Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pigs, Cows and Pie

There is an explosion of pork obsession going on here in New York these days that I find mildly disturbing (see above picture of the Bacon Explosion). There is even a guy who is going to spend an entire month eating nothing but bacon.

Sure, pork is delicious and now several sources for humanely raised pigs are available, I hear great things about Flying Pigs Farm at the Union Square market, but have never tried them (living in a kosher household can put a damper on your in house pork consumption).

Here in NYC until recently most high end places would serve Neiman Ranch pork which is from Iowa (which I have seen being sold at Whole Foods). Momofuku uses their pork and as everyone already knows Momofuku makes amazing Japanese style soups.

The new place for pork in the East Village is called Porchetta, a stylish whole in the wall on 7th st between First and A that sells a small, well edited menu of all things involving pork. The roasted potatoes with crunchy pork bits sounds amazing. I'll report back when I've be able to sample the goodies.

The laid back East Village locavoire restaurant Back 40 has a dinner called the Whole Hog every course of the meal comes from some part of the pig. We had a confusing situation there a couple of weeks ago where we were told, after we enquired, that the apple pie we were eating was made with a lard pastry. This was wrong and was refutiated the next day by the concerned owner, who assured us it was made with butter.

At the time it was upsetting to us because my dinner companions the kosher Jew and the macrobiotic were not so into eating lard. And in truth it wasn't such a great crust, which is why we asked in the first place.

Anyway, our obsession with fat is not limited to pigs.

Marlow and Daughters butcher shop is now selling Beef Suet and making pie dough from it which they are serving in their restaurants (I think maybe Dinner as well as Marlow and Sons).

When I read that now beef suet was going to be used I started to hyperventilate and immediately wrote a letter. Oh my God where all of my favorite restuarants forsaking butter? How can it be!

To their credit Marlow et. al., sent me a nice letter back (I'm sure thinking the entire time: "who is this nut case?") assuring me that all their meat fat dessert pies will be clearly marked. I just hope this means they increase the selections on their dessert menu, which one time when I went was 1 item (I'm not including cheese, of which they have a lovely local selection).

My non-culinary school understanding of pastry is that the goal is to get lots of butter in different sizes, not to processed into the flower, it should be lunpy, this is what gives a flaky pastry it's flake. So if you make your lard dough with a nice, not over worked dough you could get flaky, but you will never get buttery. There are still those who mix lard and butter in a pie dough (like you need to go out an buy yet another ingredient?)

Why re-invent the wheel? The point to all this?

I don't want animal fat in my dessert, I just don't.

If you want to make a traditional British Christmas mince meat pie go for it.
If you want to make a suet pastry for your beef Wellington, great!

But leave my fucking apple pie alone.

I want butter and I want whipped cream and I don't want to have to ask the server if the apple pie moos.

The last word I have to say on this is that even when a butter crust is not at it's best it has a shortbread, buttery, sweetness that is so forgiving, the same cannot be said for lard/suet/soy margarine.

Animal lard is not hydrogenated, in this instance it's local, farm-raised, fat from healthy, happy (if now dead) animals. Using all of a animal you kill is very important and I'm glad to see that the the people at Marlowe and Daughters are doing that. Suet is a great traditional fat, with many wonderful uses.

The need to revive old English cuisine by trying to make suet a trendy alternative to butter in pies makes perfect sense to me, it a new twist on an old ingredient that they now have from local cows. I'm just being irrational. I'm a butter fetishist.

My feeling is that lard, of any sort, does not make a good pie crust.
There! It took me a long time, but I said it.

Any time in my life I've had a lard pie crust in a dessert/fruit pie it's been leaden and unctuous. The famous flaky lard pie has eluded me. Lard fans like to say it makes the pie flakier, I don't see it.

So, I'm asking you to talk me down (as Rachel Maddow says) if anyone reading this can tell me why they like lard pastry so much I would really like to know. Convince me that I'm just missing something and help me to understand the true meaning and worth of lard in my pie.

Please and then you'll have to invite me over to have a taste test!

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