Death of a pig (part 7.5)

Back to the ham, I had a Panini today made with Hoosier’s ham.  It was fantastic, Mark (our day sous chef) did the sweet and smoky ham up with Robinson Farm’s (Hardwick, MA) Family Swiss and dill pickled onions served on Raul’s (our baker) sandwich bread. I enjoyed with some of our homemade fries and Alex’s (our long-time lunch cook) tangy ketchup.

My lunch, fries were added after I took the photo.


Death of a pig (part 8) Saucisson Sec

Making dry cured sausage is simple; grind some meat mix it with spices, stuff it into casings and hang it to dry in a fairly humid, cool space, then wait. To quote Tom Petty “the waiting is the hardest part”.  Three-ish weeks later, if all goes well you have a beautiful semi-dried full flavored, rich, fatty, dry, slightly tangy, cured sausage.  I have made this recipe many times with varied results, mostly great.  However, once in a while I have gotten a batch that just doesn’t work.  Don’t worry when it’s not right it’s obvious, it does not have the rosy meat color you expect from air-dried cured meat, it looks kinda gross and smells rotten.

Below is a pictorial of the steps we used to turn Hoosier’s fat and flesh into Saucisson Sec (dry-cured sausage).

Ground pork mixed with spices.


The trusty hand cranked sausage stuffer, many hundreds of pounds of sausage have been made using this beast over the 15 plus years we have had it.


I’m pushing out the sausage into casings.


Sizing them up.


Hanging them to dry in our curing room, next to some duck prosciutto that is just about done.


Three weeks hanging and they’re done.



Though we still have quite a bit of Hoosier left to use; most notably the head and a bunch of meat to braise, it may be a while before we get into it.  I will continue to write about as we utilize it.



Cuba with Dad


My parents were visiting us over the Thanksgiving long weekend and my father Walter mentioned that Americans are now able to travel to Cuba and that he wanted to go.  He noted that my mother Carolyn had no interest in going.  I immediately chimed in that I would be happy to go with him.  My dad had visited Cuba before the embargo, while attending the University of Miami in the mid 1950’s.  He has always talked fondly about the country and has often expressed a desire to return.

Within a few days I reiterated my willingness to go with him, that was all the motivation he needed.  He jumped on it, in no time flights and an Airbnb where booked.

Wally, as his friends, and sometimes I refer to my dad, is conversational in Spanish.  I on the other hand understand quite a bit and speak very little, which is a shame.  I work in restaurants where at least half of the employees first language is Spanish.  I also have a brother who has lived in Spain since the early 90s whom I have visited upwards of twenty times.  I should really have a much better grasp on the language than I do, hopefully I will suck-it-up and learn more.

I met my dad at his house in Florida so we could depart very early the next morning for our flight on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.  The flight was very sort, 45 minutes total flying time.  The first thing I noticed in Havana was how nice and accommodating the Cuban people were, very outgoing yet relaxed.  We arrived several hours early to the Airbnb and were greeted warmly, told not worry, it was not an issue.


I have always heard about the old American cars in Cuba and figured that they would be a few here and there for the tourists.  I was wrong about that, I would estimate 70% of all cars were American models from the late forties and fifties.  No car, old American or new Russian, had anything that we would consider pollution control.  Straight exhaust streamed out of tailpipes or up through floorboards, as we experienced in one taxi.  It was really nasty, walking around the city you could taste it!  For many reasons this needs to be fixed.

I had read in several publications not to expect much when it came to food.  Most of the restaurants are government owned and there was not much emphasis on creativity or quality.  This proved to be very true, the food we experienced was blah!   We went to a couple of restaurants recommended to us by locals and they just kinda sucked, no love for the food at all.  Considering the quality of the food it was also expensive, $20 -$25 for a piece of grilled fish or some braised beef is fine, but it should be at least adequate.  At each of the restaurants we visited we ordered the main item – fish or meat and it was served with rice, beans and vegetables, nothing interesting.  I have read that some privately owned restaurants, Paladares,  located in private homes are supposed to be better than the government run restaurants.  The problem is they don’t have websites, not that with the very limited wifi you would be able to Google a Paladare.  Next time I visit I plan do more research ahead of time to find some better dining options.

A few of the restaurants we dined at.


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Our best meal each day was breakfast, prepared in our flat by Juanita, our maid.  She would arrive before we woke, have coffee ready at the predetermined time, then she would proceed to make us breakfast which included fried eggs, ham, cheese, a selection of fruit, toast, butter, jam and juice.  Then she would clean up after breakfast as well as the rest of the flat. The breakfast cost the equivalent of 5 U.S dollars, a real bargain, and Wally was able to practice his Spanish with her.

Wally with Juanita, the remnants of Juanita’s breakfast.

