April Bloomfield is the chef of The Spotted Pig in NYC. That she knows a thing or two about cooking pigs young and old, should therefore come as no surprise. In a demonstration entitled "Pig, Pig, Pig,", Chef Bloomfield gave a very strong indication of just how much she does know about the subject – a lot. Reminiscent of last year's tour de force of piglet cooking at the Starchefs ICC with Joan Roca and Candido Lopez, Bloomfield showed her skills with a piglet. Like last year's suckling pigs that were brought all the way from Spain, Bloomfield's was special too. Her piglet wasn't from Spain, but it did cross a border. She utilized a St. Canut suckling pig from Quebec's Laurentian Mountains. Roca's approach was to take the Spanish suckling pig and prepare it using Vanguard techniques. Lopez' approach was to roast whole suckling pig in the traditional Spanish fashion. Bloomfield's approach was to take the whole suckling pig and break it down n stage and utilize the various parts in her platings. Each approach was wonderfully illuminating and incredibly appetizing. In the case of Lopez, I can emphatically speak to the absolute deliciousness of the approach. While I have no doubt that Roca's and Bloomfield's dishes were delicious as well, unfortunately I did not get a chance to taste them!
Bloomfield opened her talk explaining why she is so passionate about this particular pig. She considers it to be very "well-balanced" with a "fantastic fat ratio to the meat." For the pig's first three weeks of life, it is fed from its mother's teats, then raw milk for another seven weeks before being slaughtered at ten weeks of age. She finds the meat sweet and buttery. Even after slaughtering, it is treated well, supporting its belly in a box through the shipping from Canada. Her fervent desire was to do this particular pig "justice."
She started with the head, cutting a little behind the jowl, so as not to waste it. She described a dish they do at The Spotted pig, called "Bath Chap" of rolled pig's head that is "lightly salted and boiled, then breaded and fried." She continued slicing through the neck with a sharp knife until she came to the cervical spine, for which she continued with a hack saw. Throughout she took care to keep the meat cuts "nice and clean." She said that "once you hear it snap or pop, you want to stop cutting because you don't want to cut into the flesh anymore." She proceeded to cut off the ears and passed them on to her assistants for confiting and reserved the head off to the side for a "bath chap."
Her next job was to remove the shoulders. She counted five ribs in from the top and marks it. She goes five ribs, because she "likes a bigger shoulder." She uses the saw to cut through where she meets resistance, from the shoulder through the loin and through "the backbone." She used this cut to illustrate what she considers "perfect balance" with plenty of "white & buttery" fat. She then used the saw and the knife to cut through the spine and separate the front shoulder portion into two halves."having nice sharp knives really helps." She suggested that "in butchery, you really want to keep close to the bone."
She proceeded to the legs, pointing to an area to cut just above the hip. This left her with a loin end and the legs, which she proceeded to split by sawing through the lower spine. In the meantime, ""pork scratchings" were passed through the crowd for sampling. These were from a different pig than the St. Canut.
The belly was next. Once again, she sawed through the backbone separating the loin section in two, finishing with a knife. Once halved, she sawed the ribs away, leaving the belly with riblets attached. Bloomfield then used a knife to separate the riblets from the belly. leaving a deboned belly, which she used to make a roulade, which she poached in vinegar and water with onions and carrots. She butterflied the belly, seasoned it and wrapped it "nice and tight" in cheesecloth with the fat on the exterior of the roll. From here she placed it in her vinegar based stock. She likes cooking with vinegar to cut through the sweetness of the meat.
Bloomfield's assistant described how they prepare pork rinds. First they boil the skin pieces to soften them. Next they dehydrate them until they no longer have any rubbery spots (roughly 12 hours). At that point they are ready to deep fry at a temperature around 350ºF. She recommended a "nice stir" while the skin is frying so that "they puff up nicely."
With the principle protein element of the dish cooking, they moved on to the plating details of the dish she calls, "Slow-Poached St-Canut Suckling Pork Belly with Onion Puree, Garlic Confit, and Chives. For
the confit garlic, once it's soft, it is removed from the oil and placed
in flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. They also made an onion sauce, and used the deep-fried garlic confit, sauteed
pigskin and the ears. Once the ears ere softened, they are sliced very thin and
fried. The pork roll was braised in a vinegar/onion
sauce, into which she placed the ribs from the belly for extra flavor.
For plating, Bloomfield first put down the onion puree then a slice from the
belly roll. She topped that with some of the fried skin and garlic, along
with some crisp-fried parsley and other herbs scattered around, finishing with a drizzle of olive oil.
A short question and answer period followed.
Q: How long did she braise the pork belly? A: 3 – 3 1/2 hours depending on the size.
Q: When did you first start cooking head to tail? A: It was just before I moved to ny, I had the great privilege of eating St John – over the last 5 years it's been phenomenal to get to
learn how to use everything in the pig.
Q: What happened at John Dory? A: It's a bad time, and it was the wrong space. We didn't get many walk-ins so we decided to close it. John Dory will carry on.
Q: You mentioned not piercing the jowls, and could you talk about the incredible quality of the pig's head in stock? A: We like the jowls and the snout for one of our dishes… the head gives
the stock a better flavor and more gelatinous texture.
The slide show contains many step by step photos of Bloomfield's demo.
I believe that all those who witnesses this demonstration would agree that justice was served!