Most of us are only two or three generations removed for a grandma or great-grandma that was an incredible cook. If she came from a farm that raised a few pigs, she probably was fond of saying, “We eat everything but the squeal!” The recent trend toward nose-to-tail cooking is our modern-day attempt to recapture the culinary genius of many of our grandmothers.
Today, we focus our pork cookery mostly on muscle meats, like ham and pork chops, that make up little more than half of the pig. We forget about, and even throw away, the rest—skin, organ meats, and especially fat. That’s a mistake and a waste!
Let’s start with fat. Jennifer McLagan in her intriguing book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes, makes a compelling argument that our recently-acquired fear of fat is misplaced, pleasure-robbing, and even unhealthy.
Fat is fundamental to the flavor of food and the process of cooking it. The right kinds of fat are also fundamental to our good health—and a pastured Iberian pig is loaded with the right kinds of fat.
If you haven’t tried cracking, or fried pig skin, you’ve missed a gastronomic delight. It’s great for snacks, crumpling on a salad, or baking in cornbread. McLagan even shares recipes for Spiced Pork Cracking and a Crackling Brittle sweet treat.
As for certain organ meats, they can add a tasty and healthy punch to sausages and meat recipes. Pork liver makes a great pate’, and liver and onions are a southern favorite.
Don’t forget pork fat rendered into lard. It was our grandmothers’ secret to unbelievable fried chicken and flaky pie crusts and biscuits.
So why waste all of these “throwaway” parts of the pig. Cook and eat them!
Creative whole hog cooking is not only fun, it makes us better cooks—like our grandmas. And it can turn a good chef into a celebrity chef.