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How one chef uses an entire pig

Sean Brock details how he puts all parts to use

Chefs seem particularly enamored of the idea of cooking every bit of a pig. It appeals to the conservationist in them, is easier to conceive of than cooking an entire cow, and a lot more impressive than cooking a whole chicken.

The last time NRN checked in with Sean Brock — the executive chef of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, S.C. — he had just bought three acorn-fed Berkshires and had started curing them.

“It’s crazy. You spend $7,000 on these pigs and you don’t get to taste them for a year,” said Brock, who also is undertaking to develop his own breed derived from the local Ossabaw.

“They have these crazy Mohawks and really long snouts, skinny legs and a huge frame, super dark, deep red colored meat and that incredible fat cap,” he said of Ossabaws.

Brock buys about one whole pig every two weeks — more if business is robust — and he uses a combination of old-school Southern tradition, classic European technique and modern molecular gastronomy to process it all.

The ham always gets cured, generally for 15 to 16 months under refrigeration. He rubs the ham with a combination of salt, brown sugar, black pepper and crushed red pepper and leaves it on the ham for one day per pound. Then the ham goes to the smokehouse for about a week before the refrigerated cure begins. Brock said he’s curing about 75 hams of different breeds.

“We serve it straight up, like prosciutto,” Brock said. “We have one of those Spanish-style ham holders at the bar, and slice it to order.”

Brock braises the trotters and tails, picks the meat and seasons them with herbs. He rolls them into a tube and at service paints that terrine with mustard. Then he crusts it in bread crumbs and pan-fries it.

He cures the head like pancetta and then rolls it into a cylinder with some transglutaminase, or “meat glue.” He poaches that for a couple of hours, chills it and slices it “like a pancetta/porchetta kind of thing,” Brock said.

He sometimes cures the loin, too. Otherwise he’ll likely poach it and then finish it on a plancha.

The belly is brined in sorghum and apple cider and then cooked sous-vide. Then he presses it down for a day, portions it and griddles it.

“We also make a lot of bacon,” he said.

The ribs are cooked sous-vide, too, and then finished in the oven with a sarsaparilla glaze and pickled peaches.

Brock butterflies the heart, marinates it, grills it and serves it like steak.

He mixes the liver with foie gras, butter and eggs, purées it, bakes it and serves it as a spread with Satsuma jelly and pickled ramps.

Brock puts a “real light cure” on the shoulders, submerges them in lard and cooks them low and slow overnight, confit-style. He lets the cooked shoulders sit in fat for a day, presses them and cuts them into cubes.

“Then that’ll get deep-fried in lard before it goes on the plate,” Brock said.

A fair amount of trim gets made into bologna, which he serves pan-fried as a snack. Or he’ll wrap raw bologna around a piece of Cheddar cheese, stuff that into quail, poach the bird and grill it to order, “so when customers cut it the cheese oozes out.”

Brock keeps the skin whole and pressure-cooks it until it’s “really soft.”

Then he chills it, cuts it into paper-thin noodles and serves them in a noodle bowl, often with broth, matsutake mushrooms, peas and a poached egg.

He pressure-cooks the ears, slices them into slivers and fries them.

“They puff up into pork rinds a little bit,” Brock said. “We’ve been garnishing our shrimp and grits with that at husk.”

He smokes and cures the fat back country ham-style, with sugar, black pepper and red pepper. “It’s our spin on lardo,” he said.

“Obviously we make tons of pork rinds,” Brock said.

He braises the rinds sous-vide, scrapes off the fat and then dehydrates them.

Next he puts them in a blender and adds liquid nitrogen when blending them so they shatter into tiny pieces.

“When we fry them, the little tiny pieces puff up like popcorn,” Brock said.

The condiment served with bread at Husk is pork honey butter — three parts rendered pork fat, one part butter and honey added to taste.

RELATED: Pork populates menus beyond the breakfast daypart, across segments (subscribers only)

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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