This year, with the pandemic and shutdowns in place, I finally got around to reading a lot more of the trade magazines I have piled up in my desk and revisiting so many recipes and notes I have jotted down hastily for future use, that sometimes never gets past that point-as life sometimes gets in the way more often than not for me. Such is the life story of a chef/owner/marketer/human resources person/ shopper/equipment mechanic and administrator. I may start the day at the market, move on to prepping, interview a prospective employee, fight with my fish guy, then end the day fixing a pump tube on the dish machine then having a drink with the bartender next door just to get away from it all for a moment. Yet I wake up every day and love doing it all over again and wouldn’t have it any other way. For some, chaos is par for the course and fuel for the soul. I am one of those “somebodies”.
This pandemic has introduced me to someone I knew very little about—me—it forced me to reflect on life and where I fit in and I gotta tell u folks – it wasn’t pretty!
What was pretty though was some of the amazing dishes I produced while looking at all the notes I wrote on napkins, on receipts, on the back of business cards, etc.
Which is where I came upon a business card from the owner of a farm. A few years back he invited me and about 10 other chefs to a pig feast; at which we were to share our thoughts and give feedback on the prepared dishes expertly paired with some great wines.
It was a smart idea as the pork he peddled was quite a departure from anything we are used to here in America and would certainly need a positive nod from us chefs to get it on menus in the area, and patrons indoctrinated into this new style of protein.
It certainly worked because I remember everyone oohing and awwing with each course, and the most memorable part of the evening for me was when I bit into a cut called the collar steak. I even wrote on the back of business card “Experiment further with collar steak as soon as possible-a true gamechanger”.
And then of course life got in the way and it never made it to my menu but at least some of the other chefs who had their s#$%t together better than I do, did get it on theirs.
Until NOW—the name of the pig in question is a heritage breed coming all the way from Hungary, now being raised in the United States called a Mangalitsa pig. Unlike the regular pigs we know, this one has hair. Yes I know all pigs have hair, but this one has real honest to goodness mane of hair like sheep and about as much fat to match the hair. Most American pigs are bred to be lean, as in the other white meat-but this one certainly is not!
As a matter of fact, the collar cut as it is called looks more like a cut of beef, with deep red hues and marbling rivaling a high grade rib-eye steak. The cut I used is taken from the neck and was about ¾ of an inch thick. Because of all the marbling, I decided it would be high on the flavor scale, so I didn’t want to adulterate that flavor by adding too many seasonings to it (though this is totally a personal preference). I simply sprinkled some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on the steak. I then grabbed a small sprig of rosemary, added clarified butter to a roasting pan over low heat, added the rosemary sprig and dropped the steak on top of it. I slowly pan roasted while basting it with the now mildly flavored butter from the pan. I roasted the first side for approximately 5 minutes while it developed a golden crust, I then flipped it over and continued to pan roast and baste for an additional 4 minutes. I then transferred it to a 300-degree oven and let it slowly finish up for another 3 minutes to get to a medium temperature.
I then removed it and allowed it to rest for 15 minutes tented with foil, while I deglazed the pan with a bit of allspice liqueur (slightly sweet complex liqueur from the allspice berry), mounted some butter on the sauce and served it next to the steak.
Oh, my gravy – what a treat! The steak was quite juicy, tender, definitely a departure from the texture of a standard American pork chop that just gets really chewy and dry anywhere north of medium rare. Not even the Iberico pork could stand next to this little freak, except that I have never had the collar steak from the Iberico steak, only the standard chop, so I guess I am not quite comparing apples to apples.
Nonetheless, this thing was the BEST cut of pork I have ever had and reminds me well of the first time I had it at the dinner party. Though I might be biased toward my own technique, I would venture to say the first time I had it was not as good as this second time probably because it may have been cooked past my ideal temperature of medium for a pork chop, which is what the collar steak was meant to mimic.
This recipe is obviously less about the seasonings or aromatics and more about the protein itself and the cooking technique, which is of utmost importance to get the best taste and texture on your plate. Enjoy!
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.