There is something disturbing and over-the-top regarding Chicago’s collective love of the pig. It seems to me so much more exaggerated than what one sees in other major cities. Do they love pigs elsewhere? Of course. Religious preferences aside, what’s there not to love about it? In my eyes however, the Chicago dining and cooking community takes the love and passion beyond admiration. Coveting may be a better descriptive. Why? My best guess is that the winters here are so cold that anytime we can get pig fat to stick to our bones and warm us up, the happier we are.
Personality wise, I believe it easy to relate to them as well. They’re more intelligent than dogs, make good pets (a friend of mine had one), love eating, and are more turned on by the aroma of truffles than we are. Personally, though my home is kept kosher (my wife’s mantra), bacon is without a doubt on the top five (maybe even #1) on the food stuffs I would bring with me for life on a desert island. Better yet, I won’t have to share it with my wife and kids!
There is no denying that ounce for ounce it is the most flavorful animal in the carnivore kingdom. From head to toe, it is also the most approachable & reasonably priced meat we consume. That said, there is still something Tim Allen (Comedian/Home Improvement) “OOH-OOH-OOH” kind of creepy about our collective ape calling to great pork dishes. Though superlatives and other moans of pleasure are surely squealed for the sake of other great food, the tone for a wonderful pig dish is much more guttural. So although this post is hypocritical in that it is another dish I hope to hear plenty of “OOH-OOH-OOH’S” over, it is meant to be in homage to all of those pigs who bring Chicagoans and humans everywhere gustatory ecstasy.
The seed of this dish is owed to a chef I hold in great esteem, Chris Cosentino. I am very particular about ham. When I was a kid, my paternal Grandma used to make these amazing miniature Ham & Swiss sandwiches for Easter (my Dad’s side of the family’s Catholic). Aside from these – and I haven’t had them in decades – I really don’t eat ham at all. I can’t recall how I came to it, but once I saw this recipe, I suddenly got the urge to get Southern. No, I didn’t use the Red Bull cola, but just Coca-Cola. And the bourbon used was from a bottle of Maker’s Mark I was given that’s been sitting on my shelf (only recently have my high school memories of bourbon faded enough for me to approach it, but it still is not my drink of choice). I didn’t use the recipe, but prepared the sauce my own way. Nonetheless, I found the idea of a bourbon-cola bbq sauce very enticing. The ham I used is a Leoncini Ham. This delicate ham was brushed with the sauce and baked slowly while basting frequently until heated through. It was then cooled completely. The next day, I trimmed off almost all of the delicious glaze on the skin and cut the ham into squared off portions about 2″x2″x1″ thick. The outside was put through the grinder and used to flavor the collard greens. The pork shoulder and the ribs are from Slagel Family Farm, and the tenderloin was brought in to give the dish a little refinement. Each of the ingredients (including the ham) are basted with the sauce before cooking. The incredible, organic and coarse cut cornmeal and pecans are from 3 Sister’s Garden.