I’m the kind of girl who wakes up on a Tuesday morning, makes a nice piping Gaiwan of Formosa Oolong, checks her email, learns that two coveted spots have opened up for the following Saturday’s Whole Hog Butchery class at the Fatted Calf in Napa and twirls for joy like Julie Andrews on an Austrian mountaintop.
I tried to think of who else might want to take that second spot and carve up a gigantic beast with me…and you know what….while I can find someone to drag to a pole dancing class, and I know a few people I could take to see Tosca and I have a teensy handful of friends who might dig into a fresh pile of sea urchin at Swan’s Oyster Bar with me, I don’t know a single person, not even my husband, who thinks spending the day with a sharp knife and a delicious, big dead animal sounds like fun.
The Fatted Calf is a special place. Any establishment that sells house-cured lardo, crepinettes with pluots and almonds, and 5-Spice lamb bacon is okay by me. It’s difficult to yank me away from the meat counter, but it is nearly time; my pig awaits!
Once behind the scenes in the kitchen aka Butchering Central, I am handed an apron, shown the wash-up sink, an array of knives, mallets and saws, and we get down to business quickly. The class is only five hours long and there a beast to hack up, an endless salumi tray to nibble from, lunch to relish, good wine to drink, crepinettes to wrap in caul fat, and a hunk of Porchetta to tie up and roast.
I am, as they say, in hog heaven.
Our animal is brought in and I am slightly surprised that it’s headless, split in two, and already kind of neat and tidy, albeit massive. I was picturing something more Gothic…maybe on a hook…maybe hairy…bloody. But our piggy is ready to rock when he gets there – I guess I should be thankful; there is certainly a little something queasifying about the whole (hog) thing.
Incidentally, if you’re political correctness alarms are firing off, the Fatted Calf does not support the trend toward eating baby pig. Their belief is that if you’re going to kill an animal, kill a beautiful big one that can feed a lot of people. So yes to baby carrots, instead!
We are divided up in teams and given assignments. We are handed weapons (knives and such), shown how to parcel out the giant beast into more manageable pieces, otherwise known as ‘Primal Cuts’…incidentally an excellent name for a band!
This is tough work. Saws are involved. We separate the shoulder from the leg, the bones from the meat, the skin from the fat. We get messy.
There is something intensely bonding about the experience. Soon my classmates are like my piggy brothers and sisters. It’s like we’ve spent the summer on Outward Bound together, been to the war and back. We pull each other through the challenges at hand, never leaving a soldier behind.
I make a new best friend, Melissa. She is as excited about slicing through the skin and fat as I am! She doesn’t think I’m weird for enjoying every second of this and I return the favor.
One of the biggest treats of the day is butchering and preparing an entire Porchetta. There is nothing so gorgeous as a ginormous Porchetta exiting the oven, but the average home cook will rarely get the experience of a piece of meat this honkin’ huge.
My friends at Morso write about Roberta Dowling’s delectable recipe, which sounds DEEELICIOUS, but here at the Fatted Calf, the Porchetta is all about the hunk of heritage pork and the fresh-ground fennel. While we have used Fennel Pollen to season the more, ahem…‘delicate’ shoulder chops, the meat here is slathered with a simple few handfuls of freshly dried and ground herbs which are made on premises and on drying in racks above our heads in the kitchen.
No one makes a gargantuan Porchetta unless they’re planning on having a big group of people over for supper, but what I think we mere mortals can learn from ‘big-meat’ recipes like this is the collection of flavors and textures that go well together: fennel, rosemary, garlic, crunchy skin and pork for instance. You can use some of these same notes for cooking smaller hunks of meat. I make my lil’ pork shoulder chops with the same collection of flavors.
The Fatted Calf is nice enough to share their smaller scale recipe although the big one they cook up for their case is tres gorgeous! Except for the butchering, this preparation is simple – the gorgeous piggy is the star.
FATTED CALF FENNEL PORCHETTA
3-5 pound boned pork shoulder roast, fat and skin on
1 1/2 cups fresh garlic, pounded with a mortar and pestle
Zest of 4 lemons
Course sea salt & fresh ground pepper
1 cup toasted fennel seed, finely ground in a mortar and pestle
2 bunches rosemary, finely ground in a mortar and pestle
1/2 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
Lay the roast flat on a cutting board, skin side down. Sprinkle the interior generously with the herbs and spices. Roll up the pork and tie tightly with butcher’s twine. Sprinkle the outside with more fennel seed.
Marinate the porchetta for up to 4 days.
Rub the roast with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt prior to roasting. Cook at 375 to 400 degrees until the outside is browned to a golden hue, then, lower the temperature to 300-325 for 3-4 hours. Let the roast rest for 30 minutes, remove the string and slice into spirals to serve.
And in case you didn’t get your fill of swine…
Take your boots off before you come in here!