My wife, a woman of astute intuition when it comes to gift giving, bestowed me with a new book for Father’s Day: “Pork & Sons,” by French chef Stéphane Reynaud.
Published in 2007, it was at the fore of an entire genre of pig-focused cookbooks such as “The Whole Beast”, “The Complete Book of Pork”, “Pig Perfect” and “Pig”, a trend which culminated in a glut of restaurants with names like Cochon and The Spotted Pig and our own Animal here in Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, for porkivores like myself, this is a decidedly positive trend. Especially as it carries with it a subtext of two very UnAmerican concepts — non-waste and ethical treatment of animals.
Far from the devasting industrial pork farms of Iowa, “Pork & Sons” opens on the high plateaux of the Ardeche in France at 7 a.m. on a snowy February morning with a pig killing. Says Renaud: “It is fortunate that the standardization of flavor in today’s food industry has not yet reached the Ardeche region, where tradition mounts a good defense.” The subject of the kill is treated for the reading public, matter-of-factly and without graphic details. It’s less about the act and more about a thread of regional culture. We meet the locals — Eric, the pig farmer who offers plenty of space and lots to eat; Aimé the butcher, who works like a Swiss watchmaker to ensure nothing is lost; Blanchou, who lends a hand however he can, and his dog Florette. From there, the cooking begins. First, blood sausage recipes, then the worlds of sausages — all kinds! — and hams, including yes, recipes for quiches and croque monsieurs. Next is “January, somewhere in Les Landes, the Påte Team”, with Jacquy, Kiki and Pompom. The påte recipe includes Jacquy, because, as Stephane says, “It’s good to have him around to make the påte.” An so on and so on. The animal is rendered, roasted, racked and revered for 350 pages. Sorry, you’ll have to figure out dessert for yourself. (If you’re lucky, I may one day share my recipe for bacon caramels.)
If you’re a fan of terrines and tenderloins, belly and bacon, sausages and slabs, you might want to pick this book up. The recipes are fantastic and it’s a good read. And the pink puffy cover appeals to my feminine side.
Today — Father’s Day — after spending leisurely time with a cup of coffee perusing “Pork & Sons” and contemplating pork dishes to come, I leave with my wife and kids bound for one of our local Temples to Pork: Dodger’s Stadium, where the venerable Farmer John serves up their world famous Dodger Dogs. I’ll eat one for you.
Not wanting to risk copyright infringement, I’ve chosen not to share a recipe from my new cookbook. Instead, in the spirit of “Pork & Sons,” I give you one of my own favorite pork recipes — rillettes, which is similar to the rillettes recipe in Reynaud’s book. If you’ve not had rillettes, it’s basically a paté without the liver — made with pork, rabbit or, more typically, duck. Spread it on crusty bread with butter and cornichons, if you’d like. Serve with a tasty Rhone or other mid-palate red.
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1 cup Mangalitsa or other lard
1 lb. pork shoulder, cut in cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Cognac or other sherry
1 cup dry white wine
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Melt lard over medium heat in a small pot. Add onion, pork shoulder and bacon and turn heat to low. Cover and cook for one hour, stirring occassionaly. Remove lid, add remaining ingredients. Return heat to medium until the rillettes begins to simmer, then turn to low again. Cook uncovered for an additional 2 hours, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat.
Remove from heat and remove bay leaf and thyme stem. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Let cool slightly. It’s most appealing to serve rillettes from small jars or ceramic ramekins. If you haven’t got either of those containers, you can store in small bowls. Divide meat between whatever containers you choose, cover and cool in the refrigerator. Stores for several weeks, or may be frozen and defrosted for later use.