Thursday, August 8, 2013


Caution: Do not operate heavy machinery after eating.

From the tender age of 12 up until just before I came out West at the still tender age of 27, I was a... dare I say it? A vegetarian. An affinity for quadrupeds and a misguided stab at healthfulness were the motivation, and if I am remembering correctly, a sensationalist television special about the world potentially ending in 2000 may have been the actual catalyst. I'm not suggesting I had actual fears of apocalypse, it just got me thinking about things like living a healthier lifestyle and making the most of my time here, however long that was to be. Once I had made the decision and stuck by it for a few months, it just sort of folded into my identity and wasn't really something I questioned anymore. Whether it was teenage stubbornness or a genuine stance that kept me with it, I can't say... a mix of the two most likely.

Fifteen years later, food beckoned to me from San Francisco and pulled me in close.
"Let's get to know each other a little better," she said.
"Okay," I replied, intrigued.
"And what's with this vegetarian thing?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. "Let's nip that right in the bud, okay?"
I nodded sheepishly, and then ran home and ate two heaping plates of my mom's chicken enchiladas.

I spent the next few years making up for lost time, pushing my limits and refusing to shy away from anything I had access to, which was quite a lot being a culinary student living in, arguably, the greatest food city in the country. From duck heart sautéed in butter during butchery class to kangaroo tenderloin eaten at a restaurant in SF's Tenderloin neighborhood, to tripe and sweetbreads and feet and ears and everything inside, outside or in between, I made it my mission to re-educate myself. This isn't to say I have become some Fred Flinstone type, grilling Ribeyes and burgers five nights a week; I just have a strong admiration for meat and have come to appreciate its place in food, whether it's in the spotlight as an entree or in the background as a supporting flavor.

Beyond the apparent tiny crush that I seem to have on meat, it can be incredibly fun working with it as a chef, if you know what you're doing. You can do some really mind-blowingly delicious and grand things that can knock people right off their feet. No knock on produce, grains, et al, but meat belies something inimitable and indescribable and potentially phenomenal that can be unlocked by a little technique and a lot of love. Lucky for me, my soon-to-be boss, Jenna, knows her shit and seems to feel the same way. As I have begun my transition at SHED from working the line into the larder department, I've started to participate in the larder's process of producing food to fill our take-away case and run our Wednesday evening cookouts, allowing for a lot more hands on time with the food, not to mention a hand in some of the sexier projects the larder puts out.

The first of these projects I got to work on was helping prep two full sides of porchetta (see my earlier post on porchetta if you're not familar with this most holy of food inventions). We were able to get the pig sides custom butchered for our kitchen, saving us a huge amount of time and labor and allowing us to get right to curing and trussing the pork. While Jenna scored the skin so that the cure (made from salt, sugar, and chilies) could better permeate the meat, I prepped the rub for the inside of the pig. I fried five bunches of rosemary and combined that with an absurd amount of garlic, something like twenty heads, plus some parsely, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The resulting product was like butter, almost begging to be spread on a thick slice of bread so it could knock you right on your ass.

These would make for one hell of a log cabin...
We slathered the insides of the hog side with the paste, then carefully rolled it up and tied it tightly with butcher's twine. Jenna sprinkled the cure generously, rubbing it into the surface of the skin as well as the gaps where she had scored it. If you're any kind of cook, professional or otherwise, you recognize that these moments are where you really put the love into your meat. The rubbing, the massaging, working flavor into the flesh while tenderizing it, requires a touch both firm and gentle. Like I said, Jenna knows her shit, and lickety-split, both were done, and ready to cure overnight before being slow-roasted the next day.

The finished product was the image at the top of this post, and let me just say that as incredible as that crispy log appears, the picture does not even begin to capture how delicious and succulent and bursting with flavor it actually was. When Jenna turned it into sandwiches the following evening, she made sure to reserve the beautiful, golden diamonds of crisped skin on the outside of the porchetta and then evenly distribute them among the sandwiches for optimal crunch and flavor. Then it all went onto a beautiful brioche bun with a condiment made from fresh peaches and whole grain mustard. It was a home run, and a touchdown, and a hat trick all in one. Game, set, and match.

Squash or be squashed. Or be squash.
And just to make sure I include at least a small serving of fruits and vegetables in this post, I will report that our pumpkin plant has become quite the overachiever in the garden. One of its bulbous globes decided to sit right on top of the struggling artichoke plant, almost Darwinian in its obliteration of the weaker competitor. Things seem to remain on track to be harvest-ready around the end of the month, though I am frustrated to report that the fucking gopher remains at large. Snipping at unseen roots and stalks like a vasectomy surgeon, you'd think the little sucker had a pair of garden shears down there with him. Yet somehow, even with the gopher chomping roots like they were Jujyfruits, things are managing to flourish, from cucumbers to tomatoes to watermelons. I guess, for now, I can live and let live...

Jeez, I sound like a vegetarian.

1 comment:

  1. If you insist on describing your creations in such minute and mouth-watering detail, and adding a photo to further the tease, then you're just mean. You could redeem yourself by adding a "scratch-and-taste" feature! One day I vow to bite into one or more of your creations!
    In the meantime, was it you who remarked on your fondness for Tempranillo? We found some (from Spain) but have yet to pop the cork.
    And here in Greece, my best friend Lucy (a foodie like yourself) has commissioned me to bring her some Greek Red Saffron, called Krokos Kozanis, which is allegedly the ambrosia of organic saffron.
    Ever hear of it? The packet says it forms an excellent beverage when combined with coffee or tea, which Lucy says is news to her.
    Love the blog, even if I need to wear a bib when I read it. I'm going to try to grow some cilantro when I get home in October. I may be seeking professional advice from you! Besitos a tu! Kayteeoz