Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Are What You Eat...The Importance Of Knowing Your Food Source

Concerned about what you eat? How about what your food eats?

I’m going back to Mexico soon. I buy pork to make carnitas but where does it come from and what do the pigs really eat? I would like to know. It would be great to get out and shake the hands and talk to the person who raised the pork I am cooking tonight. Remember eating locally helps the local economy.

Last May, I left the Wise Acre Eatery’s 100 acre farm in Plato, MN knowing a lot more about the saying “You are what you eat.” In particular, I was fascinated with their Scottish Highland Cattle, Berkshire and large Black hogs and free range chickens. You’ll want to get on the top of their food chain because their animals are fed only top-quality fare and there is a fundamental link between the diet and how they taste.

For instance, Berkshire pork happens to be one of my favorite meats. It has tremendous marbling and a sizeable layer of back fat. Once you've tasted Berkshire, there's no going back to eating plain pork. It’s more expensive but totally worth the price. Why? Berkshire pigs are pampered …as they should be.

My last supper in Chicago tonight? What else but a beautiful Berkshire pork chop.

Wine? Pork needs a spicy red with acidity and low tannins, like a medium-bodied Zinfandel

I love Ravenswood Old Vine.

Speaking of Pork…

A few years back, I was introduced to Lee Ann Whippen at her restaurant Chicago Q. Her Eggs Benedict recipe is a delicious cornbread base covered with smoked chicken and smothered in Hollandaise Sauce. Lee Ann is the Queen of Q and the winner of Food Network’s Bobby Flay Throwdown for best BBQ.

After meeting Lee Ann, I decided to hop on the bandwagon and go down to the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ competition. I wanted to be a better BBQ chef which I think is a very difficult art.

Being at the grand daddy of all BBQ cook-offs doesn’t come without a price. Entrants pay around $25,000 for equipment and $15,000 just to be there to win bragging rights. 

The ribs alone prompted me to return to my new smoker for another round of lessons. By the way, I like the sides too.

One hard and fast rule I realized early on: Always keep an eye on what you’re grilling. I can’t tell you how many things I ruined on the BBQ because I didn’t watch them.

So this got me thinking today. How great it would be to roast a whole pig for Christmas just like in Memphis?

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, I would bet that roasting a whole pig would be a lot more fun than throwing a ham in the oven. But, if you reside where the ground is rock-solid right now, save this recipe for the first sign of spring. I’ll be the first to show up for dinner.

Me? Writing this has made me so hungry, I’m going back to Chicago Qs’ for dinner.

Bon Appetit!

Whole Roasted Pig
Serves 20
Source: Wall Street Journal

30-pound pig
At least 60 pounds of lump charcoal
Meat thermometer
Generous lengths of stainless steel wire

For the Brine:
4 1/3 cups salt
2½ cups sugar
5 tablespoons coriander seeds
5 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1½ teaspoons juniper berries
20 bay leaves
20 sprigs fresh thyme
20 garlic cloves, crushed

For the pig:
¼ cup kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves crushed garlic
Thyme, rosemary, tarragon
Olive oil for basting

To make brine, combine salt, sugar and 1 gallon of water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir until salt and sugar have dissolved. Let cool.
Place coriander, peppercorns, allspice, juniper and bay leaves in a zip-top plastic bag and smash them with a heavy object. Combine all brine ingredients, plus another 4¼ gallons of cold water, in a big pot.
Onto the pig…
Remove any stray hairs (a disposable razor works well); wash the pig and contort it into a clean camping cooler or other clean, large container (you'll probably have to bend the hind legs). Pour enough cold brine over pig to cover. Leave for 24 to 48 hours, adding ice to keep cold.
The day of your roast, remove pig from brine 90 minutes before you plan to start cooking.
Dry the pig inside and out with clean paper towels.
Season pig cavity aggressively with salt and pepper, rubbing in as you go. Add a few good handfuls of herbs and the garlic to the cavity.
Thread the spit through the pig's mouth and out the other end, and fasten securely per manufacturer's instructions. Close the belly cavity using wooden skewers that have been soaked in water.
Using pliers and stainless steel wire, tie the rear legs snugly under the body, and then secure the forelegs forward, near the snout. Pull wire as tight as possible.
Prepare your fire. You should have at least 60 pounds of lump charcoal or a stack of hardwood on hand, adding slowly as you go. You should be able to hold your hand at spit level for ten seconds—any hotter and the skin will char before the meat is cooked.
Poke the pig all over, just deep enough to penetrate the skin, using a sharp paring knife. Season aggressively with salt and pepper.
Place spit over the fire. If you've got a motorized spit, all you need to do is baste the pig every 30 minutes or so with olive oil and manage the coals. If it's a manual spit, turn pig every three to five minutes to cook evenly.
Remove the foil after a couple hours. Your pig should take between four and eight hours, depending on heat of your coals and wind. Test for doneness by sticking an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of a rear haunch.
140 degrees is ideal if you like your pork medium-well and juicy.
Snip away steel wire, pull out spit and rest the pig in a warm place for 30 minutes if you can stand it.

Tip: Keep the coals low and slow, basting every 30 minutes, making sure the skin doesn't cook before the meat. The slower you cook it, the better the meal.