Before we go any further I want to warn you. I just participated in the killing of a pig. I also documented it with pictures. I will do my best to avoid excessively-graphic imagery but as you may know, the process of butchering an animal is a dramatic event so if you’re not comfortable with this kind of content kindly skip this post. I will stick to the facts and present this subject as mindfully and respectfully as possible and only to show and share my love and appreciation for food, cooking and all that it entails.
As a meat eater, I was feeling compelled to witness and participate in the butchering of an animal. I felt that without doing so… eating meat was just a convenient luxury, far removed from the harsh reality of taking life to feed people. I also wanted to participate out of respect for the animals and the butchering craft that I know so little about. I thought If I were to continue to eat meat, I needed exposure to the entire story. And not the theory which we can all look up somewhere. I needed to see what was really involved. There’s drama in the act of killing no matter how “humanely” the killing is carried out. Our butchering instructor minimized suffering and worked as swiftly as possible.
I remember when I was a kid I watching my neighbour Aurie slaughter her own chickens before cooking lunch. I never judged her… who was I to judge her, I was 8 years old and in love with her cooking. It was a normal scene back in the early 80’s having grown up in a tiny little town in Maracay, Venezuela. Many people had chickens running around in their yards. We had them too. My mom wouldn’t butcher them, we used the eggs. But for other people it was pretty common to kill their chicken. Many years later, 2 weeks ago to be more precise I was at a barn, ready to butcher a 190 pound animal.
We started very early in the morning. In fact, I woke up at 3:30 and drove for about an hour from Brentwood to Orange county. The reason we started so early was to beat the sun and have most of the butchering done before the hottest hours of the day. At this time, I had no idea the whole task would require over 6 hours from start to end.
This butchering lesson pushed me into unknown territory and made me realize how removed, distant I have been my entire life to the fact that food originates somewhere, and that I should care more about the origins and the process. I know I sound naive in saying this, but just reading about butchering and the process isn’t enough. Not in my opinion. Watching the process and participating in it is.
The act of killing in itself was the quickest part of the process. It was done by firing a 22mm round into the pig’s head. Death is instantaneous but the body won’t come to a full rest for another 5 to 10 minutes. During that time working as fast as possible the animal needs to be bled and the blood stored and reserved for sausage making.
The first thing I remember doing that morning was firing up a huge gas burner and placing a big pot of water on it. That much water took about 2 hours to bring to a boil. At the time I had no idea what it would be for. But it all made sense. Once the blood has been drained as much as possible, the outer layer of the skin must be removed and with it most of the pig’s hair. We poured boiling water carefully over the pig.
Working in small areas and making sure not to overdo it which would result in cooking the meat under the skin. The water partially cooks the skin and makes it easy to scrub off. With the use of knives and other tools, it took 4 of us a good 2 hours to finish this task. As we worked away, a chef apprentice cut off the trotters.
The head was removed. The chef assisting in the lesson kept it for his own use.
Then the gutting begun. It was executed by the butcher instructor. A former doctor and extremely experienced. The cutting was precise. An incredible anatomy class. He answered any questions we had. The knife he used was extremely small. I’ve come to realize over years of cooking… fancy expensive knives are highly overrated. With that little nondescript knife he finished the job. It was surgery. The surgeon kept the organs.
The pig was then washed and readied up. We transferred it to a bigger table under a tent to keep the sun away. At this point larger knives were used. Power tools were also brought in. Breaking down a whole pig will require sawing through the spine, rib cage and pelvis bones. A standard saw can be used but the job can be finished in a 10th of the time using a reciprocal saw. Much cleaner too.
Breaking down our pig took about an hour and a half. Slabs of bacon, spare ribs, rib racks, chops, shoulders, hams, loins. Absolutely beautiful stuff. Nothing went to waste. I mean nothing. One thing I’ll never forget is that fact that the meat was still warm as we worked through the different cuts. This lesson taught me more than just about butchering or pork anatomy. It kind of took a mental blindfold off. Going from a living thing to a pork chop on a plate won’t ever be the same. Priceless knowledge has been acquired. I’m so thankful I did this. Would I do it again? yes.
Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think everybody enjoyed or appreciated the nature of this post or the images displayed. There’s not much I can do about that (I kinda wanna apologize but then… why would I…). This is a cooking journal and if there has been a post that I thought deserved being logged on my blog is probably this one. I refrained form posting certain photos though… because well.. I understand some viewers wouldn’t be comfortable dealing with the graphic nature of them and this site happens to be public.
With all of that said and out of the way… to those who want to learn about butchering and are willing to participate in a class but have doubts. Do it. Spend the money. It isn’t expensive. Find a few friends that want to participate and do it. The educational investment far exceeds the money factor. And I’m done for tonight Take care guys and see you soon!
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