HIGH ON THE HOG, JOWL LEVEL IF WE’RE BEING PRECISE
So The Month of Cooking Dangerously could now be more accurately called The Season of Cooking Irritably. My fucker of a kitchen still isn’t done. Granted, to the casual observer it is done. Functionally it’s done. But the last few nagging details have lingered on and on like a stale fart in the place where I should be making and smelling food.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the new space. As a kitchen it’s more functional, beautiful and well considered than anything I’ve ever had before. But my readiness to have the project in my rear view mirror is simply jading me. A fact that I can’t help but be confronted with every time someone comes into my house. The conversation tends to go a little something like this:
Excited Guest: “Oh it’s beautiful, do you just love it?”
Disgruntled Me: “…I’m withholding judgment till the cocksucker is finished. Oh! Sorry, I didn’t mean to say cocksucker in front of your kid… or her grandma…Hi… You know, I do love it, just what I wanted. It’s just that this project has really lasted like a… [SIGH] cocksucker… I’m going out to the garage.”
The garage. When a man is at lose ends it really contains all the answers. Axes for chopping things. Shovels for digging a good hole. Poisons for killing unwanted critters and plants. Freezers full of meat. Fridges full of extra beer. And also, my curing chamber.
I haven’t been putting the curing chamber to a lot of use lately but that doesn’t mean I haven’t given the old converted wine fridge an improvement or two. I’ve tinkered with an exterior thermostat for more consistent temperature as well as a small circulation fan: two things which a have led to a dramatically better and quicker curing conditions. And when my friend Russell over at Scrumptious Chef sourced some outstanding pig, it was time to put the improvements to the test. He scored some local Large Black Hog for a pop-up he was doing and was nice enough to let me grab a couple of jowls, some back fat and some shoulder. Six weeks later, I have some very silky, well-aged Guanciale.
I’ve put it to use in several plates of amatriciana, included it here and there in some various ragus and even some high-falutin’ breakfast sandwiches. With a little homemade mayo it makes a mean GLT (Guanciale, lettuce and tomato). And overall, I’m extremely satisfied with the result. The quality difference of heritage pork comes through extremely clearly in the dry cure and switching from kosher to sea salt in my cure really dials back the saline qualities. I purposefully went light on the aromatics in the cure, wanting to showcase pork above all. So I went a little light on my usual blend of black pepper, bay, thyme, juniper, clove, garlic and allspice. If I had it to do again, I’d heavy up the thyme and juniper. But that said, this is some tasty salted pig face.
The following makes good use of asparagus. Creates a damn tasty breakfast or lunch. Or even makes a good pillar to a garden dinner. Pair it with a little marinated cucumber and tomato salad, some charred eggplant and a tasty pilsner and you’ve got the perfect dinner for an Austin evening when the temperature has finally dipped below ass-blistering and into pleasant.
Asparagus and poached eggs in Guanciale Vinaigrette
1lb Asparagus spears, ends trimmed
2 farm eggs
3oz guanciale, cut into lardons
1 shallot, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
You’ll need 3 pans for this, one with salted boiling water for the asparagus, one with simmering lightly salted and vinegared water for the eggs and one skillet for the guanciale. Throw the guanciale into the skillet with a little water over medium heat to get the rendering going. As it cooks, blanche the asparagus in the salted water till just tender and shock in an ice bath. When the guanciale is cooked to a good crispy/chewy level remove it from the pan and add your shallot and a good bit of black pepper. Brown the shallot barely and add some vinegar and a little mustard, turn off heat. Poach your eggs to desired doneness. Add asparagus and guanciale back to the pan with the vinaigrette and toss over heat till warm. Top with the egg and enjoy.
1 heritage pork jowl, skin and cheek attached
Aromatics: Bay leaf, Thyme sprigs, black pepper, juniper, garlic, clove, allspice
Mix the salt, pink salt and aromatics. You want enough salt to thoroughly cover the jowl, and just a few grams of pink salt. Adjust the levels of aromatics based on how herby or porky you want the finished product. Rub on the jowl, making sure to get good coverage on all surfaces. Put the jowl in a vacuum bag and seal it. Place the jowl in the fridge, checking the firmness after about 4 days. Once the jowl is firm at it’s thickest part (I removed mine at 6 days), remove from the fridge and rinse under cold water. Poke a hole in a corner of the jowl, thread through some butcher’s twine and tie it for hanging. Wash the jowl one more time with some inexpensive white wind and hang it at 55 degrees and 70% humidity for about 5 weeks. Check in periodically to see how your pork is doing, or come up with some other excuse to head out to the garage and away from your dream kitchen.