Friday, December 10, 2010

East and Western Europe

The above photo shows the Eastern European method of de-hairing a pig.*

It is the same as in Hungary, Romania, etc.

The basic steps are:
  • stun the pig (sadly, this is optional)
  • stick the pig in the neck
  • burn the hairs off
  • use scalding hot water to heat the skin and scrape away the charred layer
In the end it yields a more or less white pig -- you can see photos of the whole process here.

The resulting end product is different from a scalded pig. Scalded (and skinned) pigs are more common in "Western" Europe**. A few differences:
  • The pork close to the skin smells like burnt flesh.
  • The pork close to the skin cooks slightly.
  • It takes a lot of elbow grease to burn the hairs off. Whereas, if you get your scalder temperature right, the hairs come right off.
Although I happen to think scalding a pig is superior, most people seem to prefer whatever people do where they are from. Ukrainians and Hungarians seem to want the hairs torched, preferably with straw, so that the skin (and the bacon/lardo) gets the special burnt straw taste. Germans really want it scalded.

I think a big part of that is that the burnt skin taste (or lack of it) carries into the final products. If you are using to eating pork-rindy bacon, it tastes wrong without the flavor.

The pig pictured at top was done by some Ukrainians. I asked them why they like it that way. They couldn't say why, but did say that that's how they always do it.

Speaking of Ukrainians, I just dropped off more lardo at Taste of Europe in Kent. The first time, they bought 100 lbs. This time, they bought out the papria stuff and took a few pieces of the jalapeno stuff to try. They said the lardo, especially plain (typ. Ukrainian-style), sells very well.

That's no a surprise. Every Ukrainian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian (etc) who eats our lardo things it is excellent. They may or may not like the spices on it (depending on what flavor it is), but they recognize the quality of the fat. I'm guessing the amazing quality of the Mangalitsa (more obvious back when fatback was a staple) is what motivated the Soviet pig breeders to develop the Mangalitskaya.

It blows my mind that Ukrainians will spend good money for special pig fat, while most Americans wouldn't eat it unless you paid them.

I gave the manager, a woman, some T-shirts. She was grateful, but I bet she'll give them to her kids. I haven't seen her dress casually in public. That's something people mention about America (particularly the West Coast); we dress casually a lot more than most people.

After I dropped off the lardo, I got some pickles, cultured butter and quark. It drives me nuts that there's no better pickled roasted peppers produced between here and Bulgaria, but I haven't found better ones yet.

* This pig was particularly hairy, so after burning, there's a thick layer of black "foam" from the burnt bristles.

** Hungary is clearly Western Europe, but they torch the hairs on their pigs.

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