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Breaking Down a Pig at South Water Kitchen

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 10, 2010 7:00PM

(Ed. Note: This post contains photographs that some readers may consider graphic. However, given the interest in snout-to-tail dining, as well as the educational subject of this post's content, it is our opinion that the photographs are essential component to the story. - C. Sudo)

Last week, we received an unexpected email from the staff at South Water Kitchen. Chef Chris Lateano is strongly committed to local, sustainable ingredients, and every month he buys a whole pig from Hasselmann Family Farm in Milledgeville, IL (a 2.5 hour drive west from Chicago) and breaks it down, in-house. Would we like to watch the process?

A little apprehensive, we said yes. We've been vocal advocates of sustainable eating for years, especially in the areas of meat and fish. We buy meat at Green City Market, support chefs who source from local farms, and generally try to be good little localvores as much as possible. But we'd never quite considered the reality behind "snout-to-tail" dining - namely, how the stuff between the snout and the tail gets from the farm to your plate!

After arriving at South Water Kitchen, we were led to the second floor banquet kitchen. The pig (already bled out and eviscerated, thank goodness), was laid out on a metal work table, ready to be broken down. What followed was like a combination of a (particularly tasty) episode of CSI and a scene from Little House on the Prairie, sawing and cutting while discussing all of the different dishes the restaurant could create. It was also a particularly interesting lesson in porcine anatomy - all of those cuts that we buy at the supermarket suddenly make a lot more sense.

South Water Kitchen buys the pig for about $2 a pound. Keep in mind, this was a 215 pound pig - hardly something to be tossed around the table. According to Lateano, the restaurant recoups the cost just by selling the pork chops - everything else is extra. It took some trial and error to get it right. "I didn't do anything like this in culinary school," Lateano explained. "I probably ruined the first pig I tried." The exact process is detailed in the captions.