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Here piggy piggy…

  • Posted on August 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

It’s kind of funny to me to be writing a complete post on pork. This is not just any pork, and I suspect this will not be just any post. I think in order for you to get a true appreciation of this, I need to go into a little background before I get to the food. And oh, lard-y, the food. (I think I also need to apologize in advance for the humor as well. Not to mention the lateness of this post.)

When the Husband and I got married four and a half years ago, the wedding was at our favorite restaurant at the time (which has since changed hands and chefs and we’ve barely been back, not even for an annual anniversary dinner, but no matter). The chef there was a lovely young man, and fabulous chef, named Michael Clampffer. We followed Michael after he left that restaurant to his next venture and then were thoroughly disappointed when he left there to became a private chef.

Fast forward to the Facebook age, where we were able to reconnect with Michael, though I had managed to catch glimpses of him in the media before that. Seems Michael was working for a gentleman who, among other things, owned Mosefund Farms where they were starting a new venture of raising Mangalitsa pigs. Mangalitsa pigs are also known as Hungarian wooly pigs, a heritage breed that fell out of favor in part due to its exceptionally high fat content. To some, the high fat makes it undesirable; to others, it make an tasty product with a texture that just can’t be beat. As it turned out, one of Michael’s first customers in NJ for the Mangalitsa was Scott Anderson, the Chef at elements in Princeton. And if you’ve read anything else on this blog, you’ve probably noticed that they are currently our favorite place.

Our next Sunday in we remark to Scott, “So we hear you’re getting a pig!” It turned out that Scott and staff we not getting one pig, but two- the first for charcuterie, the second for cooking, AND they were planning to do a special tasting dinner in its honor, one could say a “roast” of sorts. That was it, we had a reservation. On a Monday night in August, about 50 people gathered at elements for a 9 course tasting menu.

Oh my. We had both been a little leery of a 9 course pig dinner, since both of us have food quirks of sorts and there are all sorts of things we just don’t do. And we knew that this was an amazing opportunity for Scott and Joe and the elements staff (as well as Alex and Aki from Ideas in Food) to try out all sorts of pork preparations and we had no idea what would end up on our plates. Oh, and by the way, they were going to do this with community seating- large tables with other people. Considering we like to sit in the kitchen AWAY from other people, this was going to really be an adventuresome evening!

We get to elements separately, since I was coming from work, and the Husband from home. The first thing I notice when I walk in is that it’s hot. And I don’t mean kitchen-going-full-steam-all-burners-on-high hot. I mean A/C not working hot. SO not a good sign. We do not deal well with hot. We decided to try and make the most of it and go out into the car as needed and just do the best we can. (It turned out the A/C in the men’s room was working but the lights were not even working in the ladies room, so it was lit by candlelight which only made things warmer!) We staked out a table and then waited for the evening to begin. We chatted with some folks, some who sat at the other end of our table, some who we knew from The Plucky and were delighted when Michael came to sit with us for the evening!

There were passed hors d’oeuvres, some of which we got, some we did not. Fried green tomatoes with green goddess dressing- yummy, I wish those had come around again. Smoked lardo on crostini. I’m afraid that this, and “on kimchi chip” are the extent of my notes from the evening. From the pictures taken by Shola on the elements blog, I know that there were also radishes with lardo. Fried clams with a dipping sauce. Pulled pork on cracklings.

The first course was “mangalitsa and melon charcuterie.” A platter of assorted charcuterie, including pate, cured ham, sausage and what we were told was incredibly good head cheese, was just delicious. An assortment of mustards, pickles, bread slices as well as three different kinds of melon- canteloupe, honeydew and another canteloupe-like melon rounded out the course. Everything we tasted was terrific. We don’t have much of a basis for comparrison since those are not the types of meats we usually eat, but everyone seemed to enjoy it all and not a slice of melon went back to the kitchen from our table.

Next course was “Smoked uni, “hot & sour soup” gelee, tomato.” Smoked uni was a new one for both of us, and not something I have any need to eat again. It’s an interesting texture. The soup gelee was also an interesting texture. The tomatoes in the disk were incredibly good and I did love the taste of the soup and tomatoes but this was definitely our least favorite course.

“Green bean and beet salad, ham gribiche” was the third course. Yum. Served family style, the salad was brought out on a platter. Two different kinds of beans, yellow and green, were lightly dressed atop a pile of gribiche which I believe was just a fancy name for cracklings. On top of all that were diced beets and shaved truffle. Oh, yum! I’ve never been a big fan of beets but this was delicious and I even had a second helping. Sweet and tender, against the crunch of the beans and the gribiche which gave it some amazing flavor.

