a pig’s head before. They’re not animals I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the pork shoulder that started this journey was, I now realize, probably not as high in quality as the one we were about to artfully dismember.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 19 PMBefore we started, the Chef was gave us some background on American and European butchery – for example, did you know that in Europe they cut pig according to its muscle structure, rather than trying to eek out every bit of a so-called choice cut? – and told us a little bit about his own journey to his present position.

Then we learned a little about the pig we were going to work on. It had been raised well and not filled with hormones or antibiotics, and just a few days earlier had been alive and in the fields. In other words, it didn’t get any fresher than this.

IMAG1137I could give a play-by-play of how the Chef walked us through each of the portions of the dissection, but I don’t think I could do justice to just how good of a teacher he was. Both my friend and I had questions, and the three of us chatted as the Chef explained how we were going to take the pig apart so as not to waste any of it. We felt organs and spinal fluid, removed strips of fat (set aside to be rendered), helped saw off limbs, trussed the pork loin, seasoned Bacon for curing and even got to sample a small piece of pork fresh-cooked with olive oil, salt, garlic and thyme.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 26 PMA lot of anatomy was discussed. My mom used to teach at the University at Buffalo Medical School (as did my grandfather) and as a child I was once treated to a visit to the gross anatomy lab in the middle of a class while my mom spoke with a colleague. I remember things like the spinal columns in a jar on her desk, and while I was never a crack student in biology, the physiology of a human and a pig are similar enough that it made sense to hear how pigs used certain muscles more regularly than others, and how, for example, a muscle a pig wouldn’t use at all would be much more developed in a human because of how we move and bend.

Giving an example of how little pig was wasted in the dissection, the Chef at first threw a few small pieces of “silverskin” – inedible tendon tissue – into the garbage, then changed his mind and retrieved a dish that might have held a cup in volume (though I’d be surprised). When we were finished, he assured us, the cup wouldn’t be full. That’s how much of the pig gets used. It was impressive.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 20 PMI also saw some first-rate knives in action, which (if you know me) I found pretty damn cool. Watching the Chef easily slide the blade under layers of fat and clean off the pork, I started trying to calculate how many years it will be before I could afford my own set. Way too many.

Once we finished the first half of the pig, which had weighed about 250 pounds when it was alive, we took a break.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 33 PMBoth me and my friend had glasses of water, and the chef cooked up a “snack” – which he paired with a glass of beaujolais when I took him up on the offer of a glass of wine. (What, did anyone think I’d turn down free wine with a gourmet, freshly-butchered snack?)

When it came to the second half of the pig, the Chef worked quickly. My friend and I helped saw off the legs – the ham, or what would become it (and please note that all errors in naming parts of the animal are the fault of my memory and not poor delivery!) and trussed pork loin to make densely-rolled cuts that would cook evenly.

When both sides of the pig had been butchered into parts, we took a few minutes to prepare ourselves – washing up (though the entire process was far cleaner, and far less bloody, than what I had anticipated), getting our coats back, and stashing the aprons we’d worn – authentic chef souvenirs! – into bags the Chef provided.

Then,the question restaurant- and food-lovers love to hear:

Photo Mar 29, 9 59 01 PM (1)Did we want lunch?

Neither of us was about to say no. We took seats at the bar and agreed: everything on the menu looked amazing, and both of us were happy to eat whatever the Chef wanted to share with us.

It may have been the best meal of my life. We started with a charcuterie board, which featured different cured meats, head cheese, some kind of bacon-wrapped thing, porchetta (please God let me be getting this right) and more. And amazing bread.

Speaking of bread, a couple of guys were kneading gorgeous trays of focaccia beside us, under what looked like extendable heat lamps that hung from the ceilings. Before our eyes, they transformed a giant tray of kneaded dough into a salted and seasoned tray off carby-delicious-goodness.

The next dish – the Chef asked if we wanted to keep going, and neither me nor my friend was about to turn him down – was a gorgonzola, Apple, radicchio and bacon salad.

Photo Mar 29, 11 31 28 AMNow, maybe you like bacon. But when you’ve just spent a week freaking out about whether you’ve got what it takes to butcher an animal, in the way of “not running screaming from the carcass” kind of way – and then found out that indeed, you may indeed have what it takes – the bacon tastes WAY FREAKING BETTER. Or maybe that was because it was freshly cured by a very talented chef.

It was probably the chef. 😉

The next course was spaghetti bolognese, which was the best pasta bolognese I have ever had in my life. Bar none. As my friend said, “that pasta was like a warm hug.”

Finally, the main course. Oh em jee. Butternut squash, kale and chanterelle Mushrooms, and a taste of a few different types of pork: tenderloin, pork belly and a little pork-sausage-type thing that I want to call a croquette, but I know that isn’t the name for it.

Did I mention the chef prepared each course himself?

Best meal of my life. Hands down.

Afterwards, we said our good-byes and expressed our appreciation. I think we left the restaurant a little before two. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in quite some time, and one I’ll treasure for a very, very long time.

Not only did I gain a new appreciation for where my food comes from, but now I know I’ll have the butchery skills I’ll need to survive a zombie apocalypse – and that if it comes down to me or a zombie, I don’t have to worry that I might be too squeamish to, as my butchery t-shirt said, “sever the head.”

IMAG1118

Although I might get the hand saw caught on a bone.

 

Butchery, Part II: Start Spreading the News

Not sure WTF is going on? Track back to PART ONE of my butchery adventure before reading on.

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It’s a little over a month ago, and my colleagues and I are gathered around a carrot cake that’s been brought in for a team birthday. As we pass slices around, eat cookies and make idle conversation, the topic moves toward how I won’t be in the office that Friday. I’ve been calling my trip to The Salty Pig an “exclusive cooking lesson,” for the sake of not upsetting the more sensitive souls in the department, but one of my friends decides it’s time to Ron Swanson that euphemism outta the park:

“She’s going to butcher a pig.”

The conversation may as well have been shot out of the sky, given how quickly it shut down. Staring at several levels of management as well as my teammates, I quickly sketch out how unsettled I was by trying to cook pork shoulder a few weeks ago, ending with the part about handing the half-a-shoulder I couldn’t touch off to my friend. Who then continues piping up: “She said, and I quote, its skin felt like a man’s.”

2013-01-13 16.32.25Now, for the record, what I said was that it felt like human skin, and what I actually meant was that handling the pork shoulder made me feel as I imagine I’d feel hacking into a dead human body, and the subtext was a mild reference to zombies and apocalyptica and so on, but his retelling landed with the desired effect.

The general reaction: “You’re killing a pig?!”

No, butchering and slaughtering are two different things.

“Are you gonna be okay?!”

If I ever want to eat Bacon again with a clear conscience, I certainly hope so.

”Omigod how are you going to do that?”

No idea, but there’ll be three of us so if I get too grossed out at any point, my guess is someone else can take over.

“How do you feel about it?!”

I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a great learning experience*.

I posted more than a few pictures of adorable pigs in top hats and teacups over the next few hours. I’m not sure why, but it made me less nervous. My co-butchery-student informed me I’d get no sympathy if I freaked out, after that.

l-Micro-Mini-Teacup-Pigs

That evening, I was on the bus to Boston to meet the friend I’d be taking the butchery lesson with, reflecting on the discussions I’d had with people about the lesson since winning it. Some, like my colleague, were so excited about the idea of the experience that they were trying to find out if I could bring them home a chunk of meat. Others, like my roommate, assured me they had no desire to take part in that kind of activity, and probably wouldn’t want to look at the photos I was promising to come back with.

Riding in the bus, alone with my thoughts, I contemplated the reactions of others: my mom, who seemed kind of incredulous when I told her I’d even entered the competition, let alone won – and the friend I was going to be having the lesson with, who’d gone so far as to study up for the next morning’s teachings.

Then I contemplated something else: this was going to be one of the first genuinely new experiences I’d had in a while.

I was looking forward to it.

Stay tuned for part three…

*Pro tip: Tack “a great learning experience” onto most activities and people will think you’re less the kind of person who wants to have the experience of cutting a giant piece of meat to pieces, and more a sort of eccentric academic. Right?