Going Whole Hog

20 10 2009

From Nose to Tail was the title of the seminar here at the Sante Restaurant Symposium 2009 in Lake George, NY.  Chef Jamie Bissonnette of Toro and the soon to open Copa in Boston, MA was on hand to demonstrate not only the butchering of a pig but also the unique ways to use a whole pig.  With the popularity of salumi and charcuterie as well as the importance being placed on sustainability, it is no surprise that more and more restaurants are butchering whole animals.  Of course it takes a great deal of training and skill to know how to butcher, but it also takes planning and some research.  Bissonnette cautions those interested in taking the plunge to be careful.

Bissonnette explains that butchering a whole animal must first be profitable.  His restaurants offer small plates and a menu with about fifty items so he has the luxury of offering items at all different price points.  An example is he will butcher multiple animals and save the parts for future specials that he can run when he accumulates enough.  Do not forget the time commitment necessary to hang the meats and age them, this is in effect resources tied up in inventory, it takes up room, it could be aging for a significant amount of time.

Go local.  Knowing your source and the farmer is vital to ensure you understand the breed and provenance of the animal.  You will know what the animal was raised on and can get to know how this affects the flavor of the product, fat content, etc.

Be safe.  if making salumi be sure to follow recipes.  Bissonnette insists that nitrates were made for a reason, and care must be taken when making charcuterie to prevent illness.  Use resources such as recipes and books from reputable sources to ensure you do not waste time, money and energy.  This also prevents the danger of experimenting which could produce disastrous results.

The restaurant size will determine how big of an animal you are able to butcher, at Toro they have limited room so are unable to bring in multiple animals at a time.  Storage of course can also become an issue, if the walk-in is not big enough you may not be able to store a full pig and may need to butcher immediately upon delivery.  This relates closely to the size of the animal you bring in.  The pig Bissonnette butchered was only sixty pounds, and for example a pig that size does not provide a large slab of bacon.  It is important to estimate your needs and portion sizes as they will relate to the size of the pig you will need to purchase.  Bissonnette suggested that the sizes of cuts we are familiar with come from animals between four and five hundred pounds.  This may be impossible to butcher in house.  The method of breaking down the animal will vary also according to your resources.  Bissonnette uses cleavers and knives since they do not have room for a bandsaw or mechanical saws.

Bissonnette explains that only if you use the entire animal butchery can become profitable, if you focus on the primal cuts you will miss out.  No scrap is wasted.   Pieces of fat are smoked and used to flavor stocks and broths.  Random bits make lard that can be used to make lardo.  He even takes bones which he boils and then rolls in rice flour and fries for a hearty hands on snack.  The funny thing is there is one piece that will not make it to your plate if you go to Toro, and that is the small pork skirt.  He fries that up for himself.