There's a new family member in 4505 Meats' "Swine So Fine Product Line" making its debut this month. Aside from their transcendental chicharrones (pillowy clouds of fried pork skin that melts in your mouth), turduckens, spiritual t-shirts, letterpress posters, and the masterminds behind the best burger in the Bay Area (if not the country, aside from Peter Luger's in Brooklyn), they're releasing their visually stunning, prodigious tome of meat wisdom: Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb and Pork.
I've been an ardent fan of chef Ryan Farr since my fellow KQED colleague and I attended a panel discussion UC Berkeley titled, "The Art of the Butcher." We watched in awe as he proceeded to expertly break down an entire side of a pig in front of the audience. (And later on, when hunting for a caterer to roast a whole pig at my wedding, I knew who to call. Ryan and his talented crew prepared this amazing porchetta for our picnic reception several years ago.) Since then, I've also seen him work his magic at various street food festivals and his weekly lunch gig at the Ferry Building.
With the release of "Whole Beast Butchery," he's adding author to his list of talents. Ryan teaches butcher and sausage-making classes, but as they're sold out for the rest of the year -- this is the next best thing. This hefty book is beautifully illustrated with color photographs by Ed Anderson that comprehensively depicts the labor-intensive process of cutting up whole slabs of beef, lamb and pork. This short video from Chronicle Books gives a great overview of what you'll find inside.
Whole Beast Butchery starts off with an introduction that outlines why there's an increased interest in taking this ambitious culinary step.
"Home butchering is the next logical step for those who raise their own vegetables and chickens, preserve the bounty of the land and field of off-season meals, and care deeply about what they feed themselves and their families. When you decide to butcher a whole animal or a part of one by yourself, as I hope you will, you are almost always going to be buying that animal locally. By doing so, you are supporting a local business as well as your community."
Ryan then outlines the basic tools you'll need to get started: a hatchet, an array of knives, bone saw, hooks and other accoutrements to break down an animal. But the best advice he gives is to plan ahead -- partner with other families to share the labor and costs of a whole animal, and decide ahead of time how you want to butcher the meat.
"You will need to understand all the different options in order to make the best decision based on your needs. Not every cut of meat with which you are familiar can physically come from the same animal...If you want tenderloin medallions or filet mignon, you won't be able to cut porterhouse or T-bones from the same side of the animal."
Ryan also advises to follow "whole-animal utilization," which is "not just about using all the parts of the animal -- including the offal, the lesser-known cuts and organs -- it's also about making sure there are no scraps left behind, which is also a great way to get the most value from your whole animals. Use the best scraps to make sausage and other scraps to make stock. Then poach your sausage in the stock. Then reduce the stock and make a sauce."
There's loads of recipes in the book how to prepare your cuts of meat once you're done butchering (or if you're just interested in cooking), from spice-cured beef brisket with curry to crispy pork shoulder with shank. Here's one for smoked pork sirloin if you want to prepare yourself a decadent breakfast.
Smoked Pork Sirloin
Master Brine, completely cold - 8.5 cups (67 oz, 1900 g, 28.7%)
Boneless pork sirloin or cowboy "ham" steak - 1 whole (27 oz, 766 g, 71.3%)
Rendered pork fat for cooking (optional) as needed
1. In a nonreactive container, brine the sirloin, fully submerged, in your refrigerator for 24 hours. Rinse well under cold water.
2. Prepare a smoker with about 2 cups / 8 ounces of apple or hickory wood chips. Insert a probe thermometer into the center of the sirloin and smoke the meat, ideally at about 230°F / 110°C, until the internal temperature at the center reaches 150°F / 65°C. (The smoke will peter out after a while; don't add more chips, or the meat will be too smoky.
3. Let the meat cool, the refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into thick slices and fry until crispy and golden, adding a little rendered pork fat to the pan, if you like. Enjoy for breakfast (or anytime of day).
Yield: 4.73 liters / 1 gallon and 1 quart
This recipe is a starting point, but there are many possible variations. If you're not a fan of hot flavors, go ahead and omit the chiles. Always use a tall, narrow nonreactive container only just large enough to hold the protein, so the brine will go up as far up as possible. The brine must cover the protein completely, so scale the quantities here up or down as necessary.
Granulated sugar - 2 cups (13.6 oz/385 g / 6.5%)
Kosher salt - 2.5 cups (20.4 oz / 578 g / 12.7%)
Whole black peppercorns - 1/4 c (1.2 oz / 34 g / 0.7%)
Whole coriander seeds - 6 tbsp (0.8 oz / 24 g / 5%)
Dried bird's-eye chile or Thai chile - 3 small ( 6 oz / 17 g / 0.4%)
Water - 16 cups (123 oz / 3500 g / 77.1%)
Combine everything in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once the sugar and salt have dissolved, remove form the heat. Transfer to a tall nonreactive container that will fit in your refrigerator and let it sit uncovered to cool. When the brine is at room temperature, refrigerate until it is completely cold. Add the meat, and brine as directed.
Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork by chef Ryan Farr and Birgit Binns. Photographs by Ed Anderson. Published by Chronicle Books.