Butchery started to interest me this spring when I realized (with lots of ironic laughter) that my long history of neatly dissecting animals (I was a biology major) might be transferable to the food world.
My quest for training led me first to the Applestones (@fleishers) (too expensive); then to Camas Davis/Portland Meat Collective (wrong timing); and just about the time I was trying to schedule/budget a trip to Oregon, to Jamie Bissonette’s (Coppa, Toro) “This Little Piggy” at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
The intended class content was informative, engaging and delicious (oh yes, we cooked)!
The intended class content was matched pound for pound by the entertaining social dynamic.
When I walked into the room the first thing I noticed was someone offering me a drink. The second thing I noticed is that Jamie Bissonnette could probably be invisible if he so chose. He is absolutely unassuming. Standing off to one side casually propped against a window sill, he was amiably chatting with the folks closest to him. The 75 pound, whole, eviscerated pig sprawled elegantly over four cutting boards, behind his right shoulder drew the eye more obviously than he did. Those two stars of the evening were the least grandiose and the most eloquent.
Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of a stereotypical oxygen-devouring Chef ego, the class filled in…I’m overstating. Our class truly became an ad hoc community quickly and easily, but there was a ridiculous moment of male dominance behavior near the beginning of class that I will not soon forget.
Jamie, armed with simple tools that man has wielded since the stone age, demonstrating a task that has been essential to human survival since we evolved, had just cut through the skull, scooped out the brains and heated a little beer and water to poach them in. He asked for someone to keep track of 11 minutes for him at which point some guy pulls out an iPhone and uses the voice command to “Set timer for 11 minutes.” This elicited a spontaneous groan from almost everyone in the room. And somebody called him an asshole. The guy to my right leaned over and said something about having more faith in old-fashioned technology and tapped his wrist watch, which probably cost more than many people’s living room sets. To me this was like the wrench calling the hammer a tool. I’m still laughing, and I will reflect on how all the personalities in that room managed to come together and work with each other for some time.
But back to the pig. Jamie took us through the primal cuts, tenderloin, loin, bacon, different rib styles, picnic shoulder, (Boston) butt, guanciale, prosciutto, coppa (of course!), the curing process and more than a few cuts I am forgetting – by demonstration.
We diced garlic, onions, peppers, and offcuts for chili. Sliced tenderloin(?) into medallions for cutlets (yummy yum yum yum yum), and stove-top-seared/oven-finished two meaty chunks of loin over brussel sprouts (my favorite vegetable). And when I say ‘we’, I do mean mostly Jamie but he gave us instructions to help out and more than tolerated people crowding around him and his stove. He also made us a sinfully good amuse bouche of poached-then-sauteed brains and diced kidneys with butter and lemon and time. Offal, offal good (C’mon. It had to happen).
My take aways were these:
- It would be more than possible to butcher a pig at home. If I could ever generate enough people to eat it, I would do it.
- Even a small pig is a lot of meat. But that is no excuse for not using it all and using it well.
- Jamie is someone I would love to have at my back or over my shoulder in a kitchen. He’s mellow, confident, competent and cares about getting the work done right, not making it look good (He does make it look good, but that’s secondary).
- I’m kind of jealous of Mr. Bissonnette’s bone saw.
- If he offers another class (Sausage-making, Jamie? Please), you should take it.
- Jamie models reverence and respect for both the animal and its source. I learned a lot about regional meat farmers and suppliers and love that this is a value for him and, by extension, his restaurants.
- Don’t use the voice command on your iPhone at a cooking class.
If you are interested in butchery, I have a few more resources that didn’t fit in this post. Drop me a note or comment and I will pass them along.