“Pork belly, stone fruit, tamale.” I wasn’t sure how we were going to like this course. Pork belly is really just crispy fat. In this case, really tender, meltingly creamy, fat, but fat none-the-less. I think it was Michael, though, who called it the fois gras of the pig. And he’s right. It’s a fairly similar texture, one that many people don’t like. But on the mangalitsa, the fat is something else entirely. The mangalitsa that elements was working with had a two-inch thick layer of fat. Think about that for a second. Two inches of just plain fat. And here they was sliced and seared it, served it with a stone fruit sauce to cut the sweetness, a small but oh-so-tasty corn tamale and a mole sauce that was just out of this world. I couldn’t finish my portion, it was just a touch too much for me, but it was absolutely remarkable when you consider what went into it.

“Italian sausage & peppers, garlic bread sauce” was the next course and with a garlic bread sauce, it made me wonder just what it would be. It was sausage stuffed into a pepper and served atop some tomato sauce with exactly that, a garlic bread flavored sauce. It made you want a piece of garlic bread to mop it up with but we made do with the ever abundant and delicious basket. They always have such tasty breads and that night was no exception.

“Preserved lemon cavatelli “carbonara”” was the pasta course. Served with sous vide egg yolk that was the most yellow and creamy. I almost want to buy one of those immersion circulator cooker thingys (and yes, that’s the technical term!) to make eggs like that! It was really a sensational dish, with all the flavors and textures coming together nicely.

“loin & leg, fixins” was how the next course was billed and it was here that we finally stuffed ourselves silly. Fixins was an understatment. Small cast iron pots were brought out, with each hiding a new delight. First some mushrooms. Then ratatouille. Some sweet corn. A platter of leg and loin meat. Some sauces, a salsa verde which was tangy and tasty. A cucumber shrimp slaw, which I don’t remember trying. But by that point I was so full it wouldn’t have mattered much.This was really where the taste of the meat itself shined through. It didn’t -need- any of the accompaniments. Just by itself it was probably the best pork loin I have ever had. But the fixins blew it over the top. The mushrooms were out of this world; the corn had to have been picked that day. Every element (no pun intended) worked on its own, and they all worked well together. I would have loved to have a doggy bag to have taken the leftovers home. It would’ve made a hell of a lunch!

The first dessert was “Bacon and Eggs” which is a traditional dessert at elements, usually served as part of the chef’s tasting menu. For tonight, though, Joe wasn’t content to just serve up a Mangalitsa version of their regular bacon and eggs, though I can imagine that would have been amazing. Instead we got bacon and eggs milkshake served in hollowed out eggshells with little mini straws with scoops on the end to ensure you could get every drop. I’m not big on bacon, but this was insanely good. Like seriously. Oh, and instead of a plate, they used a piece of the cardboard egg container.

The dessert itself was “honey glazed ham ice cream, pineapple, pork crackling “cracker jacks”” that seemed to be a riff on your typical baked ham dinner, cherry sauce included. Definitely not something I would order on a menu, but not something I would turn down if it was put in front of me. The ice cream really¬† tasted like sweet ham.¬† And the compressed pineapple and cherry sauce was just a terrific counterpoint. The crispy cracklins were a bit too porky for me, so I gave the last bit to the Husband as I settled into a near food coma.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to spend this evening with Michael and hear more about his pigs. They really are some of the tastiest meat I have ever had the pleasure to taste and the staff at elements and the folks at Ideas in Food came up with some great ways to showcase not only the flavors of the pig, but everything else they served with it. I usually don’t order pork when we go out to eat, but should I ever see Mangalitsa on the menu, I don’t think I could turn it down. It was truly an incredible evening.

At the end of the night I went over to Scott to thank him for the wonderful evening and suggested that they have Mangalitsa hash on the brunch menu the following Sunday. The Husband and I figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask, and Scott then seemed to think it was a good idea. That was some of the best freaking hash either of us has ever had. Holy wow.

I can’t wait till they’re back from vacation.

Some links:

to elements blog with pictures by Shola

Jay’s Strange Blog which I found while looking for pictures/posts to help fill in my memory.

Holy Hash!

  • Posted on August 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Brunch at Elements today was incredible. My lovely wife made sure to ask Chef Scott Anderson for an encore of the Mangalitsa – a Sunday brunch dish of ham, purple potatoes, foie gras, eggs and hollandaise sauce. Spectacular!