by Edward Schneider
Jackie and I started buying pork from Flying Pigs Farm at the Union Square farmers’ market years ago, but we keep ordering pig meat in restaurants that claim that theirs is somehow special. And we keep being disappointed: other pork rarely has as much flavor as Jen and Mike’s – Jen Small and Mike Yezzi being the farmers. Rarely, but not never: We were impressed a while ago with a Mangalitsa loin (see Mark’s account of a similar roast) and thought it might be fun to cook one of those simultaneously with Jen and Mike’s and see which was more popular among our guests.
Well, the distributor was fresh out of Mangalitsa, but had just received something that sounded interesting: small (one-and-a-third-pound) roasts cut from the shoulder of Ibérico pigs, the black ones that are known mainly for the exquisite hams their legs get turned into. I ordered two, one of them destined for the freezer.
Typically, when you hear “shoulder” you think of potentially tough meat that needs to be braised or roasted for a long time and at low temperature. But I was told that this cut – oxymoronically called a “shoulder loin” and apparently including the continuation of the rib-eye muscle up into the shoulder – could be quickly roasted and would be tender and juicy. Only one person I know had actually cooked this meat, Diego Cardoso of Murano restaurant in London. By e-mail, he echoed the distributor’s assurances and gave me the courage to cook the meat quite rare, like beef.
The day before our dinner party, I seasoned the meat. I rubbed the boneless loin roast from Flying Pigs Farm with fennel seed, juniper berries and just one clove, all roughly ground, plus ample salt and pepper. Since the Ibérico shoulder roast was actually from Spain (shipped fresh, not frozen), I seasoned it with smoky pimentón, salt and pepper. The color of the flesh was a much deeper red than the pink to medium red of typical pork
Jackie has observed that most roasted meats, and many other things, taste better tepid than piping hot – this goes beyond the normal recommended post-roasting rest period. That could be the subject of a whole new essay, so for now I’ll just say that I agree. It is also convenient, because it makes dinner-party timing far easier.
The Flying Pigs loin went into a 375-degree oven, set onto a bed of aromatics: leeks, carrots, celery, fennel bulb, garlic and rosemary, with a little white wine. I left it alone until it was what I guess you’d call just beyond medium: pink and juicy, but not red or flabby. When it was approaching completion, I lightly browned the Ibérico roast in olive oil – over lowish heat so as not to burn the pimentón – then added some garlic and thyme to the pan and put it into the oven until its internal temperature was in the under-120-degree ballpark: rare. I left both to rest while I cooked and served the first course: a good half hour or more.
Sauce? Sure: in advance, I cooked down three nice sweet onions (these, which I’d never seen at Union Square before) in butter with a few sage leaves, then added a half-liter of white port, little by little, reducing it after each addition. To this onion “jam,” carefully seasoned, I added the liquid resulting from deglazing the Flying Pigs pork roasting pan with white wine. This is great way of generating a sauce if you have no stock available.
Both meats were as good as could be, and very different. The loin had all the virtues we associate with Flying Pigs Farm meat: a certain sweetness and a lingering aroma/flavor that is a revelation for anyone who’s used to run-of-the-mill pork. And the external fat is just exquisite. The Ibérico “shoulder loin” was very tender, very juicy and very flavorful, with considerable internal fat – marbling – but its flavor was somehow akin to that of beef – in the same way that a moulard duck breast, cooked rare, tastes more like a steak than a piece of poultry. (How much of this is because of the meat’s red color and rareness? See the picture accompanying this post, then read this or other articles on a related subject.) There was certainly no clear favorite, though for second helpings people seemed to go more for the Flying Pigs loin.
The next day, Jackie and I had room-temperature leftovers. This only confirmed the previous evening’s impressions: the Ibérico was a real treat; a serious carniphile experience and something we’ll look forward to repeating some time soon. But the Flying Pigs loin did a better job of meeting our pork expectations.
And man, that fat!