Food for Thought
Porcine Power: Houston continues to pig out
A lot of national foodie folks were predicting an end to the pig in 2010, saying the meek lamb would inherit the earth. Or at least the trendy, food part of the earth.
So far that prediction just hasn’t come about, not in Houston anyway.
“I think Houston was on the tail end of the heritage pork trend in the country,” Branch Water Tavern’s chef/owner David Grossman explains. “It took awhile but now we’re getting local farmers raising heritage pigs.”
Some of those pigs, a couple of 30-pound sucklings, were stuffed and slow roasted by Grossman for his first Fourth of July Pig Roast Sunday where, for the price of a cocktail, you could chow down on some tender pork, all-American sides and Grossman’s house-made biscuits. It was a piggy paradise.
Stroll the stalls at your local farmers market or read the menu at places like Haven and you’ll see where all these swell swine are coming from. Local, family operated pig farms are popping up like mushrooms after a long rain.
“A lot has to do with events like Cochon 555,” says pig farmer Morgan Weber of Revival Meats, “bringing awareness of heritage pigs to foodies and chefs.” Cochon 555 (five pigs, five chefs, five winemakers) was a yearlong competition in 11 cities (why not Houston, we ask?) where celebrity chefs were tasked with using whole heritage pigs.
“Pigs used to be fat and delicious,” Weber explains. “But after World War II pigs were being raised on cheap corn in industrial farms. By the 1970s the standard American pig was yielding pale, bland pork.”
At the family ranch in Yoakum, Webber uses humane, sustainable methods to raise such heritage breeds as Old Spots and Mangalitsas, a peculiar looking Austrian pig that resembles nothing as much as a Frankenstein cross between a feral hog and a French dog.
“Yeah, the Chinese guy at the slaughterhouse calls them poodle pigs,” Weber laughs. “We’re the only ones in Texas breeding them right now. The meat is just amazing, not pale pink but a deep red color, well marbled. It looks more like a steak than pork.”
These acorn-finished poodle pigs make darn good charcuterie and you can find their cured meat on several menus around town such as chef Ryan Pera’s at The Grove. Not only do heritage hogs produce better tasting bacon but they are also economic for farmers.
“It’s a quicker turnaround on your investment,” Weber says. “You can finish a pig in six to nine months whereas a cow takes 22 to 24 months.”
OK, tastes great, costs less, but, hey, this is Texas. It used to be that Houston was a beef town, big steaks and barbecued brisket.
Now, even some of the BBQ joints are serving up Carolina-style pulled pork. For heaven’s sakes, Bryan Caswell’s even added a pulled pork slider to the Little Bigs menu.
Porcine power is so strong these days that you can even find pig on the menu at steakhouses. Yes, steakhouses.
“We started the pulled pork items on the menu in Charlotte,” says Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House’s executive chef Steve Haug. (And that’s pronounced Haag, not Hog. Which would be much funnier for this column.) “I brought it back to Houston,” Haug continues. “Everyone loves the pork nachos, we’ve been selling them like crazy.”
Some Tex-Mex purists may be rolling their eyes, but I can tell you that this sky-high pile of house-made chips with barbecue seasoning topped with pulled pork, gooey cheese and sour cream is a delight. As is the pork slider. Both of which are on the new bar menu and go down well with the Double Eagle Sazerac, a smooth sippin’ rare bourbon cocktail with Absinthe, bitters, simple syrup and a twist of lemon.
Ah, that was one fine cocktail, but I digress. Back to the pig.
Let’s not forget bacon. You can’t swing a dead pig in this city without hitting a restaurant with some fancy bacon dish on the menu. Have you tried the wood grilled bacon wrapped eggs with jalapeños and adobo sauce on RDG + Bar Annie’s brunch menu?
As someone once said, is there any dish that cannot be made better with bacon or chocolate?
OK, I see that my kosher Jewish and halal Muslim readers are now beating their breasts in frustration with all of this pork/bacon tasty talk. But fear not, there is now a product you can enjoy: Bacon salt and bacon mayonnaise.
Yes, you read that right, a couple of guys named Justin and Dave have created bacon-flavored salt and mayonnaise that really does make foods taste like bacon without any actual pork products. You can buy J & D’s bacon salt locally at Kroger’s. I’ve tried it on salads and salmon and I’ll be danged if it doesn’t add a smoky bacon flavor to whatever you shake it over.
And now, as Farmer Hoggett once said: “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”