Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Executive Chef Adam Stevenson's Advice on Mangalitsa Ham Steak Preparation

We recently submitted some Mangalitsa samples to a national magazine. I heard that the chef in charge of the photo shoot grilled the sample Mangalitsa ham steaks, and reported that it was tough.

Mangalitsa isn't like normal pork. Our Austrian friends warned us that every Mangalitsa producer has the problem that some customers buy the meat, prepare it like normal pork, and then complain that it is too tough. The standard Austrian advice is that people should cook it slowly, at a low temperature.

We got the hams cut into roughly 1lb steaks because one problem we've had is that farmers market customers don't want large packages of meat. One downside of such small cuts is that some people really want to grill them.

I asked Adam Stevenson, Executive Chef of Earth and Ocean, what we should advise people to do.
Here is his advice:
I would brine it first for a few days, then slowly roast or smoke under
200deg to internal temp of 165 or so, pork fat seems to break up and
become oily and mealy of roasted at/to higher temps. You could then
finish on the grill for final flavor and eye appeal.
Adam Stevenson and his staff prepare fantastic food. His prosciutto is the best I've had in Seattle, as is his Jadgrohwurst. Of course, I'm hoping that my customers, who got their Berkshire hogs in November, can equal or beat his prosciutto (based on our meat and fat quality) - but we'll have to wait and find out.

If you live in Seattle, I suggest you go get Adam's ham and cheese sandwich, made with his prosciutto (Cascade cured ham). My wife and I ordered one, and then immediately ordered another. It is an expensive sandwich, but in America, flavor is in very short supply.

18 comments: said...

You discuss this so frequently I can't help but think it would be a real hindrance to the sale of your meat to people outside of restaurants.

I, and certainly others, will brine things at home, but on the whole, most people don't want to go to that kind of effort.

Throwing out so many caveats about buying something that, I assume, is more expensive than traditional pork is a definite turn-off for the vast majority of people.

There in lies the genius, however, that you also offer well-fed Berkshire as it can be cooked in more familiar ways.

When do we start shipping the mangalitsa? I don't see myself going to Oregon anytime soon.

Heath said...

I mention this so much because it is one of the biggest problems I have.

The folks who cook "on autopilot" are the ones who ruin their meat and blame me.

In the best of worlds, we'd just be selling cured products - but even then, if some guy cooks it too much, he winds up saying our stuff is the worst.

That's incredibly frustrating for me; we work very, very hard to get this stuff done right.

The Berkshires are pretty good on the toughness front - they, more than other normal breeds, have short muscle fibers, which tend not to be tough. But it is a fact that if you cook a ready-to-eat ham (which is already cooked), it will lose water and get tough.

We sell in Seattle, WA not Oregon. That guy boberica is going to visit us from Portland - which shows you how vast distances are in the West.

I could ship you stuff - but the shipping adds on another $8/lb or so. Pease send me an email and I'll make you an offer.

bruceki said...

heath, my comments about your bacon vs other producers bacon was that it didn't taste as good when compared side by side. Nothing to do with "overcooking", except that your bacon, cooked identically, shrank a lot more. your pictures show the same sort of shrinkage we experienced.

Perhaps you need to work on a recipe booklet or pamhlet: "Enjoying your mangalitsa" and include in it cooking ideas drawn from your experience in austria.

Heath said...


I wasn't there for your experiment, but I'm guessing you prepared my bacon suboptimally.

It may sound wrong to you that you'd want to cook different samples of pork (e.g. bacon or ham steaks) differently, but that's what people do with chickens: young ones get fried, older ones get roasted and hens get stewed.

Anyone who buys a hen and fries it up is going to be disappointed and think the fryers taste better. If that same person learns how to cook a hen, he'll probably agree it has incomparably better flavor than fryers or roasters.

Thanks for your suggestions on providing people with preparation instructions. With Mangalitsa, its been clear for a long time that this sort of thing is necesary. As I wrote before:

bruecki - also, if you do purchase any Mangalitsa, I hope you follow my preparation suggestions - slow and low.

Mangalitsa doesn't cook like most pork. If you cook it the way people generally cook normal pork, you'll get very bad results.

Nearly every Mangalitsa producer in Austria has a horror story along those lines. A chef spends a lot of money to buy a Mangalitsa (having heard how great it is). He tries to cook it the way he cooks normal pork, and has failure after failure. Usually he blames either the farmer or the breed.


Incidentally, initial feedback from people who got the first batch of Mangalitsa is very favorable. They've been roasting and braising the meat. When you do that, you get results similar to this experiment.

bruceki said...

Heath, would you be interested in a taste test between your pork and other producers pork? I'm thinking that you could then cook it to its best presentation, as the other producers would. for bacon we could do this at a farmers market - you've been cooking bacon at the university market for a few weeks now. As a big bacon fan, I'd be interested in the results.

For fairness, we could limit the producers to folks who produce pork and sell at farmers markets -- a level playing field.

I'd be happy to purchase all of the pork used at retail prices.

Heath said...


I'd be happy to have a experiment that would evaluate a bunch of American pork, including my Mangalitsa or Berkshire.

But having a competition at a farmers market doesn't make sense to me, if the goal is to determine what product will work better for consumers - because the environment at a market isn't like the home environment where people cook.

If the goal is to determine something through experiment, let's at least have a well-designed experiment. I'm not an expert at this - but meat scientists are, so I'd consult them.

Similarly, I see no reason to limit the competition to participants that meet some arbitrary requirement like selling a farmers market. If an agribusiness conglomerate produces the best bacon and wholesales it, that doesn't make their bacon less desirable than something an inefficient small farmer produces and sells at a farmers market.

This reminds me of Cargill Meat Solutions producing better pork than Niman Ranch - most consumers want the best bang for the buck. You can't fault them for preferring the stuff made by the "bad guy".

boberica said...

hi Heath,
I just finished a really terrific dinner at Lark, which ended with a rolled and stuffed mangalitsa leg served over crispy polenta in a parmesan broth... To die for!! It was a real pleasure to meet you and your wife this morning. My apologies for not hanging around too long. Big day in the city, you know. Also picked up some great black and white truffles. 8 bucks an ounce... Hard to say no. Looking forward to a very special meal of rib strips Monday night with the Erica half of the equation. Will report back.

Heath said...


It was great to meet you too!

I'm happy that you were able to have Mangalitsa at Lark. Was it a slice of a stuffed leg? How big of a slice, and at what price? Did they spell Mangalitsa right, or maybe mention "Wooly Pigs"?

I'm happy you bought the "spareribs" (what I call a belly+rib strip). Larry Ellestad at Vern's (the place that slaughtered and cut the pigs) recommended we cut the pigs that way.

He said our small pigs wouldn't have substantial bellies, so we'd do better with the ribs on there. When he said that that's his favorite cut, I wondered if he was being objective enough. But based on customer preferences, he was right. When vacuum-packed, the cut reminds me of a peppermint candy cane.

If you like that cut, you might like the jowl. People don't seem to know the jowl too well - but given that jowl has more flavor compared to belly, I figure it will catch on. And luckly, Mangalitsa pigs have huge fatty jowls. They are great for making cured product.

If you know someone down in Portland who could cut and retail Mangalitsa down there, please let me know. Assuming we've got Mangalitsa fans down there, we need to find a way to get it down there.

Teman said...

So I got a piece of the Mangalitsa ham yesterday on a whim, little did I know what I was getting into...

I followed the recommended instructions the best I could for the ~1.2lb cut:

1. defrosted/brined in the fridge for ~24 hours in 4 cups of water + 1/4 cup of sea salt.

2. Went to the kitchen supply and finally bought a remote thermometer. Cleaned up my cast-iron pan.

3. Cooked for ~2 hours at 200 degrees (providing that's what my electric stove really is..) in my cast iron pan. No seasoning, basting, rack, etc.

At about the 1:15 mark I raised the temperature to about 230, I felt I'd stopped making progress towards 165.

4. I kept it at 165 for about 20 minutes while I made the sides and heated up a griddle pan.

5. Seared it for 30 seconds a side.. Not sure it really did anything, but a bit less greyish on the outside, I suppose.

6. Served!

I've never had pork like this before, so it is difficult to evaluate if I did it correctly. It was definitely firm meat, but I didn't find it chewy at all. It was fairly salty, like I'd expect a piece of ham to be. The fat was smooth and delicious, although occasionally a bit overwhelming, like eating a big piece of butter.

All that said, I sucked the meat off the bones.

Heath said...


Those were Adam Stevenson's recommendations you followed. He might say say you should rinse out the brine, or be careful about how long it sits in the brine.

I tend to just roast the younger meat carefully - no brining.

I'm really hoping that some of the chefs who got the first batch of Mangalitsa will publish their recommendations. The four guys who got pigs this first time were Seth Caswell (Stumbling Goat), Keith Luce (The Herbfarm), Bruce Naftaly (Le Gourmand) and John Sundstrom (Lark).

Or perhaps some customers will come forward with their success stories.

Please introduce yourself next time, if you come to the U-District market.

boberica said...

I didn't get a chance to see the whole roast at Lark. I can, however, surmise that the leg was more than just boned and rolled. The roulade itself was only about 4 inches in diameter. There was a nice cap of fat on the outside, which had the mouthfeel of butter. The salpicon of liver stuffing really infused a nice gaminess. The meat itself, Heath, had a depth of flavor, the likes of which I have truly never enjoyed before.
Portion wise, I'm thinking it was probably 5-6 ounces, with accoutrement it cost 18 buck, which, as a small plate served as an entree, was perfectly appropriate. Actually, I think you'd be hard pressed to find more bang for your buck in Seattle
I do have some ideas for folks in Portland, restaurants and purveyors. Let's pursue this?.?

Heath said...

teman - I didn't thank you for purchasing from us. Please excuse my poor manners - we greatly appreciate your patronage.

I take customer satisfaction very seriously.

If I read about you having what might be too much residual salt in your meat, I get nervous - you followed the instructions I put up, for goodness sake.

We've just had too much to deal with to get proper preparation instructions out to folks like you.

Finally, I have read that after brining, there's the recommendation to let the thing soak a bit in fresh water, so that the salt "equalizes" in the meat. But I really don't have a good answer for you - I'm not a brining expert.

Heath said...

boberica - Please drop me an email saying when you'd like to talk. It is important to get something going on in Portland. I understand the food scene there is really something.

Tomorrow works for me. Tuesday and Wednesday we'll be busy slaughtering pigs, weather allowing.

boberica said...

I'm lucky enough to be on a long weekend, and will be off tommorrow so I'll give a shout in the a.m.
A tip for the Teman, I'm thinking he bought fresh ham steaks from you on saturday, and not cured ham. If that's the case, and you intend to brine it, you'll probably enjoy the end product if you've figured in some sugar to balance the salt. you can find a thousand recipes on line, but basically it's just a ratio. at any rate after you've brined it for alotted time, it should have a quick rinse in cold water, then patted dry. Follow any directions for cooking that you've received you did, and you'll be a happy eater.
By the way, Heath, the jowl bacon was great. I look forward to getting some jowl for guanciale, when they're a bit older, and boy, do i love braised hog cheeks!!

Heath said...


I'm very happy you liked the jowl bacon. It is by far my favorite bacon. When I have it in the fridge, along with other bacon, I use it (sparingly) until it is gone and then look for my next favorite thing.

I too look forward to the day when I can take some 9 month Mangalitsa pigs in, and have the USDA plant give me back Mangalitsa jowl bacon - a uniquely American product.

I'm going to get some Berkshire hogs processed soon just so that I can get more jowl bacon before we run out.

We'd been meaning to bring the jowl bacon for weeks, because we figured it would be a hit, but when we saw this article about guanciale (a product made from the jowl), we knew that this week was the week to bring it.

Some people who visited us had tried some of the guanciale from the producers mentioned in the article above. They said ours compared favorably in price and taste. My thought is that due to the extra water, jowl bacon should be less tasty than guanciale - so one could even argue we are a better value.

One person remarked that you really could not substitute jowl bacon for guanciale, because of the smoke. I agree - when one tries to recreate a foreign food, there's usually some key ingredient (e.g. Mangalitsa pigs, Bohemian hops, Szeged paprika, Greek honey) missing. The only way to deal with that is to import everything that matters. said...

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