When it comes to pork, it's not always the chop or the loin that gets chefs talking.
This article first appeared in the January 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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Associate Editor Kate Leahy discovers that the so-called alternative cuts such as shoulder, belly and leg sometimes stir the greatest hunger.
For Josef Centeno of Opus Restaurant in Los Angeles, braised pork belly, crisped to order, landed him a surprise hit: one busy night he accidentally paired the belly with braised octopus for a tasting menu. He hasn't looked back. "I've always used pork belly and I've always used octopus. Smoked paprika goes well with both," he explains. When it comes to his praise of the fatty cut, he's got company.
Chef Hiro Sone of Terra Restaurant in St. Helena, Calif., braises pork belly in soy sauce-based braising liquid, then serves cubes of the braised belly with breaded and fried oysters.
Chef Johnny Hernandez adds tequila to his braised pork belly (below) at his catering company True Flavors Culinary Planners in San Antonio, Texas.
Chef Shad Kirton of Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, started curing pork belly to make bacon and pancetta in house. "Financially it costs more but people see it as added value," Kirton says.
This cut, once the brunt of pickling jokes, is gaining favor for its intense pork flavor and the body and richness it adds to preparations. Still, most chefs recommend that diners are more likely to eat pigs feet if they're disguised to look like something else. Often, this means cooking the meat to supple tenderness, pulling the meat from the network of bones and then using it in myriad preparations, including pig foot Milanese at Mario Batali's Babbo in New York City.
"Pork is a huge part of what we're doing," says Executive Chef Josh Blyth, who smokes feet and adds them to baked beans and collard greens at Roux, a Louisianan-inspired restaurant in Portland, Ore.
Chef Ralf Kuettel serves oxtail and pig's foot terrine with house-made spicy mustard and watercress at Trestle on Tenth in New York.
While many forget that ham and prosciutto come from part of a pig's leg, Mark Alba hasn't. This January he's buying a 450-lb. pig from a local farmer. So armed, he already has plans to cure prosciutto at The Food Studio in Atlanta. Fresh pork legs and shanks are also gaining favor with diners.
Chef Gino Angelini from Angelini Osteria in Los Angeles serves a leg of pork roasted in a wood oven.
Sous Chef Emily Bruegge brines then lightly smokes pork shanks in the wood oven before braising them. The shank is served with cannelloni beans and braised winter greens. ‘It's a great food cost item," she says.