16 December 2012

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles

Photo on far left by Abbey Lewis

From Farm to Table (butcher’s table) 
to Table (my dining room table)
to My Mouth.

A few weeks ago, I bought a pig from Slagel Family Farms.  Not to love and cuddle, as one does, but to eat. (I still might cuddle with it, though.)

With the purchase came an invitation to view the butchering (not to be confused by its slaughtering, which is different).  Rob Levitt at The Butcher and the Larder provided this educational and enjoyable experience for us, and I highly recommend it to those who deem this sort of activity educational and enjoyable. Um, yes.  I would like to watch you cut apart this beautiful creature that died for my family.  Yes, I would like to be educated about its piggy meaty parts while I drink beer with my friends who also like piggy meaty parts.

So there’s my pig.  Well, there’s my half-pig.  And ok, only half of that half-pig is mine, since I split it with a pig-loving friend. Isn’t he handsome? Who, Rob? Well yes, but, the pig, isn’t he handsome? (Yes, he is a he; I asked. Rob obliged and dug around until he found out for me. Rob is the best.)

As the butcher deftly yet gently broke down our hog, wasting nothing except for some inedible glands, he taught us many things.  He taught us that if you’re doing it right, a saw is needed only for the bones, and everything else can be done with a $27 knife, as long it is very, very, very sharp.  He taught us that hogs are broken down differently in different countries. He showed us parts we hadn’t heard of before and suggested different ways to prepare certain cuts.  He taught us that your energy shouldn’t be spent sawing with the knife, but rather pulling the meat so tautly that the knife takes hardly any effort to separate the muscles from themselves. Easier said than done, and he sure made it look easy.

Lifting the skirt steak out of the hog.  What!? Pigs have a skirt steak? Who knew?
P.S. Although Nate looks grossed out, he's really, really not. I promise. 

I was amazed at how non-gruesome the evening was. Rob worked on a wooden butcher’s block, which looked so clean by the end of the night that I would have considered eating a cupcake off of it, had there been cupcakes. The butcher wore a white apron, and though he wiped his hands on it constantly, it was still remarkably white by the end of the night. The meat seemed smooth and dry, in contrast to the slimy pork I often bring home from the grocery store. Another difference? The smell. This pig actually smelled good - pleasant and sweet.  Nothing like the stench of some of those supermarket pigs. Stinky Pork, you and me are over. I have a new addiction.

That night at home, I dumped forty pounds of wrapped pork on my dining room table and stared at it for about an hour. Finally I calmed down (but only a little bit) and went to bed, visions of ham hocks still dancing through my head.  What would I make? Which cut would I cook first? Should I eat it all by myself, or share it? Should I cook it or just eat it raw?

Fast forward to a few days later, when during his Rhubarb episode, Jamie Oliver told me exactly what I would be doing with at least two pounds of my precious pork.  DID YOU KNOW THAT JAMIE OLIVER HAS A RHUBARB EPISODE? And that during that episode, he also prepares pork belly? Well, I didn't, and at that particular moment, suddenly nothing else in the world mattered. Not my unfinished lesson plans, not my children, not even my half-half-pig from Slagel Farms that I watched transformed into delicious piggy meaty parts. The only thing in this world that mattered was what Jamie Oliver was going to do to that rhubarb and pork belly right then and there. 

First, he made a marinade of rhubarb, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red chiles, and honey.
(“I have sequestered frozen rhubarb,” I thought to myself. )

Then, he braised pork belly in that marinade.
(“I HAVE PORK BELLY!!!!!!!” I squealed to myself. )

Then, he crisped up the fork-tender belly in a frying pan, added noodles, the braising sauce, and fresh garnishes. He ate it. He filmed that. I watched it. I made it.  Then I ate it.

And I will make it again. And again.  Although I was looking forward to discovering new ways to prepare my Slagel Farms pork belly, I'm not sure I will ever need a different pork belly recipe again. It's  that good. The rhubarb gives it tangy smack, the chiles add perfect heat, and greens add fresh crunch.  But the pork is the star.  I'm hooked, Slagel Farms!

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles
~ from Jamie Oliver


• 1kg pork belly, the best quality you can afford, boned, rind removed, cut into 3–4cm cubes 
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
• groundnut or vegetable oil 
• 375g medium egg noodles (or ramen, or chow mein noodles)
• 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced 
• 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced 
• 2 punnets of interesting cresses (such as coriander, shiso or basil cress) 
• a bunch of fresh coriander 
• 2 limes 

for the marinade 
• 400g rhubarb 
• 4 tablespoons runny honey 
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce 
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled 
• 2 fresh red chillies, halved and deseeded 
• 1 heaped teaspoon five-spice 
• a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pork pieces in a roasting tray and put to one side. Chuck all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste, then pour all this over the pork, adding a large wineglass of water. Mix it all up, then tightly cover the tray with tinfoil and place in the preheated oven for about an hour and 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender, but not colored.

Pick the pieces of sauce out of the pan and put to one side. The sauce left in the pan will be deliciously tasty and pretty much perfect. However, if you feel it needs to be thickened slightly, simmer on a gentle heat for a bit until reduced to the consistency of ketchup. Season nicely to taste, add a little extra soy sauce if need be, then remove from the heat and put to one side.

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Get yourself a large pan or wok on the heat and pour in a good drizzle of groundnut or vegetable oil. Add your pieces of pork to the wok and fry for a few minutes until crisp and golden. (You might need to do this in two batches.) At the same time, drop your noodles into the boiling water and cook for a few minutes, then drain most of the water away. Divide the noodles into four warmed bowls immediately, while they’re still moist.

To finish, spoon over a good amount of rhubarb sauce. Divide your crispy pork top, and add a good sprinkling of spring onions, chilli, cresses and coriander. Serve with half a lime each – perfect.

More photos of the evening at The Butcher & Larder

 My friend's kid was totally into it. 
Halfway through, he wiggled over to me and asked if he would be able to eat some of this pig at my house, and when I said yes, he smiled and triumphantly informed his mother that he would be doing so. 

Mine. All mine.

 Scraps for sausage.

Wrapping it up. 
Q&A session with the butcher.

Thanks Rob! It was a wonderful evening.  And the meat is even better.