Going from a 40 foot walk-in cooler to solar powered chest freezers has been a hell of an adjustment. My days of offal hoarding are behind me. Offal is the rather unfortunate name for the parts of the pig that don't usually make it on to your table.... organs, bones, heads, tails... all that good stuff. It's a real shame actually, because some of these things have the best flavour and the most nutrition but most of us have never even seen them, let alone know what to do with them. In another time, every part of the pig was used. The fact that it usually gets thrown away now, is a testament to the fact that we just don't value meat the way we used to.
I just picked up two pigs from the butcher and still have a fair amount from the last pigs that won't be delivered until next week. So, in order to make room for chops, ground & wieners, I had to put 3 heads, a huge bag of fat and 2 big bags of bones into the cooler at which point the countdown begins as things start to defrost. So today, in between catching and towelling off newborn piglets, I'm babysitting a very large pot of fat which is rendering down into beautiful white lard and an even bigger pot full of marrow bones which is simmering into a rich, thick stock. The heads are still a bit frozen so I figure I can deal with those tomorrow.
I've blogged about my love affair with lard before so I won't go on about it too much here. My friend Katy (who is a phenomenal baker) recently brought us a pie with crust made with the lard she rendered from a side of pork she bought from us a couple of months ago. She couldn't believe how good the crust turned out and I was very happy to sample the results. That pie did not last very long! If you don't want to read the whole blog about it, suffice it to say that you should definitely be using it to make pie crust and you can, and should fry just about everything in it!
Katy's pie. I wish this could be scratch & sniff!
Stock (I think the cool kids are calling it "bone broth" these days) is a lost art too. I keep the bones from any meat we cook as well as all the ends from carrots, onions, garlic etc, stalks from herbs... all that good stuff in the freezer until I have enough to make a batch of stock. Then I toss it all in a pot and let it simmer away all day. Even if you don't make a lot of soups, it is well worth making stock. Last night, I used it to cook up a big pot of hulless oats from my Cedar Island CSA grain share. It gives the grains SO much more flavour than cooking them in water. Try it with rice, quinoa, lentils.... and even pasta. In the winter, I like to drink it on it's own for a rich, satisfying, healthy, warming beverage. Of course it is the start of many amazing homemade soups and stews too.
Tomorrow I will tackle the head cheese. I'm going to use a simple recipe from one of my favourite books by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Cookbook. I'm also going to make some "Scrapple" as I have several bags of organ meats taking up valuable freezer space too. I'm going to try my friend Cathy Finley's recipe and substitute a head for the trotters. I'm looking forward to frying up a slice and topping it with an egg for breakfast.
One of my favourite things to do with organ meat is liverwurst. We just made 30lbs of it and I have to admit that not as much of it as I had planned is making it into our variety packs. It is hard to share! The flavour is outstanding and it is full of iron so it is really good for you too. spread on crackers with a cool pickle on top it is a perfect snack on a hot summer day.
I really want to encourage you to not be afraid of the "odd bits." If you shy away from them, you are missing out on some incredible flavours, nutrition and hands down the best bang for your buck. Get in touch if you would like to add some of these more "adventurous" options to an order. Or better yet, order a whole side so you can see how much fun and how delicious it can be to use every part of a pig. I'm here to support you every step of the way so if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.
To get you started on your adventures in "Odd Bits," I recommend:
- Farmstead Meathsmith's "On The Anatomy of Thrift" video series - beautifully filmed and narrated, this video series takes you through the entire process with engaging story telling and music.
- The book "Odd Bits: How to Cook The Rest of the Animal" by Jennifer McLagan.
- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Cookbook.
- A visit to the Vancouver Delta Suite's Spencer's Lounge where my friend Chef Teejae Conwi is doing our pigs proud and using every single part of them to make outstanding dishes that will surprise you. Tell him I sent you and ask for the odd bits!