Saturday, April 18, 2009

Red Wattle Pig

My food friend Piglet and I recently ordered a quarter of a Red Wattle pig from Heritage Foods USA, a company that sells meat and poultry on behalf of small, independent farms and "exists to promote independent family farms, humane production, genetic diversity and traceability." (Piglet has bought turkeys through this company and has been very pleased with them.)

When I told people that I had ordered an eighth of a pig, they inevitably asked, "which eighth?" It was a little sad to explain that it was all butchered and packed in freezer ready heavy plastic bags. The quarter that came weighed in at about 40 pounds, more than the 35-pound estimate, and consisted of a leg, a shoulder roast, some ribs, pork chops, bacon, breakfast sausage, pork osso bucco, ground pork, etc. No exotic cuts or organ meats were included.

What attracted us to the Red Wattle pig was in part this description on Heritage Foods' web site:

Red Wattle meat tends to be a little darker than most other pork and is very tender. The variety boasts wonderful hams and sirloin steaks and a juicy and flavorful taste even though the meat is lean. The Red Wattle is perhaps the most severely at risk variety of pork in the United States. This pig, which gets its name from its red color and the wattles that hang under the chin, originated in New Caledonia, came to New Orleans in the 18th century and lingered in the forests of Texas. Larry and Madonna Sorell of Glasco, Kansas [whence our pig], lead a network of four families who are among the last in the world raising the Red Wattle."

In short, we were getting a pedigreed, appropriately raised and delicious pig.

So, what did we do with it and how was it?

I invited some friends to share a meal featuring this pig. We were nine. After hors d'oevres and guava/peach bellinis, we started with delicious fennel sausages that I made from the ground pork, following a recipe from Wolfgang Puck. I then cut the sausages into bite-sized bits, browned them, added 8 ounces of balsamic vinegar of not great quality and boiled it down to a dense syrupy sauce (recipe from Michael Chiarello). Served over v e r y slow-cooked polenta (recipe from Paul Bertolli), this was a nice start.

For the main course, I made Pernil, a Puerto Rican preparation (recipe from Ingrid Hoffman), accompanied by red quinoa and chopped collard greens. I marinated the pork overnight in a garlicky, citrusy adobo marinade that included Goya brand Mojo sauce, made with bitter oranges. Then I roasted the pork for 5 1/2 hours: 450º for 1 hour and 350º for the remaining 4 1/2. The sauce was delicious, but I found the pork a bit -- certainly not falling off the bone as advertised -- so the natural goodness of the pork was less evident than in the sausages. Next time, lower and slower after the first hour. The meal was completed by a wonderful flourless chocolate cake baked by one of the guests.

Piglet made pork chops and also found them a touch too dry. She tried again and was much happier. She also made some of the bacon and it was great.

So, the bottom line on the Red Wattle pig is that it can taste great, but one must be careful to avoid overcooking the leaner cuts. The description says this breed is naturally lean, and it's true. And in any event, it feels good to eat pork from a pig that is raised the way it should be.

If we ever get to the bottom of the freezer full of Red Wattle pork (now down to 10 pounds), I'd like to try again. Next time, though, Piglet and I have agreed to try to a fattier Berkshire or Duroc.

Bobby Jay


booknlyrics said...

Having been fortunate enough to participate in the abovementioned feast, I can testify to the fact that this Red Pig was one savory swine!

Paul Haas said...

The chef's comments about dryness aside (Bobby Jay must have picked and eaten the one dry slice, apparently...), the descriptions are spot on. This was a feast for the tastebuds and the eyes. $1.30/square or no, one MUST try Pierre Marcolini. The Venezuela was a good choice.

Piglet said...

Hi. Last night I roasted the pork sirloin and it came out juicy and tasty. 375 degrees for about 70 minutes for a piece that was just under three pounds. I roasted it with onions and a potato, sage, italian herbs you brought me from Paris and just a splash of white wine--Practice makes perfect perhaps. Though the piece was rather lean it didn't come out dry!