A Whole Hog Beer Dinner!

I know, the title is a little confusing.  Let me explain:  Thanks to my wife’s boss–James Elder–who is a beer guru and contributor for Beer Advocate, we were invited to a dinner made from a 165 pound hog and local ingredients paired with beers from Dogfish Head Brewery at Taste Select Wines in downtown Austin.  When I heard that the first course was going to be headcheese, I got all excited.  My first locavore meal, using pork, the chef was making headcheese, and beer?  Sign me up!

We showed up at Taste a little early, so we passed the time looking at the usual menu while we waited for James to show up. Maybe it’s just me, but alligator cassoulet and the “unctuous experience” sound awesome.  I intend to head back at some point to try those items.

Head Cheese with pickled green tomato relish paired with Midas Touch beer.

It turns out that the chef needed to stretch the head meat to feed everyone, so he added extra piggy parts to the terrines along with what looked like pearl onions.  It was very tasty, and the pickled green tomatoes worked perfectly as a counterpoint to the rich piggy meat.

Before I go any further, I need to disclose something:  Dogfish Head’s Claus Hagelman was kind enough to pick up the tab for dinner.  I greatly appreciate his kindness, but it won’t sway my opinion about their beer.  Fortunately I actually like their product a lot, so any praise I lavish on them is my real feelings.  The Midas Touch was the best beer I had the whole evening.  The other beers showed a lot of care in their crafting and I dig their way of approaching brewing, but the Midas Touch was something special.  I mean, when was the last time you had a beer made with Saffron, based on a 2700-year old recipe?

Spicy Fennel sausage with roasted zucchini, spring onions, & smoked tomatoes paired with Aprihop beer.

The sausage was seasoned and cooked just perfectly, with a bit of pinkness at the center.  The folks sitting to my left were a bit concerned about what they considered undercooked pork and, even though I tried to let them know they didn’t have much to worry about, I noticed a lot of sausage left over when the plates were removed.  The spiciness  of the sausage worked well with the acid of the tomatoes, which in turn balanced nicely with the fruity and hoppy beer.

I managed to catch a hold of one of Taste of Wine’s hosts and asked him if the pig we were eating was a Berkshire hog.  It was not but not minutes after asking, this plate showed up.  The lovely smoked bacon slice was made from the belly of a Berkshire pig, and the little pieces were from the same pig’s jowl.  If I had to describe the bacon in one word, it would be “delicious”.

Roasted Pork Loin and Braised Belly with crackling, mustard spaetzle, sugar snap peas, & Texas peach reduction paired with Palo Santo Marron beer.

The main course arrived, sporting two huge piles of pork.  To the left a few tender cuts of loin, to the right a smoked and braised fatty hunk of belly, the very best of both worlds.  The beer was really outstanding, it being crafted in exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood barrels.  The wood imparts vanilla and caramel flavors into the beer along with something else that I can’t put my finger on, it makes a unique beer for sure.

Poteet Farms Strawberry Shortcake with vanilla whipped cream & ham brittle paired with Black & Blue beer.

Ham brittle.  Not peanut brittle.  Ham brittle.  My goodness, how kick-ass does that sound?  Well, I can outright tell you that it tastes just as good as it sounds, and it’s exactly how you think it would taste.  The strawberry shortcake was nice as well, but lets get real:  It’s all about the ham brittle.

It was a great meal and some great beer, and I truely appreciate being invited to partake.  Special thanks to Dogfish Head‘s Claus Hagelman (pictured above) and Grapevine Market‘s James Elder for a fantastic evening.

Gratin of Tripe

On behalf of all tripe, tripe is great and don’t hesitate to welcome it into your gastronomic life.

My goodness, what a week.  I’ve got two things on the back burner that I’ll be sharing shortly, but I’ve gotta admit that Carol fooled me big time with her recent post declaring her new job at Alinea.  I had forgotten some of her past tricks, but it was early in the morning when I saw her update, so it hadn’t registered in my brain yet that it was April 1st.  I was in the shower, day dreaming about Mr. Henderson giving me a call and asking me to work in one of his restaurants…

…then my wife reminded me of the date.

She got me good.  Carol, props to you.

I’m terribly tired so it’s pure luck that this week’s update is so very simple.  The gratin of tripe is just a continuation of last week’s update, tripe and onions, which is that much more of a good thing.

The day after I made the tripe and onions, some of the leftovers were poured into two oven proof containers.  Mr. Henderson mentions in “The Cookbook” that this is one of the few times that he recommends individual dishes, but this recipe works very well in this manner and that everyone loves their own gratin.

On top of the tripe and onion mixture I spread bread crumbs and added a LOT of butter.  Into a very hot oven the gratins went.

After about ten minutes the tripe liquor had bubbled over the top of the crust, which had turned into a lovely golden brown.  At this point Mr. Henderson suggests that eaters should probably stuff napkins down the fronts of their shirts to protect their fronts.  This really is necessary because unlike the tripe and onions served over potatoes, this has no starch to give it structure and stability.

Now the flavor was still uniquely tripe-like, which is to be expected.  It was still wonderfully comforting and soothing, but this version had the extra richness from the butter that was very, very nice.  If I had to do a Sophie’s choice between the two tripe recipes, I’d have to go with this one.  It’s simple, reminiscent of home cooking and it’s just good eating.

One down, eighty two to go.

St. John Photography

Reader Rocci Cirone was kind enough to allow me to post a few awesome pictures he had taken at St. John’s and St. John Bread & Wine.  As someone who has never been there, these pictures completely enthrall me.  Hopefully you too will enjoy them.

Click here for the gallery.

Special thanks to Rocci for being so very kind!