This is a photo of some neat little pork sausage patties:
They are from a pig that two days ago was a walking, talking little fella. He was killed in a slaughterhouse, hung up and gutted, and stamped and labeled on his now hairless hide. For anyone queasy or sad at the thought of that, remember that it happens to every pig you eat. Yesterday half of it was delivered to the kitchen, split down the middle with the head saved in a plastic bag.
A coworker and I set up shop on the back table and went about dismantling the beast. He (because I just couldn’t do it) split the head down the middle with a small hand saw and put it - minus one brain - into a mammoth-sized stockpot with the bones and trotters and some vegetables and spices. I can’t say I wasn’t thinking about Lord of the Flies at this point. It simmered all day long, making a gelatinous stock for future use, and the boiled head will be picked apart later to make “queso de cerdo,” better known to us as headcheese.
I separated the shoulder and the ham from the rest of the body, following the natural lines and curves of the muscles and joints, trying my best not to damage the fragile pink meat. The ham was left alone, skin and all, to be roasted whole later in the week. I took off the skin and fat as one thick layer from the shoulder, deboned it (the bones were added to the stock, of course), and cut all the meat into thin strips. These strips, plus about ten pounds of pure fat, went piece-by-piece into the meat grinder. Let’s just be clear on the fact that grinding pure pork fat is disgusting. Fat accumulates in thin layers on the pig and the connective fibers get caught on the grinder blade, jamming it and forcing you to stop every five minutes or so to unwind the pig fat-fibers and throw them away. Plastic gloves went on, salt, spices, and white wine were added, and I mixed and kneaded that mass of pig for all it was worth. A Nicaraguan cook told us that when he was a kid in his pueblo, whenever there were a bunch of sausages being made, the kids would all wash their feet and stomp all around on the ground meat to mix it. Sounds gross, but I’ll bet it’s most likely cleaner and healthier than who-knows-what-happens at meat-processing plants. This same cook took the pig skin home to boil it, dry it, and fry it to make some spicy cracklins.
I separated the half-ribcage from the rest of the pig, propping it up on my hip and dividing it from the spine and top of the back. The pig was so fresh that the blood had yet to coagulate, and it swooshed back and forth in the transparent veins when parts were bent this way and that. While my coworker divided up the chops with a knife and hatchet, I separated the ribs one-by-one and removed the precious tenderloin. We seared it on the plancha and ate it for lunch with some potatoes and peppers.
With the exception of a very few things - some fibers, the brain, the eyes - every single bit of that pig was put to use within three hours of entering the kitchen; waste not, want not. Incredible. Tenderloin, pork chops, ribs, ham, sausages, headcheese, cracklins, stock made from the head, feet, and bones: all of it was already there, I just had to learn how to get it.