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If you like light crisp Caribbean style beer the indigenous Cristal is adequate, I drank several.  I was able to find an ocean-side table with a nice view at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba each evening.  The locals have an affinity to Heinekin, personally I would rather not drink than let that insipid liquid touch my lips.

mediocre beer with a great view


I had a great trip with my dad, we have not had a lot of opportunities to spend undisturbed time together like this. It was a wonderful trip and I will cherish the time spent with my dad.

Havana is a beautiful city steeped in culture, here are some scenes from around the city.


A fisherman avoiding the sea spray on the Malecon


Che Guevara immortalized in the Plaza de la Revolution


Commonplace food service out of the windows of private homes


Morro Castle guarding Havana Harbor


Gypsy lady smoking a Cuban Cigar

A couple of markets, note that there was no refrigeration for the meat.
City streets

A long queue at La Casa Del Perro Caliente (The Hot Dog House)



Scooter taxis


Hotel de National Cuba



Walking by a school, these kids knew an obvious tourist when they saw one and asked me to take their photo.


Looking from Morro Castle towards downtown Havana

Along the Malecon

All photos credited to me Peter McCarthy

Death of a pig (part 7) Ham

After two plus weeks in brine and 14 hours in the smoker Hoosier’s American Style Smoked Hams are done and they are beautiful; sweet, smoky, moist and tender.  We have been making this style of hams for many years, tweaking the recipe and methods to ensure a great ham every time.

Hoosier’s hams – each ham is cut into three pieces, brined, tied, smoked, chilled and sliced.

Smoking our own hams bring us much more than ham (the meat).  The meat could end up in ham sandwiches, part of a pasta dish, paired with cheese for a first course or even as a ham steak.  The skin makes a smoky gelatinous stock we often use in pigs skin risotto, soups and stews.  Scraps and bits are often used as a flavoring ingredient, such as in our Bangkok Chicken Wings where we pair the sweet ‘n’ smoky ham with Thai fish sauce, lime juice and spicy chilies.  We also always place a pan directly under the smoker to collect the drippings (liquid bacon), which finds its way into vinaigrette, sauces and marinades.

The fat that surrounds the ham, often 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick is freaking amazing.  Currently on our menu are Ham Fat-Potato Croquettes.  We take two parts diced ham fat and combine it with one part mashed potato, roll it into balls, bread ’em and then fry ’em. We’re serving them with mustard cream and last summer’s pickles.

A few of the dishes we are / have served using Hoosier’s hams-

Blue Corn Biscuits with Backroom Smoked Ham, Pete’s Sweet Pickles and Robinson Farm’s Swiss Cheese


Bangkok Chicken Wings
Sliced and served with local Burratina, arugula and Pete’s Pickled Peppers


Ham Fat Croquettes


The next post will be about Saucisson Sec, a dry cured sausage we made from Hoosier.

Death of a pig (part 6) Belly

A bit of a delay in getting this latest post out, I was visiting Cuba with my dad.  I will do a post about my trip in the near future.  Don’t worry we still have plenty of Hoosier to write about and serve.

Pig belly, oh glorious pig belly, a perfect marriage of meat and fat.  Cooked properly it has an unmatched succulence, melt in your mouth fat with just the right amount of meat.

At EVOO we have cooked pig bellies many different ways, usually braised, then glazed with a myriad of sweet and / or spicy sauces, sometimes fried and often finished on the grill.  Every so often we will cure and smoke the bellies to make bacon, though I get more satisfaction out of the other preparations.

Hoosier’s belly on the grill


Hoosier’s belly is being prepared this way: Sweet Soy Glazed Grilled Pig Belly with Miso Laced Parsnip Puree, Roasted Radishes and Carrot – Daikon Sprout Salad


After braising the bellies we trim them to make evenly cut, nice looking, portion sized pieces.  With those trimmings we remove the skin and pulverize the crap out them making a semi-chunky paste, kind of like rillettes, only better.  We serve it at room temperature as a spread with homemade pickles.

Pulverized Braised Pig Belly with Arugula, Pickled Garlic Scapes and Grilled Bread


One of my favorite preparations: Gochujang Glazed Braised Pig Belly


The Hams are just about ready, they will be the subject of the next post.

Death of a pig (part 5) Smoke

Smoke has been an integral part of our cooking since we opened in 1998.  At our original location we had an inexpensive charcoal / wood fueled smoker just outside of the restaurant’s back door.  We smoked all sorts of meat, fish and vegetables, we used the shit out of that smoker.  In our new (2010) location we didn’t have the option of putting a smoker out back, a city sidewalk was not going to work.  We needed to continue smoking food, it had become part of who we are.  After looking at many options and speaking with equipment specialists we went with an electric heat controlled floor model that the specialist insisted was big enough.

