A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was bringing home several pounds of pork products from North Carolina. A lot of people probably wonder why I’d bother lugging a bunch of random smoked pig parts that cost less $1.50 a pound across the eastern seaboard. The only answer I have is that they taste mighty good, and my local supermarkets seem to think the only parts of the pig worth eating are the chops, roast and ribs. Yes, I can find a ham hock here and there, perhaps even a pig’s ear… but we Yankee’s don’t seem to have mastered the art of smoking our swine the way they have down in Appalachia.
To me, these seemingly random parts hark back to a time when folks had to use the whole pig in order to make it through winter or to their next pay check. More than one southern grandmother has told me stories of a childhood that consisted largely of cornbread dipped in collards flavored with fatback, or whatever other part of the pig was handy. Chops and roasts were for the rich, but you could make a rich meal out of a bit of pork fat.
My 12 lbs of hog consisted of some smoked bacon ends and salted fat back. However, the vast majority of it came in the form of whole smoked pig jowls. For those of you who aren’t well versed in piggy anatomy, that would be the cheek, a lovely, fatty cut that’s akin to bacon, yet smoother (a result of the additional collagen found in a pig’s face).
Since falling in love with jowls, I’ve found that they have something of a cult following. The Atlantic wrote about them late last year and the internet raves about this recipe so much, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist trying it (yes, I’ll blog it).
I generally use the jowl in place of bacon, putting a touch of it into my caramelized onions, using it as flavoring in beef stew or to add a satisfying punch to veggies, beans and lentils. I keep them in the freezer a) because they last longer there and b) because frozen jowl is way easier to slice. Another plus: you cut your own jowl, and can decide if you want it thicker or thinner depending on what you’re making.
P.S.- if any of you readers know where to get smoked pork jowl in Boston, please pass it along, both for my sake and for that of the poor TSA people (and their dogs) who have to go through my bags when I fly from N.C.
Creamy lentils with pork jowl
1 small onion diced
3 oz smoked pork jowl diced
1/2 lb green lentils
2 c diced carrots
2 c red wine
3 c chicken stock (maybe more)
½ c light cream or half & half.
In a medium sauce pan sauté the pork jowl over medium-high heat until it starts to brown. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add lentils and carrot and stir around. Add red wine and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. If lentils soak up too much liquid, add more stock. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Serve immediately.