Flavor // Pig out!

“My name is Scott, and I love pigs.”

No, this isn’t the ritual confession in an addiction program. Well, maybe it is, but Scott Pampuch, chef/patron of Kingfield’s Corner Table, has no intention of pursuing a life of abstinence.  

And clearly, neither do the 14 participants in “Pig,” the most popular class of his cooking school, held at Rustica Bakery in Calhoun Village. Fellow pigophyles have signed on not only to learn how to eat high off the hog but to butcher it. As the evening progressed into what a vegan manifesto-thumper might view as a horror movie (complete with hack saws and cleavers), class members opted to take part in the butchering or simply take notes and sip their wine.

“Why is this class so popular?” Scott proceeds to answer his own question: “Because people care!” Care where their food comes from; how it’s handled; how to walk the talk — not to mention, secure their status. For charcuterie (basically, that’s cold cuts) is the new black on many a trendy menu. But this is one DIY project the chef cannot advocate: “No guerrilla salume,” based on health-safety concerns. Leave it to the pros, he suggests, like Mike Phillips of The Craftsman, soon to market to the public, backed by restaurateur Kieran Folliard. (That’s what another handy kitchen tool — the credit card — is for.)

Meet our pig du jour, a 100-plus pound Berkshire/Duroc cross, who’s been skinned, halved and gutted and awaits further surgery — first into what Scott calls primal (big, basic) cuts, then sub-primal. “It’s all about good tools,” he explains, “starting with a good set of knives.”

A knowledge of anatomy, or music (“The hip bone’s connected to the…”), is helpful. And attitude. His approach is one of almost religious awe, and revivalist fervor: “Don’t think ‘We’re gonna butcher;’ think ‘We’re gonna make some amazing food.’”

First he slices off the tenderloin, as a volunteer does likewise — “the mother of all cuts.” “But,” Scott advises, “the last thing I would eat; it’s totally overrated” (not to mention overpriced). Why? No fat. While the diet cops holler that the humbler cuts are too fatty, Scott instead declares, “Oh my god! It can never be too fatty!” That fat, he says, is of the “good,” Omega 3 variety, “so forget the damn salmon and eat pork fat,” the man preaches.

He cleaves away the leg, destined to become ham steak, hocks and shanks, then removes the sirloin, which he seasons, rolls and ties for roasting. The shoulder is destined for pork confit, baked in a long, slow oven in its own fat.

Then, the moment he’s been waiting for: “Time to talk belly!”— baby backs, spare ribs, tips, and, Scott’s fave, country-style ribs with the belly attached. “If you cut off the fat, you’re taking all the love out.”

The belly will become bacon with the addition of brown sugar and salt, massaged by the handful, then refrigerated in a plastic bag for seven to 14 days before smoking. If you simply salt it sans smoking, voila: pancetta. “Everybody should have pancetta in their refrigerators,” he decrees.

Other parts are cubed, fed into a sausage grinder, seasoned, and stuffed into casings, called “hanks” — a term it pays to learn. “Ask for a hank from your butcher, and he’ll now respect you as an insider,” Scott says.

Niki Heber, Corner Table’s sous chef, explains the method, and reasoning behind it, of pickling (basically balancing all that luscious fat with a hint of acid); brining (simply adding water, salt and sugar); and braising, the best thing that can happen to pork belly. Meanwhile, Scott sautés the pancetta that will become star or our starter, Spaghetti Carbonara, paired with a glass of red wine. Next, a pearly pink, baby-tender slice of loin atop wild rice tossed with onion and bacon in a bit of lemon-scented pan sauce, paired with a brew from High Bridge. Finally, custard — all of which underscore Scott’s mantra: Local food can be served year-round.

Corner Table Cooking School
Dec. 15 (grass fed beef*); Jan. 12 (pig*); and Jan. 19 (seasonal vegetarian dishes). Classes run 5:30–8:30 p.m.
Where: Rustica Bakery, 3220 W. Lake St.
Cost: $100 per person. To reserve a spot, e-mail [email protected]

*Sold out