We quickly realized the smoker was too small and that the the initial heat is way too high. I think it’s programmed so that we to get the smoke going quickly.  The electric heat regulation is convenient, we just add smoke using wood chips and chunks; we have also smoked with different teas, coffee, dried herbs and spices.  I sometimes hope the smoker we have will shit-the-bed so we can get a bigger one.  Other times I think the smoker has been a work horse; most days it’s full of something, be it pig parts, pastrami, bluefish, salmon or veggies.

EVOO’s little smoker – filled with Hoosier’s bones.


After a few days in brine the thinner pieces of pig are ready for smoking.  The skin is first, filling the smoker racks, adding a few chunks of hickory every hour or so, maintaining a temperature of just under 200 degrees for 6 to 8 hours.  We end up with some beautiful mahogany hued smoke bombs that we have used several ways in the past. We have often braised it and used it to flavor risotto, at times we have made a stew with the smoked skin and beans.  Hoosiers skin was braised, cut into strips and served with cavatelli and seared sea scallops.

Here is the finished dish Seared Sea Scallops with Cavatelli and Backroom Smoked Pig’s Skin20161217_202140
A video of Fredy our amazing prep cook making the cavatelli

We will progress through all of the bits that need smoking, three to four batches of skin.  A 200 lb pig has a lot of skin, this will take at least two days.  Then we will smoke bones another 1 – 2 days, after that the heart and a few pieces of tasso ham, followed by the head and eventually the American style hams. I will post about each of them as we work our way through this beautiful pig.

I think the next post will be about the belly, followed by more smoke and possibly saucisson sec.

Death of a pig (part 4) On the menu, pate

We received Hoosier from Dogpatch Farm on the previous day, working into the wee hours to get the pig prepared for future preparations.

On the second day our pig makes his debut on the menu, the chops are usually the first cut that make it.  Depending on the size of the pig, its pedigree and the thickness of the loin we get between 12 and 16 orders of  pig chops.  I typically serve them with one long meaty bone attached.  The time of year and our whim determine what we serve the chop with.

This is how we did up Hoosier’s chops.

Grilled Sassafras Glazed Pig Chop with Bourbon Laced Sweet Potato Puree, Roasted Roots and Apple – Radish Salad.  Eva Sommaripa, one of our long time local farm partners, from South Dartmouth supplied us with the sassafras root for the glaze.  The sweet potatoes are from Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA and the roasted roots included parsnips, carrots and rutabaga are from Verrill Farm in Concord, MA.

Hoosier’s Chop


Within a couple of days of receiving the pig, the liver is quick to follow onto the menu, we almost always make pate.

I Hate Liver!  There are very few foods that make me cringe like liver, I can’t stand it!  It’s almost as gag worthy as when my mother cooks zucchini.  It’s bloody, mineraly, nasty flavor is a big turn off; I don’t even like the smell of it.  That said, it can have some positive attributes, I sometimes think of it like Thai fish sauce, in your face nasty by itself, but used in the proper way it can enhance and elevate the flavors around it, pate is a great example of this. Meaty, rich and boozy, a nice well made pate can be a real treat.  At EVOO we have been working on our recipe since we opened, over that time it’s gone from pretty darn good to exceptional.

We trim and weigh the liver to determine the amounts of the remaining ingredients.  Each pig usually provides us with enough liver to make between 6 and 8 pates.  We make the mixture and potion it into individual terrine size bags, freezing them and then baking them off as we need them.

EVOO’s Pate

The next post will be about smoke.

Death of a pig (part 3) brining and curing

Within hours of receiving Hoosier, he has been butchered and I will now start curing and brining the different parts.  This is often done after service starting around 11 pm usually finishing near 2 am, having consumed a couple of local drafts in the process.

One of my favorite local brews, anything by Night Shift.

The attributes of the pig and the needs of the restaurant will determine what I do with the pig.  If I already have a prosciutto hanging I will make American style hams; if I have a full stock of coppa, I can make tasso.  If the back fat is of top quality and we need lardo, I will make it.  Hoosier’s back fat is thick and beautiful, however, I have a Magnalitsa pig coming in soon and will use the back fat from that pig to make lardo.  Hoosier’s back fat will be diced, packed in 1 pound bags and frozen for future use in sausage making.

1 lb. bags of Hoosier’s back fat.


Enough already, here’s what I did with Hoosier: I brined the skin, most of the bones, the hams, feet and head in a salt – brown sugar brine.  I plan on smoking all of these items. The thickness and density of each item will determine how long they will remain in the brine, skin 3 days, hams 10 days plus.  As they are pulled from the brine they will be smoked.

Pig skin in brine.


