Inspired by Joe Perry's query about pig roasting, I just had to go and dig through the FLDG archives to find this classic by Mike Filigenzi.
Date: 09-Jun-2004 04:59
Author: Mike Filigenzi
Subject: Adventures pig, Part II - Le Mort d'Hernie (very long, gory)
Sometimes, what starts as a fairly simple idea snowballs into something you never expected, and that's how Nilo and I ended up spending a Saturday morning in Amador County killing and butchering a pig named Hernie. It started when six of us bought a whole pig-cooker from a firm in Miami. It was not an expensive item (especially after splitting the cost) and it would allow us to have big ol' drinking and pig roasting parties without having to dig holes in our back yards. We figured getting roastable pigs would be easy - we'd just ask around the local markets and butcher shops and we'd be in business. Well, turns out it's not quite that simple and that whole pigs at reasonable prices are not easy to find in the big city. We had a line on one from a Mexican grocery store, but when we went to pick it up we received nothing more than a lengthy explanation which we did not understand as none of us speak Spanish. Then we heard from our friends Ayla and Jim. They have a place on 5 acres up near Fiddletown in Amador County and they had run into someone who had three little piglets for sale. Ayla and Jim wanted one for themselves, so that left two for our nefarious purposes. Ayla offered to keep them up at their place if we wanted them and the price was a grand total of $60 each, so we took her up on her offer.
Piglets grow very quickly, so we decided to use one of them for roasting whole while it was still a little guy and let the other one fatten up for use in sausage, prosciutto, etc. We calculated that by the middle of May, we'd have a nice 70-lb pig all ready for the roaster. Only problem was how to kill and slaughter the pig. We initially figured that there had to be someone in Amador County who had a pig-killing business, and sure enough, we were put in touch with Ernie. He will quickly and efficiently deal with such matters for a very reasonable price. Only problem was that part of Ernie's deal is skinning the pig. We most certainly did not want our pig skinned - losing the delicious crunchy skin and the lovely auto-basting fat would defeat the purpose of roasting the thing whole. Time was a-wastin' (as they reportedly say in rural areas), so we told Ernie thanks but we'd do Hernie ourselves.
The idea of killing and gutting a pig would cause little concern to those who've grown up on farms and who've done this sort of thing frequently. To us, it was a big deal. The thought of taking a large friendly animal that's reputed to be smarter than your average dog, ending its life, cutting its head off, and yanking its guts out while its blood spills out in pools on the ground was a little daunting. On the other hand, there's that whole school of thought that says one should never eat anything one is not willing to take personal responsibility for killing. Being a progressive, thoughtful kind of guy, this angle had some appeal for me and I figured that my five progressive thoughtful pals would feel the same. I was wrong on this count - four out of the five made it clear that they had no problem whatsoever with failing to take personal responsibility for killing their dinner. That left Nilo and me. And of course, neither of us had ever hunted anything bigger than a rabbit nor killed and gutted anything bigger than a lab rat or a duck. We therefore did what the early pioneers would have done when faced with a new challenge - we hit the internet. Turns out that the preferred method for hog killing is a .22 slug in the forehead. Actually, "killing" is a little strong. The applicable word is "stunning". (More on this, later.) I also spoke with my sister-in-law who is a veterinarian and who has accordingly killed many more large animals than anyone who doesn't work for a slaughterhouse (120 cows for her master's thesis alone). She was very reassuring.
"So you're going to shoot it in the head?" she asked.
"That's the best way, but sometimes it doesn't work. Then they seize and run around and it gets really really bad."
"Whatever you do, don't rupture the intestines! Have you ever smelled pig shit?"
"Um, a little, I guess..."
"Oh my God, it's so horrible. It will taint the meat. You should bring some Vick's Vapo-rub and put it under your nose."
Other friends and relatives were equally reassuring. "This sounds like some really bad sit-com plot", my wife told me. "Tonight on channel 3, the boys buy a pig and decide to slaughter it themselves. Hilarity ensues!" When I told my brother, he laughed loudly and immediately offered odds on me ending up with a very live pig as a permanent addition to my back yard. I noted that my image as a tough guy apparently needed some work, but I was not dissuaded. So early on a cool May Saturday morning, Nilo came by with a truck full of gear and his grubbiest clothes and we headed up to Fiddletown.
