Chow How to Kill a Pig
posted by January 23 at 7:38 AMon
A week ago Sunday, a couple dozen people paid $40 each to go to a farm in Port Orchard, watch a pig die, butcher it, and then eat (parts of) it. Watching animals die (or killing them personally) is the latest trend for chefs—see this New York Times piece—but this event, put on by Seattle’s Culinary Communion, was open to the public.
The pig was named Hector and insistently referred to as such, even when very dead, a conceit I found precious. You don’t name a ham. So, this is Hector:
After the break, a photo essay including a couple more shots of Hector and then plenty of The Pig Formerly Known as Hector. This is not for the squeamish.
Photos by Reena Kawal
I was concerned that this would be some kind of boutique foodie "experience," voyeuristic, self-indulgent, depraved. It was not. Gabriel Claycamp, the main man at Culinary Communion, ensured that it was absolutely respectful, and the participants were down-to-earth, very nice people.
(Interestingly, not that many showed up at the schmancy $55 dinner featuring pork from the pig at Culinary Communion the next night, which failed to sell out. Pig-killers and schmancy-dinner-goers: self-selective, somewhat mutually exclusive groups? Those who didn't attend the dinner were smart: It was the polar opposite of the farm experience, with no mud and lots of discussion of people's jobs as lawyers. Also, the pork loin was as dry as the conversation: tragic.)
A pretty wonderful temporary community was formed. (Though one couple that arrived post-slaughter never really joined it; they stood clinging to each other and drinking wine at a safe distance from the butchering and charcuterie. It seemed as if someone had taken a piece of chalk and tied it to the pig with a 20-foot piece of string and drawn a circle that they could not enter. They were at my table at the dinner.)
It was a real working farm, with nonpicturesque puddles and piles of stuff everywhere. Though this child, obviously, is as picturesque as it gets.
This goat kept trying to eat the hems of people's coats.
This child tried the mulled wine, which was, in fact, nearly undrinkably sour. (Yes, the kind of monsters that bring their children to watch animals die also let them have sips of alcohol.) I choked down a couple cups to steady my nerves before Claycamp shot the pig in the head.
Killing man and killing van: a professional who travels around and does the sawing-up, etc. (The rest of the breakdown, or butchering, was done by Claycamp and anyone who wanted to bring a knife and an apron and sign a release form—a surprising number of people. Everyone also pitched in on the charcuterie, prepping the meat for curing and sausage and so forth. More of this below.) It was good to have this guy here. At a pig-killing carried out by a group of local chefs not too long ago, the winch that they'd set up themselves broke, letting the pig fall to the ground.
Hector and the hook of doom. He shook before he was killed, most likely due to the presence of a bunch of unfamiliar people—an argument against this sort of thing.
Most of those in attendance had some experience with hunting or killing chickens on a farm or suchlike. It was a stoic crowd: I didn't see anyone besides me crying when the pig was shot, and I thought of my grandma, an Angus cattle rancher, and cut it out immediately.
I'd heard that the pig might scream horribly, but Claycamp (not a regular gun-shooter, looking pale and grave) got a very clean, close-range shot with a .22 after thanking everyone for coming "to celebrate the life and demise of Hector." The pig died having just eaten some melted ice cream, rice, and hamburger bun slop. Claycamp got kicked in the ear hard during the pig's (brief, silent) death throes. Revenge!
A family watches the pig die.
Bleeding the pig. It was much quicker than you'd think—just a moment or two. Salt was stirred into the blood so it wouldn't congeal and could be used for blood sausage.
The pig hoisted over the fence.
Singeing the hair off the pig. Often the whole carcass is plunged into boiling water, but this pig was too big: at 8 months old, 350 pounds (without blood and guts, estimated at 40 pounds). Oddly, the singeing did not smell bad.
Gabriel Claycamp's unfortunate hair.
More singeing and scraping. Someone said the pig looked like a crimini mushroom.
Guts. They all just fell out in a remarkably contained manner. No bad smell here, either.
Sawing the pig in half. The kids were front and center on the other side; everything about the whole day caused them pure, un-grossed-out fascination. Right about now, the saw-wielding man asked Claycamp, "You want me to saw through the head?" Before Claycamp could answer, a kid yelled, "YEEEEAAAAH!"
Breakdown. Claycamp explained every step. Completely absorbing. A whole new perspective on bacon, ham, guanciale, etc. Everyone kept saying that the texture of the meat was extraordinary, which it was: all jellylike, more akin to raw tuna than the meat one usually handles. And it was still warm.
Another Culinary Communion man.
A band played and lunch was served, including some bits of the newly dead pig, which were delicious (most of it will become prosciutto and other meat products, available for purchase by participants only). It was cold so people didn't stick around long.
Overheard at the end:
"So are you going home a vegetarian?"