Mangalitsa Pork: The Other Red Meat.
Exhibit A: The locally-sourced pork chop, here seen, pre-searing hot pan, pre-salty and herbed brine pot, and pre-pork coma that it put us in.
Exhibit B: The salad. Simple, simple, simple. Arugula, cranberries, green onion, mustard vinaigrette and dried lemon peel shavings (made by taking a nutmeg grater to some used lemons...)
Exhibit C: The apple and onion reduction. It's like jelly for pork. Render pork fat and trimmings and saute onion, and apple, with olive oil, then white wine or beer till they are sticky, and thick, and begging you to slather them on a piece of crusty bread.
I love pork. I love pork and all the lovely things that can be made from pork that I, as well as many of you, love, so I am going to warn you now...if you think pigs are cute and sweet and cuddly and not here for looking at and eating... STOP READING NOW!
Now for the backstory...
I first became acquainted with Mosefund Farms in Branchville, NJ through one of my favorite food shows, Food Curated.
I don't understand why it took me so long to find this place? It's only 25 minutes from my house.
Where the hell have I been?
Oh. That's right...
living in the woods of PA.
We got to the main farm one Saturday morning a few weeks ago at 2pm sharp, which was an indicator for how excited I was to be there as I am usually late for everything.
I was 2 days late in being born and I have been late for everything since.
But not for this!
Mosefund Farm began it's Mangalitsa Pig endeavor in 2007 and houses it's pig farm about a mile away from the main farm which is dedicated to horses. One of the people integral in the growth of these Mangalitsa's, Michael Clampffer, graciously met the BF and I and three others at the farm and we all drove to the pig farm.
All three cars pulled into the muddy circular drive and we piled out towards the barn. Michael thought it better to tour the outside hillside where the pigs roam (free-range) before experiencing the smelly confines of the barn. And if any of you have experienced a pig farm you know they smell pretty rank unless you are used to them.
But this was nothing compared to what most large-scale pig farms are like. At least the ones I have been to. There is nothing worse than the smell of a large-scale industrial pig operation.
It smells like death.
When we approached the fence, the pigs out on the hill...rooting around in the mud as pigs should and will do, sensed our approach and came snorting and squealing towards us.
Or more realistically, towards Michael, who had the "slop" bucket.
Over the fence he flung a few kitchen scraps into a sea of curly, black haired pig backs, and the ruccus ensued.
We all decided that cranky pigs sound like what we imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex sounds like.
Next, a tour of the barn got us close to a few pregnant sows, some of the breeding males and the newest group of young pigs too small to be left to their own devices on the hillside. The other pigs and natural predators would make quick work of them, so they are kept in the barn till they are big enough.
For more information on the farm and Mangalitsa's in general check outMosefund's website.
It won't prove to you how much better Mangalitsa pork tastes, that's my job, but it hopefully will shed light on why, even though it is more expensive, local is better for you and the world we live in.
We got home with a small chunk of pork belly (making pancetta or bacon with that) a sliced slab of jowl bacon and two fat bone-in chops, and all were frozen rock solid.
There would be no pork products induced that day.
I have brined meat once and to be honest I can't remember what it was. I know it was a bird and I think it was a chicken but I can't be 100% sure, so for the sake of argument lets say I have never brined before.
But god knows I eat enough things that are brined.
We all do! Like pickles?...they are brined.
Like sauerkraut? Brined too.
So today, I was decided to start some sauerkraut, preserve some lemons and brine my chops.
It was a day full of salt now that I finally had something to do with that huge box of kosher salt that has been sitting in my pantry for a year, after I accidentally bought it instead of rock salt to "bake" some shrimp in.
Still want to do that actually...
Following the directions for making a brine for pork chops in Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing I set the brine out to cool outside the kitchen door.
Why take up a ton of space in the fridge when it's freezing outside?
Let the brine cool completely. You don't want to put whatever you are brining into warm brine because it will begin to cook it.
Into the brine went the chops for 2.5 hours.
We all want juicy meat right?
Hey-Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter.
How else was I supposed to get that point across?
Back to brining.
What I find amazing is how, even though you're soaking meat in salt water...the meat doesn't come out tasting salty when cooked. That's because salt acts like a liquid "equalizer" between the meat and the water. The salt that does penetrate some of the flesh works on the meat to make it want to absorb more water than is already naturally there, making the finished product juicy and terribly tasty.
And that's all I'm tellin' you. I'm not going to give all the secrets away here.
Try it for yourself.
But...finishing pork chops off is, in my opinion, as important as brining is.
To the left is what all of us crave in a pork chop.
Anyone ever had a piece of pork that was dry and grey and tasted like what you imagine wall board must taste like?
I have...unfortunately many times in my own kitchen.
BUT NO MORE!
I have a favorite cast iron frying pan that I recently rescued from a snowbank and re-seasoned. How the pan got in the snowbank will be revealed later on in the year.
I took my brined chops, dried them off and let them air dry for a bit (again...more on that once you search out brining on your own) then plopped them into a hot pan to sear.
FYI...something I put in the brine will actually help them caramelize more.
What could that be you ask?
Look it up!
When they have released on their own (both sides) pop them in a hot oven to finish off.
Now, I like my pork medium, which means deeper pink inside. And I know that freaks out a lot of people out. Restaurants and food purveyors will tell you that the gov't and the powers that be tell them that they have to inform the public that underdone pork or eggs and other foods can cause food-bourne illnesses.
But anyone serving you really good pork will alsotell you that it is like steak and served medium is the way to go to get the best flavor.
It's your choice. But if you know where your food comes from and you are ok with your choices then you shouldn't have a problem eating pork medium...unless you don't like the taste or texture.
If that's the case...eat chicken.
When it's time...take out your porky-prizes and place them on a cutting board to "rest" for a bit. Letting the meat sit out of the oven allows the proteins in the flesh to relax and hold on to the moisture therein. When you cut into the meat...it won't loose so much of it's juice.
Gutter!!! Get out of it.
What you do get is a piece of highly flavorful pork that is moist and succulent and begging for you to take a bite.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this culinary journey, the BF and I slowly slipped into a pork induced coma midway through dinner. But that didn't stop us from eating more.
The salad was a perfectly simple accompaniment with it's peppery nuances from the arugala, fruit sweetness of the cranberries and tang from the vinagrette and green onions.
The grated and dried lemon zest was a by-product of the brining process. I had a bunch of lemon "husks" from needing fresh lemon juice, so I finely grated them in front of the tv while watching A Bronx Taleand then let them air dry.
Now they're in a little glass jar in my pantry and I use it on everything...I even put some in the saute pan with my haricoverts and a bit of olive oil.
The wine of choice that night?
See how deep in color these are? And I even overcooked them a bit. Look closely...the texture in the picture shows you that these were cooked all the way through and look at how juicy they are. That's because of the pork itself being marbled (refer to the first pic in the post) and the brining.
I don't think I have the ability to really express how amazing these were.
You'll just have to find out for yourself...