My Year of the Pig

According to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, technically, the "Year of the Pig" is not until 2007. For once in my life, I think I'm ahead of schedule.

Unlike my friend Della, I've never really considered myself a raving Team Pork fan, but this past year has had an undeniable reoccuring theme. I've affectionately called it my "Year of the Pig."

It started this spring when by sheer dumb luck, I attended a lecture by Fergus Henderson. If you don't know Fergus, he's the author of "Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating." He is also the mastermind behind England's highly acclaimed St. John restaurant guessed it, the menu is completely nose to tail! The lecture included a slide show featuring the butchering of a full detail. It was one of those moments where a picture truly was worth more than 1,000 words. Shocked and a bit appalled, I chided my friend for bringing me.

In a crazy twist of fate...that the lecture proved to be invaluable.

It also primed me for a set of other pig-centric experiences.

A few weeks later, I took a charcuterie class. It sounded interesting and I knew virtually nothing about the subject. I had no idea what I was in for. The class was my first encounter with hog casings and fatback. Luckily the casings were already soaked and prepped by the time I got to them. Since this was my virgin experience, I don't know if I could have handled cleaning them myself. I was already taken back by the entire sausage-making process. Learning works in stages and early on in the class, I'd hit my limit. I volunteered to make the only chicken sausage on the agenda. I'll also confess...I shamelessly found a different project to work on when it came time to stuff the sausages!

But the sausage was good....really good.

In fact, it was the best I'd ever had!

I was intrigued.

When friends gathered for a sausage making party, I hesitated, and finally agreed to go. Still unsure of myself, I stayed out of the pre-party planning and discussions. It was obvious everyone else was really excited...and enthusiastically read up on the subject both online and by reading Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Curing, and Smoking." I, on the other hand, barely got my act together enough to be a worthwhile participant. I had my recipe, ingredients (sans casings), and waning confidence.

The group of us descended on the house. The room quickly filled with talk of sausage and smoking meat. I was content to be a fly on the wall, listening and learning. Although I had purchased the ingredients, I was secretly hoping to make myself useful and avoid making my own sausage. At just the right moment, a few nurturing soles took me under their wings and guided me through the process. Finally, lying in a spiral before me, were sausages I'd actually made myself! I vaguely remember someone even calling my sausages "beautiful."

For this foray, I revisited the chicken sausage recipe I'd enjoyed so much. Made by my own hand, I'm happy to report...they were just as good as I remembered!

Back at the restaurant, the chef teased me, "What if Jason (chef de cuisine) wants to put your sausage on the menu?"

To me, the idea was preposterous. I retorted, "Then I think he's got a problem!"

But the wheels started turning..."what if..."

I bought the "Charcuterie" book and it was exceptionally well written. I could actually see myself making sausage on my own.

After a couple attempts under my belt, my confidence was growing.

Next was the Porcella sausage making class. By this time, I was confident and it was fun to get a refresher. The best part about the class was meeting Porcella's charcuterie guy, Noah. As I mentioned earlier, I made it a point to work with him. Hence, the HEAD CHEESE.

Rounding out my "Year of the Pig" was a pig roast over Labor Day weekend. Two whole 75 pound pigs, who we affectionately dubbed "the twins," slowly roasted over charcoal for 9 hours. (See my next post for photos and details.)

So what's next for my "Year of the Pig"? At this point, that's anybody's guess. More sausage, for sure!

While the quantity of this recipe makes a lot, I recommend making the whole batch. The sausages freeze very well. If you want to skip the hog casings, you can easily form the sausage into patties instead.

Green Chile Chicken Sausage
From Culinary Communion

makes 11 ½ pounds

7# boneless chicken thighs, cubed
3 # fat back, cubed
6 T chili powder
5 tsp cumin
5 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
5 tsp oregano
5 tsp dried basil
1 ½ tsp onion powder
6 garlic cloves, minced
5 tsp Tabasco sauce
3 ½ oz salt
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
12 oz poblano chiles, roasted, seeded, peeled and cut into ⅛” dice
12 oz ice-cold water
21 ft hog casings, rinsed

Process: Toss the chicken and the fat back with the combined seasonings. Chill well. Grind through the fine plate (⅛”) of a meat grinder into a mixing bowl over an ice bath.

Combine: Mix on low speed for 1 minute, gradually adding poblano chiles, jalapenos, and ice water. Mix on medium speed for 15-20 seconds, or until the sausage mixture is sticky to the touch.

Test: Panfry a test patty. Adjust seasoning and consistency before filling the prepared casings and shaping into 4” links.

The sausage is ready to prepare for service now by pan frying, baking, grilling, or broiling to an internal temperature of 150°F, or hold under refrigeration for up to 7 days.