The Grand Non-Winner
Cochon 555 Washington, DC 2013
Behind a fawned over figurehead’s formidable speech (Theodore Roosevelt notwithstanding), is generally an obscured speechwriter worthy of a couple kudos, snap-shots, blogs, high-fives and twatters. I am such a wordsmith with an equally subjective, savory craft who doesn’t always receive the credit they work hard to earn.
After all but begging my employer to get me to participate in the DC Cochon 555 edition since my requests to be considered as a candidate were routinely ignored, I had 5 weeks to develop a menu and after delivery of a decent Large Black hog from Leaping Water’s farm, 6 days to execute. With the exception of a few fabrications and tasks that were delegated to colleagues, I made 96.83% of all the food; butchering the hog, brining the hams & bellu, making the aspic, the rillettes, the cheese sausage, the loin, the pâté en croûte, the pickles, the liver terrine, the pojarski, the breading, the gribiche and even cut the booties for the Pojarski.
As dictated by the contest rules, I would be judged based on usage of the entire animal, flavor, creativity, affability, star appeal and apparently marketing. In hindsight, the menu should have mentioned the parts used, which have now been added in parentheses. The quality of the animal was not remarkable and any enthusiasm was quickly snuffed out by the presence of a few blood splashes in the shoulder caps, a symptom of careless slaughter and not being bled quickly enough. Nonetheless, it was a decent hog.
Cochon 555, DC 2013
Prosciutto Cotto (hams) & Mortadella (top sirloin, fatback)
Asparagus in blood aspic (bones, feet, skin, blood)
and chicories in a smoked ham-hock vinaigrette. (shanks)
Danish-style liver terrine wrapped in cured belly. (liver, trimmings, belly)
Salted and cured anchovies, a couple of marinated capers.
Pâté en Croûte
It’s heart, tongue, kidneys, fatback, pistachios and a few figs. (lard, trimmings, offal)
Some pickled rhubarb and mushrooms.
Pork Belly Pojarski
Breaded and fried. (belly, trimmings)
Loins roasted with spring garlic. (loin, tenderloin)
Warm confit potatoes and rillettes (jowl, belly)
Saucisson en Brioche
Clothbound cheddar sausage baked in a leaf lard brioche. (trimmings, lard)
And cracklin’ whipped lard.
Hams (and shoulder caps) were given a heavy brine, tied and simmered. Mortadella was stuffed into smaller beef middles so as to be more manageable to cut and serve. Shanks were brined, smoked and simmered with tomato juice after which my sponsor assembled a vinaigrette with the diced meat, gelatin enriched tomato juice, pickled mustard seeds, olive oil and banyuls vinegar. Stock was made from the feet, skin and bones then clarified with blood and egg whites. The blood doesn’t impart so much of a flavor as it does an amber color, which didn’t necessarily produce a credible sanguine color until it was supplemented with clarified beet juice. The asparagus was manicured and gently blanched, then tediously dipped like a candle in the aspic.
Danish style liver terrine was comprised of liver, belly, milk, eggs, salted anchovies, salt tears, madeira, lemon zest, picked thyme and a purée of onions cooked in lard. The terrine was wrapped in slices of brined and poached belly. I should have dry-cured the belly as the wet cure yielded flabby slices that were difficult to work with. This was a very good terrine (a pressed pâté) with a proper balance of liver and meat and the lightest touch of anchovy, which could have been more pronounced. The slice was adequately garnished with marinated salted capers and pickled white anchovies.
For the pâté en croute, lard represented the fat content of the dough, malt syrup supplemented the mixture for added strength and color and the corn starch was entirely eliminated so as not to compromise the amount of protein in the dough –so as to eliminate breakage. Tongue, gizzard and heart were brined & cooked; premium trimmings marinated with Armagnac, lemon zest and thyme, figs plumped in booze and a delicate inlay of pistachio assembled with the addition of chlorophyll, egg whites and a nominal amount of trimmings. The hinging properties of the mold were properly used to apply a decorative pig emblem and after learning a thing or 2 at the Pâté Croûte World Championship, the pâté was built upside down to ensure a clean top and eliminate fissures. This was a very good pâté, and with absolute humility, better than any other there.
Pojarski’s were diminutive, fancy mock-cutlets fashioned from trimmings of raw shoulder, cured belly, onions cooked in lard, spices, toasted bread crumbs and cream. Twice breaded and gussied-up with a paper bootie. Gribiche made with barely boiled eggs became seasonal with a surplus of ramps; the bottoms sweated in olive oil, the top blanched & chopped, along with gherkins, mustards, lemon and whatnot. They were fried to a golden George Hamilton and down right delicious.
The loins and tenderloins were brined (without #1 curing salt) in a 5% brine flavored with rosemary and fennel seed. I do not remember any of the other contestants using the loin, surprisingly. L’Astet is a regional pork dish from l’Aveyron that involves a trussed loin and garlic. In this case, the tenderloin was cut in half lengthwise and threaded through the center of each quarter loin. The loin(s) were expertly trussed, nice & tight, and left to marinate in olive oil with spring garlic. It was later cooked to 145F internally, roasted fat-side down and sliced for the contest. It was completed with one of the best batches of rillettes I have ever made –jowl, belly, 4 spice and meyer lemon. Yukon gold potatoes were punched out, blanched and finished in rendered fat with mustard seeds.
A variant of saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage) had clothbound cheddar replace the garlic and after a quick steam in the combi oven was wrapped in lard-based brioche dough and baked. The prototype came out much better. Inexplicably, these ones had a significant gap between the sausage and the dough which we had not experienced when using the garlic sausage. It was a worthwhile sausage, though the binding properties of garlic make for a better, firm texture than cheese.
Complimentary smoked fat-back truffles with Bavarian pretzel crust were offered courtesy of our pastry chef and a testament to the amount of rendered lard that we used. We had a modest amount of food left over after the liquor drenched event and with the exception of a pound or 2 of fatback, used up the entirety of the animal. 2 of the more reputable judges validated my efforts with firm handshakes and solidly honest compliments, but their votes were diluted by the great unwashed whose palates and eyes were fooled by pedestrian fare and stickers. Congratulations and thanks to the teams from Proof, Vidalia and Birch & Barley for providing creative and satisfying fare under such considerable time constraints, particularly to those that did the work. If there is a next time, I’ll develop a winning recipe for making T-shirts. Tremendous thanks to Richie Havens too, even if your career really took off before I was born.