I trimmed and dry rubbed the shoulders for spiced coppa, I did the same with the jowls for guanciale.  I will keep these in the refrigerator for a few days, turning daily, until the cure fully penetrates the meat. I will then hang them in our drying room until they lose at least 30% of their initial weight, becoming meatily delicious in the process.

Guanciale, prosciutto and peppered coppa hanging in our aging room.


In an effort to get some of the pig on the menu as quickly as possible I also give a quick mild brine to the pig chops, loin steaks and whole tenderloins.  These will brine overnight, before being sous vide, finished to order and put on our menu the following night.

Some of my favorite charcuterie books that I have looked to for ideas and techniques.

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I think my next post will be about Hoosier on the menu and possibly pate.

Death of a pig (part 2) Butchering

Within a few hours Hoosier’s 200 lb carcass needs to be broken down into more manageable sized pieces.  Having little formal training as a butcher, most of procedures that I follow are self taught. In culinary school butchering class was breaking down a chicken or two and a few demonstrations on fish butchery.  I clearly remember our meat fabrication instructor Mr. Perrillo saying “as long as you are cutting between meat and fat, chefy baby you’re on the right track”.  The school did serve some great meats at their highly acclaimed  restaurants, however, they hired professional butchers to fabricate for them.

Image result for culinary institute of america new yorkMy alma mater

I was fortunate, as a cook at The Bostonian Hotel in the late 80’s and early 90’s I had the opportunity to work with an accomplished butcher, Uriel Pinada.  He was very generous with his time.  With his guidance and my perseverance I was soon able break down smaller livestock , such as lamb, without screwing them up too badly.  Uriel is married to super chef Lydia Shire and still butchering; last I heard he is working at another Bostonian Hotel alum’s restaurant. I appreciate what he taught me, allowing me to gain the confidence I needed to handle much larger animals.

urielUriel Pinada

When a pig is delivered it is most often delivered split straight down the middle from nose to tail with a separate bag containing the liver, heart, tongue and kidneys.  I will write more about the innards later.  One half goes into the walk-in to stay cold, the other gets laid out on our back kitchen’s prep table.  I start right in, removing the bigger bits first to make the carcass more manageable, working my way through it until it is all processed. This usually takes several hours.  I am not going to get into the gory details, I will explain during subsequent posts were all of the parts we are using come from and how we process them.

genimage-9One side of the pig, in the process of being butchered.

I think of butchering whole animals as the necessary evil.  Though I have become quite proficient at it (see video below of me butchering a lamb), I really don’t like doing it.  I feel that if we are going to serve meat we need to do it the right way; support local farms with the least possible amount of environment impact.  I have often said “if meat didn’t taste so good, I would be a vegetarian”.  At least 3/4th of the meals I eat are vegetarian, most lunches and often dinner.  Note that while I am writing this my grill is getting smoking hot so I can cook some rare to medium-rare local beef burgers.

The next post will be about some of the curing that takes place before any of the pig finds it’s way onto our menu.

Below is a video of me butchering a lamb, you can see from my facial expressions that it is not one of my favorite jobs.




Death of a Pig (part 1) Delivery

At EVOO all of the land-based protein we use is sourced locally, with the exception of beef, all are from whole animals.  We strive to purchase the best proteins with the least amount of environmental impact.  This will be the first in a series of posts revealing all of the planning and execution we do for nose-to-tail cooking and menu implementation of a pig.

The first thing we need to do is procure the hog.  We deal with several farms that raise pigs, some are growing less than 10 hogs a year which are ready when they are ready.  These farmers usually take orders in the early spring, as soon as they get the piglets, for a late fall delivery.  I recall a couple of years ago one of our annual pig suppliers Pete Lowy of Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds in Concord MA held back delivery for a couple weeks because “the pigs are enjoying apples” which had recently fallen from the trees. He figured he would delay the inevitable so not only could the pigs uhm… pig-out, there would also be an added flavor benefit to the pork.  Pete and his wife Jen raise a handful of Mangalitsa pigs, a Hungarian breed known for their incredible fat.  We are one of the fortunate few to receive one of these beauties each year.

Other local farmers we use are producing top quality pastured hogs year round. At EVOO we purchase between 4 and 8 pigs a year.  As I hope you will see, over the length of these posts, there is a lot that goes into the complete utilization of each hog.  With the respect we have for the lives of these pigs and limited space in our kitchen, we need to use every bit of one pig before receiving the next.

The pig who you will be following through these posts is from our friends at Dogpatch Farm in Washington, ME.  His name, provided to us by Sue of Dogpatch is / was Hoosier.  Dogpatch Farm specializes in the Mulefoot hog which is a rare Heritage breed known for its freckled marbling, superb flavor and exceptional hams.



My next post will take you through the first few hours after the pig comes through our doors.