What to do with half a pig

October 20th, 2011

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My boyfriend is the practical sort – for previous birthdays he’s bought me a sexy camera, gardening gear, foraging books and a coffee grinder. So when he started making secretive phone calls and muttering about how complicated my birthday was to organise, I didn’t exactly think he was whisking me off on a mini break.

After some heavy hint-dropping on his part, I finally twigged. He’d bought me half a pig for my birthday! Not only that, we were going to butcher it…

Pete somehow managed to transport 35kg of pig on his bike (I wish I was there when he turned up at the butchers with his backpack). In the end, they had to cut off the head and leg and he did it in two trips. Meanwhile, he made me go into the other room, then called me into the kitchen to present me with my present…

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We then spent a really fun day getting to grips with the pig and freezing a lot of meat. So how hard was it? Let me just say that I think butchery is a serious skill and what took us a whole day would no doubt take a butcher about 30 minutes. Having said that, none of it was that hard; sure trying to remove the leg bone neatly was tricky and it didn’t look too pretty, but we did it and that felt good. We made a lot of use of the fantastic love pork website, especially the videos with master butcher Keith Fisher (I’m a little bit in love with him).

I must admit that the head freaked me out a little bit, thankfully the brain fell out in the bag (!) but seeing the teeth and tongue attached was a bit strange. Once that was safely stowed in the freezer, it was plain sailing. The rest of it just looked like lovely pork (maybe that’s just me).

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What are we going to do with all that pig?

Now onto the best bit – just how much pork do we have? The (half) pig weighed 35kg and I reckon we threw away about 5kg (mostly bones). So that’s 30kg of pork and here’s what we ended up with:

Head

  • 1 jowl which we made into a ragu
  • The rest of head is in the freezer to make brawn (headcheese) at a later date

Shoulder

  • 1 trotter
  • 1 hock
  • 2 shoulder joints
  • diced shoulder for sausages

Loin

  • 1 tenderloin
  • 3 pork loin joints
  • Spare ribs

Belly

  • Spare ribs
  • 3 pork belly pieces

Leg

  • 1 trotter
  • 1 hock
  • 2 leg joints (we’re going to brine one and make a ham at Christmas)
  • Lots of diced leg in 500g bags for stews
  • Lots of leg strips in 500g bags for stir-frys and other quick recipes
  • 1 tail for stew

With a distinct lack of decent butchers in Brixton – I’ve tended to stick to what I can get from Giggly Pig (a lot of sausages) and the odd pork belly or pork shoulder there, so figuring out how to cook the rest of the pig was daunting. I spent some time on love pork looking at the possible cuts and looked up some recipes beforehand. We prefer joints to chops or steaks, so decided to stick to them and pre diced/sliced lots of it for stews and stir-fries. We also knew we’d be using a lot of the shoulder to make sausages (more on that soon).

If we’ve inspired you to try something similar yourself, here’s a few tips. There’s also loads of advice in the River Cottage Handbook

  • Make sure you’ve either got plenty of friends to give the pork to or lots of space in your freezer. We put our freezer onto fast-freeze mode to cope with the influx of meat.
  • It’s important to keep the meat cool, especially as the whole job will take several hours. We made sure there was plenty of space in the fridge to store the pieces we weren’t working on.
  • Sharp knives are a must, we steeled ours regularly as we cut up the pig.
  • You’ll also need a saw to cut through bones. The teeth on a hacksaw are too fine so you’ll need a tenon saw or other wood saw with reasonably fine teeth.It’s important to keep the meat cool, especially as the whole job will take several hours. We made sure there was plenty of space in the fridge to store the pieces we weren’t working on.
  • Sharp knives are a must, we steeled ours regularly as we cut up the pig.
  • You’ll also need a saw to cut through bones. The teeth on a hacksaw are too fine so you’ll need a tenon saw or other wood saw with reasonably fine teeth.
  • Label everything well – I labelled the weight and use-by date on everything we put into the freezer.
  • Pete got the pig from our local butcher, but if you’ve a car and you’re willing, you could pick one up cheaper at Smithfield Market. Ours was obviously British and free-range and came from the lovely Blythburgh farm.
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3 Responses to “What to do with half a pig”

  1. Alexia says:

    Ah, the things boys will do for love… :)

    What a spiffy birthday present – if possibly a little eerie to witness on the back of a bike. Good job both of you – you are brave souls!

    Wish there was a picture of Pete on his bike though…

  2. [...] Raymond adds. I’m thinking of making this instead of mash to go with pork (and I’ve got plenty of that). The main was Venison haunch with artichokes, beets and fennel purée based on this recipe from [...]

  3. Franny says:

    Wow this thing looks frightening! I’ve never had the chance to work with a whole animal like that before. Looks like you had fun though!

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