(Photo credit: Jason Houston)
New York’s porcine obsession reached a fever pitch this year, with heritage breeds, fat-marbled bellies, and house-cured salumi crowding menus like so many pigs at the trough. The first inkling (oinkling?) that we were getting high on the hog came a few years back, when boutique pork from Niman Ranch and upstate’s Flying Pigs Farm made its presence known on aspirational menus, and when impressionable chefs started taking their cue from unabashed pig partisans like Tom Valenti, Zak Pelaccio (whose 5 Ninth menu typically reads like a souvenir from some kind of Porkapalooza), and especially Mario Batali, New York’s preeminent pork pusher.
Suddenly, this year, it’s everywhere—from Il Buco, whose owners imported a rare heirloom breed from an island off the coast of Georgia for a pigfest this summer, to Alain Ducasse, where executive chef Christian Delouvrier features Berkshire-pig “confit” with a crispy pork-belly garnish. In porkspeak, Berkshire—the juicy, fatty heritage breed, also known as Kurobuta or “black” pork—really is the new black. It embellishes the house ramen at Momofuku; its belly is braised in sansho miso at EN Japanese Brasserie, and in maple syrup at Mas; and its baby-back ribs are marinated in pineapple and chipotle and slow-roasted at Rocking Horse Cafe. It’s the “It” pig, and for good reason. Bred for flavor on small family farms, it’s the antithesis of the lean, dry, industrial pork most of us grew up on.
Chefs have taken to it almost as fervently as they have to making their own salumi—the kind of salt-cured pork products that can increasingly be found hanging from hooks in restaurant cellars all over town. Batali instigated the trend, of course, with the “Wade-made” meats at Lupa and the envelope-pushing lardo pizza at Otto, which undoubtedly inspired Pelaccio’s “lardo di 5 Ninth,” and Pippa Calland’s “prosciutto ’da NYC” at the new Poetessa.
Chalk it up to Atkins, to lingering fears of mad cow and farmed salmon, to the Slow Food movement’s celebration of environmentally correct farmers. When top-flight chefs are fetishizing cold cuts, “hog futures” takes on a whole new meaning.