The Mangalitsa certainly has its share of attention these days, with an appearance recently in the Slow Food 2014 Almanac, which highlights its taste profile, “the fat of Mangalica pigs has been shown to be better for cooking and for health than lard from their pink relatives” and “Mangalica fat full-flavoured, hazelnut-scented and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.” That’s some pig! Originally an Austro-Hungarian breed, the Mangalitsa has become a favorite here in Texas.
The Berkshire originates in the eponymous county in England. A rare heritage breed, its taste profile looks similar to the Mangalitsa, “Berkshire pork is renowned for its richness, texture, marbling, juiciness, tenderness and overall depth of flavor. It is thought by many to be the Kobe beef of pork.” Well then, a marriage and breeding made in heaven. So what are my intentions with this belly? I think I shall brine it. But first, let’s spend some time with the dead.
Go in fear of abstractions . . .
Well, possibly. Meanwhile,
They are the strata our bodies rise through, the sere veins
Our skins rub off on.
For instance, whatever enlightenment there might be
Housels compassion and affection, those two tributaries
That river above our lives,
Whose waters we sense the sense of
late at night, and later still. (34)
Charles Wright nods to one his masters in the opening line of the second stanza of “The Appalachian Book of The Dead”–Ezra Pound. The great and controversial 20th century craftsman created a list of “Don’ts” in an essay first published in Poetry magazine in 1913 and reprinted in the Literary Essay of Ezra Pound.
Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths. (5)
When I took a poetry workshop with Ed Hirsch at Wayne State University in 1985, this is one of the texts where he turned our gaggle of young poets, and the words have always served me well. In Wright’s poem however, the advice is acknowledged but also qualified by the intentions necessary abstractions have for us, as they turn particulars into large ideas we live within, which of course Wright turns to landscape, water, air and at last, night. The turning and tension between the particular and the universal is a well documented understanding of aesthetics from Hegel to Rancière. Consider the words of the 19th century German philosopher from his Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics.
The philosophic conception of the beautiful, to indicate its true nature at least by anticipation, must contain, reconciled within, the two extremes which have been mentioned, by combining metaphysical universality with the determinateness of real particularity. (27-28)
What has this to do with my pork belly? Everything. In Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, he defines this crucial sense in the following way, “Taste is that one of our senses which puts us in contact with palatable bodies by means of the sensation which they arouse in the organ designed to judge them (36).” He then adds, “It invites us, by means of pleasure, to make good the losses which we suffer through the action of life (37).” Truly a metaphysics here which plays out its consoling nature through the very particular plant and animal we cook. Sean Brock writes of this in his introduction to Heritage.
The Lowcountry is a diverse region filled with a heritage of deeply rooted traditions. It is a landscape of extraordinary beauty. The food ways here are old and elemental but speak with the authority of a hard-fought past. The people in Charleston deeply appreciate their heritage foods made with local ingredients, and they respect the people who still cook them, and the methods are as sacrosanct as the ingredients.(14) The first thing I need to do is make the Pork Jus.
I’m using the brining recipe Sean Brock has for “Pork Belly with Herbed Farro, Pickled Elderberries, Chanterelles and Sumac.” A wonderful recipe which I have will have to attempt, but for now it’s his Pork Jus listed under “The Basics:” pork bones, canola oil, yellow onions, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic cloves, peppercorns and bay leaves. For some impossible reason, I’m out of bay leaves so I’m substituting sage from our garden. All goes into water and simmers for twelve hours. While waiting, I open bottle of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
Here are my notes.
Along the sides of the glass the bourbon beads, but gravitation can do no more. Minutes pass. The bourbon beads. When finally the dark orange liquid descends, it’s a slow trek down like Dante carefully winding his way down into hell. Nose: Rum, butterscotch, dark roux, molasses, slightly charred custard, oak forest, red-hot candy, peppermint, and chipolte pepper. Taste: Syrup, thick Maple syrup, white pepper. It burns, sweetly, Slight sour, cabbage, smoke on the tongue, green apple toward the finish. What do I pair with this elixir? Why Johnny Cash of course.
With the stock ready, I combine brown sugar, salt and water, dissolving the sugar and salt, then setting out to cool.
I then add the pork jus, stir, and pour on top of my pork belly.
This is a twenty-four hour bath, so I pour another dram of Woodford Reserve and turn to The Civil Wars. Soon the next step in this alchemy will begin. Bon Appétit