Below is installment 3 of Jet’s guest posts. As you can see, she has really jumped right into the pig (hog) project, and I am so excited to share her experience!
Frankly, I’ve struggled with this guest post, because the porterhouse cut from a Berkshire hog raised on barley and finished on almonds is so obviously fantastic that commentary just seems unnecessary. That said, “Duh” is hardly a worthwhile blog post and both Christiana and our hog deserve better.
When we were first thinking about our pig, during what seemed like an interminable three week wait between giving Lefty our deposit and Kent’s first opening, We talked a lot about recipes for the head and the liver and the bones and all of the other things we’d be getting with a whole animal that we wouldn’t necessarily order from a butcher and had only imagined in reading about them. My brother, a seriously talented pit master and undisputed expert on all meat related matters, kept saying “but what are you going to do with chops?” Really? I already knew what to do with those. At least I thought I did.
Kent insisted that we didn’t need to brine them as the technique had gained popularity due only to the ubiquity of lean and largely flavorless commercial pork. Again and again he admonished us to, above all else, not screw up Lefty’s sublime hog. I’m not sure we’ve made enough of this, but this animal is delicious in ways we had never imagined possible.
While I’ve come to trust Kent, it was with no small amount of anxiety that I seasoned a 1 1/4 inch chop with salt and pepper and grilled it. Would it really be tender and juicy without a brine? Would it taste so great that it didn’t need a brine? Was I wasting a treasured chop listening to Kent’s advice for no reason other than his authoritative manner (or was it the knives, guns, and saws)? What would Michael think if it were less awesome than I had promised after I’d spent all of this money and time and sent him and his buddy from the driving range off to obtain a freezer for the garage? True story: it was transcendent. It was so good, I am pretty sure we’ll never buy meat any other way. Michael, who is blessed with a miraculous metabolism and, somewhat famously among our acquaintances, indiscriminately eats all manner of fatty foods that the rest of us know we should eschew, actually said that he was worried he would eat too much of the fat due to the extraordinary appeal of the flavor and texture.
In talking to Christiana, it occurred to me that some people may want more process detail than “grill it”. Whether you are using hardwood, charcoal, or a gas grill, the mechanics are largely similar. The meat needs to be room temperature. This, despite the guidance in every recipe you have ever read, takes more than an hour. Really, touch it after an hour on the counter. Unless you are in an equatorial region during the summer, it is still cold. Give it 2-3 hours. [I’m guessing that the one hour deal that you see everywhere is a food safety guideline? IDK. But just in case, I’m adding here that in following these instructions, you’re leaving food out at your own risk, we are not responsible, etc, etc. – ed.] You’ll want two cooking zones when you prepare the grill, as the first step requires screaming heat and you’ll need indirect heat to cook it thoroughly. Our pork chops have a ton of fat. I don’t trim them because the fat is delicious and because it serves a mystical seasoning function during the cooking process. It also ignites. Easily. So easily, you should expect it to do so. Put your seasoned room temperature chop on the grill. Don’t touch it for 3 minutes unless it is engulfed in flames. In that case, move it to the portion of the grill under which there is no heat. When the flames subside, return it to the heat. In case it is not clear, you should not leave the grill. This activity is wildly inappropriate for multi-tasking. When you are satisfied with the caramelization, or Maillard Reaction, on both sides, move the meat to the unheated section of the grill. It should take another 5-15 minutes to reach 145 degrees. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, here is a useful guide to gaging doneness by touch, as grill station line cooks do day after back breaking day in restaurants all over the world. Do yourself a favor. Try it medium rare, after you let it rest for 10 minutes. Resting is key and will allow the juices to redistributed throughout the meat.
All of this brings me to the porterhouse chops. Suzanne Goin is a total hero and object of one of my most long standing and serious food crushes. She is, as many famous chefs are, known for being more than a little pork obsessed. Her book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, is the catalogue of Sunday Suppers I wish we’d grown up eating and the promise of memories I hope we create for my nephews. The seasonal, family style menus are a lot of work. Satisfying, rewarding work, to be sure, but a lot of work, nonetheless. She is, no doubt, sourcing pretty extraordinary pork for her elite Los Angeles clientele. She also brines it. With apologies to Kent, I do think some chefs are not idiots and may have something relevant to say to improve the home cook’s successes in the kitchen. Suzanne Goin is certainly among them. In fact, it was her pork porterhouse recipe in Menu 20, pork porterhouse with sautéed quince, apple and potatoes, that inspired us to discover, using the excellent visual aids in Whole Best Butchery, that this cut comes from the saddle and was on the must have list as Kent and Christie guided us through our options. Also? The aforementioned meat expert brother had never heard of it and was dazzled by the “of course you can get a cut with the tenderloin on one side of the bone and the loin on the other from a hog” revelation. Why wasn’t the entire meat loving universe shouting about this? How was it even possible the porkerhouse had escaped our awareness? The recipe is awesome. Seriously, it will change your life. You should buy the book and a hog, or order the cut from your butcher.
Tenderloin, from a hog or a steer, is just tender. While said tenderness has resulted in seriously premium pricing for filet mignon, it’s not interesting in the way other cuts are. Electing to eschew it and opt for pork T-Bones may have been the easiest decision in the entire process of going in on a pig with friends.