THE PORK BELLY PIT
The pigstrami (pork belly prepared pastrami-style) I tasted at David Siegel's now-defunct Belly Timber in the other Portland was magic. Can we say "kosher-style"? Someone should make pigstrami here. Pai Men Miyake maybe, with their belly-centric soup bowls? Didn't I have pastrami in my ramen at David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York? Miyake also makes yummy Chang-inspired pork belly buns. They're elevated at Tao in Brunswick as Grandma Tang's roast pork buns, where the meat (actually from the shoulder) is first tenderized in a sous vide bath. Also in Brunswick, El Camino braises pork belly in apple cider for tacos, so soothing when it's cold. Kushiya Benkay's new yakitori outpost in Portland also grills Berkshire pork belly (Kurobuta) on a stick, though it's not local, but from the Midwest. Braised belly also gives a boost to Johnny's Tri-Pork Cuban Sandwich at Sonny's.
And is anyone selling or preparing secreto, the little-known thin steak popular on the Iberian Peninsula? You'd think diners on this peninsula would embrace this juicy, red cut of pork belly, similar to beef skirt steak.
HAMS ARE FOR ROASTING
Most Americans get their hams from Smithfield (or the equivalent), pre-cured and cooked, and often pre-sliced. But what about treating a bone-in leg cut as a roast? You'll get the added gift of bone marrow, delicious when roasted and spread on toast. Squire Tarbox Farm of Westport Island raises those coveted Red Wattle pigs on all-organic feed and pasture. Owner Kyle De Pietro sold me on a small ham roast at the Brunswick market. I brined it with molasses and cooked it according to Tamar Adler's instructions in her lyrical An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. (See my blog at baltimoregon.com for the details.)
And more people are hanging hind legs in their basement for DIY prosciutto. Harriet Fasenfest, again from the other Portland, is a great resource on dry-curing your own hams in her A Householder's Guide to the Universe.
Standout newcomer Gather is already famous for its country pork terrine, served with pickles and crusty bread. Most might not realize the ground pork from the leg and shoulder is bound together with a bit of soft liver. It adds background flavor that doesn't overwhelm the dish. Straight pork liver can be strong. Some authentic Chinese restaurants serve stir-fried pork liver (you have to ask for it). Old-time butchers like Bob Bisson in Topsham and Ray Tetreault of Vegetable Corner in Harpswell grew up on pork liver pan-fried with onions, a preparation we're more accustomed to now with calves' or chickens' livers.
Ask your butcher to slice hock pieces into robust osso bucco cuts for braising, like veal shanks, instead of smoking into ham hocks. You can buy unsmoked pork shanks from butchers such as Bisson's. The Black Birch in Kittery serves a braised pork shank with parsnip puree, bacon, and Brussels sprouts. And Vignola shares a recipe for braised pork shanks in the new edition of Sanders's Fresh From Maine cookbook. Chad Conley would like to put pork shanks on his menu at Gather. But his butcher Ben Slayton only processes two to three pigs a week, yielding too few shanks to supply the restaurant for dinner plates.
TROT, TROT TO BOSTON
Pigs' feet, which have graced haute-cuisine menus for years now, are also made for stock, which Fergus Henderson calls "trotter gear," a sauce amplifier that turns quite gelatinous when refrigerated. What about crispy pig trotters, served with Maine lobster relish and lobster aioli on a fancy menu a few years back in San Francisco? Primo in Rockland serves zampone, a boned-out trotter, stuffed with sausage and sewn up, and braised, often with lentils, like cotechino. In his new book Salumi, Ruhlman calls zampone "one of the coolest hog dishes ever created."
The New York Times calls pig tails (and chicharrones) a top dining trend to look out for in 2013. Though small, it's bony and rich, like more prevalent oxtail. Pai Men Miyake has experimented with pig tail as an appetizer. And let's hope the urban legend a recent This American Life program described, that breaded and fried pork rectum (bung) rings is passed off as imitation calamari, isn't true.
FARMER MIKE BROOKS | Pastured pigs fed Bowdoin College scraps | Bowdoin | 207.504.1850
GIANT'S BELLY FARM | Greene | 207.415.4458
GORANSON FARM | Freezer pigs in October | Dresden | goransonfarm.me
GRYFFON RIDGE | Red Wattle/Tamworth crosses | Dresden | gryffonridge.com
SQUIRE TARBOX FARM | Red Wattle Hogs | Westport Island | tarboxfarm.com
WINTER HILL FARM | Whey-fed pastured pork | Freeport | winterhillfarm.com
For others, see: mofga.net, eatwild.com/products/maine.html and portlandfoodmap.com