Last week I spent several days up to my elbows in pig fat, loving every second of it. It is not often I get to explore the lesser-used cuts of a pig such as the back fat and skin.
The source of this delectable, well-bred pork was Sir Hamsalot, a swine raised by my friends Aline and Brian on their farm in rural Massachusetts. Butchered one year ago, Sir Hamsalot now fills their freezer with a seemingly bottomless supply of pig parts- from bacon to pork shoulder.
With nose-to-tail cooking gaining popularity in restaurants, it is no small wonder that people are wanting a bit of that up-to-your-elbows-in-pork-fat experience at home, even if they can’t raise a pig like my friends with the farm. And with that interest in harder to find meats and poultry on the rise, so is the availability of these parts at better butchers around the country.
A New York Times piece a few weeks ago covered a range of city butchers, including my go-to: Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market. On any given day pork parts from bellies to cheeks to chops are ready to take home. Game birds like guinea hens and quail are sometimes in stock but can always be special ordered, shipped in daily from a few Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. Whatever meat piques my interest, I feel comfortable knowing that with Dickson’s no matter the type of meat, the animals are raised locally, allowed to roam free, and never receive hormones or antibiotics. It's a difference from normal market fare that I can taste.
Living in San Francisco I made a habit of visiting Marina Meats on Chestnut Street. This small storefront has a big focus on beef, short ribs ranking among my favorite cuts on offer. Duck breasts are almost always in stock as is a wide range of local fish and seafood. For the more intrepid cook, Marina Meats frequently gets a supply of fresh goat- racks, tenderloins, and ground goat meat all at the ready for some inspired cooking.
Around the holiday season I am frequently seeking out new ideas for celebratory meals in the form of a grand or unusual main courses. In Los Angeles, Huntington Meats at the Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax was my go-to for all things specialty meat. Huntington’s regularly carries beef from Harris Ranch, Kurobuta pork, Kobe beef, and dozens of sausages blended and stuffed in house daily. They can also order in specialty items, like they did for me the year I made venison racks for Christmas dinner. And this is probably the easiest place (and one of the only) to place orders for suckling pig. Just do it soon. Last year Huntington’s available pigs had all been ordered a month before Christmas.
Not everyone can raise a Sir Hamsalot, but for those who live in big cities, they need only make their way to a good butcher for a taste of all those delicious pig parts and unusual meats hard to find in normal markets. For those who live where meat only comes on Styrofoam trays suffocating in plastic wrap, demand more of your store. If you are going to eat meat without getting up to your elbows in it, you owe it to yourself and the animal to eat the very best quality you can find.
Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell