When most folks think of Cochon555, what comes to mind is a lively nose-to-tail culinary competition and indulgent, porky dishes. But Cochon555 was established in 2008 to promote something deeper: the preservation of heritage breed pigs and the family farms that raise them.
This year, we’re taking a farm-to-tasting approach to our coverage of Denver’s Cochon555 event (Sunday, March 19), telling the story of one locally raised heritage hog’s journey from pasture to chef to plate. The Large Black hog we’re following, which was raised at ACES @ Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt, Colorado, has been delivered to Barolo Grill. Read on for a sneak peek into chef Darrel Truett’s master plan for his pig.
And be sure to check back for part three, in which we’ll reveal which chef was crowned the 2017 Prince of Porc.
(Read part one here.)
As executive chef Darrel Truett tells it, Jason Smith and his 200-pound Large Black hog arrived at Barolo Grill around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, March 7; it took Truett and two of his line cooks to lug the beast down the steep stairs to the walk-in refrigerator. That’s where the pig lay when I arrived on Friday morning. Truett untied the enormous plastic bag holding the pig so I could get a better look, and as he revealed the head, I swear, that pig was smiling at us. Surely, this was a thoughtfully raised, and probably happy animal.
Truett’s job since that morning, on top of running his business and executing regular dinner service, has been to break down that pig and turn all of it—nose to tail—into 1,500 delicious bites of food. He can make no more than six dishes to impress the panel of judges (full disclosure: I am one of the lucky judges) and hundreds of attendees, and he must be strategic about his menu; there are only two ears on a pig, for instance, so crispy pig ears at such volume aren’t feasible. Plus, Truett has to marry his Northern Italian expertise with the theme of this year’s Cochon555: global barbecue.
Truett’s secret weapon? The Barolo Grill team. Everyone is chipping in to lighten the workload and make their mark on the menu, from sous chef Andrew Kirsch (Kansas City-born and bred) to morning baker and Chihuahua, Mexico native Jorge Barraza. Each will bring their special skills to the game plan, which Truett was kind enough to share:
The Sausage: Scraps of meat—a mix of lean and fatty bits—will go into house-made sausage links, smoked alternately over hickory and cherry woods. Pork bones and the head will be turned into a crystal clear consommé that will be chilled and cut into cubes; thanks to gelatin rendered from the bones and head, the consommé will solidify as it cools. Those slippery, savory cubes will be presented on skewers with slices of the sausage.
The Grissini: Barolo is known for their from-scratch breadsticks, so Truett is making these using rendered fat from his Large Black pig. He began curing the belly last Friday for pancetta, which he’ll thinly slice and wrap around the grissini. A hazelnut and smoked tomato Romesco sauce will be served for dipping.
The Agnolotti: Modeled after a classic Piedmontese dish—agnolotti del plin—Truett will create a pork filling for the pinched ravioli, fry them, and serve them with Kirsch’s Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
The Chili: The back legs of the pig will be smoked (again over hickory and cherry woods) and turned into a chili with Tuscan white beans and tomatoes.
The Tonnato: Instead of the classic Piedmontese dish of chilled veal in tuna sauce, Truett is going to tie, roast, and braise the pork loin for this dish, serving with an Alabama-style white barbecue sauce made from mayonnaise, horseradish, and vinegar.
The Tinga: Truett adores the “tinga” (spicy shredded chicken) that Barraza makes for family meal, so entrusting that dish to Barraza was a no-brainer. He’ll use the pig’s shoulder, braising it with traditional chipotle chiles and untraditional Calabrian chiles to give the meat a smoky kick.
Join us at Cochon 555 on Sunday night to try these dishes and many, many more. But in case you can’t make it, we’ll be back on Monday the 20th to let you know who was crowned the 2017 Denver Prince of Porc.
Read part three here.