Hernie was a three-month old gelded male (don't know the breed) named for his very prominent umbilical hernia. He was a Babe look-alike - white all over with pink nose, ears, and tail. He had been separated from the other two pigs and kept off feed for a couple of days when we arrived with knives, saws, torches, a turkey fryer, and tequila. We set up behind Ayla's studio. There was a long portable table that we covered with paper and set on a slope for draining. There was a small block and tackle that Jim hung from a tree. The propane turkey fryer was set up to heat a big pot of water. Knives were laid out. And then it was time to say goodbye to Hernie. Jim did the honors with a .22 rifle, and this did indeed seem to work. The shot was placed between and above the eyes and there was only a slight struggle from Hernie before he was limp and quiet. We went right to work, dragging him over to the table and lifting him onto it with his head on the downslope. (We noticed that Hernie seemed to have gone a bit beyond 70 pounds.) I was given the task of bleeding him and it was at this point that we understood why the pig is considered to be only stunned from the rifle shot. Although I'm pretty sure Hernie had little left in the way of complex brain activity, he had enough of the more primitive reflexes remaining to nearly jump off the table as I was doing the throat cutting. We had to hold him down for a minute or so before he was finally still. It took about five minutes before we had the majority of blood drained out, and it was then time for scraping.
When you slaughter a pig and do not plan to skin it, the bristles, hair, and a very thin layer of the skin must be removed from the hide. We found two methods for doing this. The first involves burning the hair off with a torch. In the second method, you pour hot water over the skin and then use metal scrapers to remove the hair. Nilo had procured a huge propane torch that looked more like a flame thrower, but we didn't like the idea of accidentally cooking the skin (not to mention the lovely odor of burning hair) so we decided to try the hot water method first. We poured the hot water from the turkey fryer over Hernie and were surprised to find that the hair easily came off with minimal scraping, leaving soft, white, hairless skin. After scraping him clean, we ran a line behind one of his Achilles tendons and hoisted him up (again noting that he was something more than 70 pounds). Nilo took the lead in the gutting process. He had brought some incredibly sharp knives, and did a great job in removing everything with no intestinal punctures. This was actually a pretty interesting process for a couple of old biology majors, and we got a nice anatomy review out of it. Once the head was removed, Hernie had clearly crossed the line from pig to pork. All that remained was to put the carcass on ice in the back of the truck, clean up the mess, and toast our success with a gulp of tequila. All told it was two hours from gunshot to cleanup.
We drove Hernie down to Clarksburg, where Nilo rents an old hardware store for furniture-and-wine-making purposes. We ended up having to cut him in half down the backbone as he was obviously too big for the cooker. One of the halves weighed in at 45 lbs, so we're guessing Hernie was in the 100-120 lb range while still among the living (that comes out to $0.66/lb for what went into the roaster). We put one half in the freezer and the other in a big plastic bag filled with brine. The pig half went into the cooker at 7:00 the next morning and people started showing up at the shop around 2:00 that afternoon. It was one of the best parties I've been to in a long time, with plenty of wine, food, and good friends. At 4:30, the pork came out of the cooker, and it was marvelous. Richly flavored and incredibly tender, it made for quite a feast. I don't think any of the ribs ever made it onto a plate - they were consumed as soon as they were cut from the carcass. I left at 9:00 that evening, and by then there was not a single bite of pork left.
Overall, I'd rank this as a very good experience. The connection between living animal and what went into my mouth was certainly never more evident. What was really satisfying, though was to be able to put on a really exceptional get-together. As everyone here knows, cooking for one's friends and loved ones is always a satisfying thing.
And in three weeks or so, we'll be doing Pig II - the Sequel. This one will be way too big to roast whole, but we're thinking pancetta, ham, guanciale... I'll let y'all know when we have the party.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov