The Three Little Piggies — From Swine to Sausage

For a year over 2011 and 2012 Mark Zuckerberg only ate meat from animals that he had personally killed in an attempt to remind himself what it means to eat meat. In the modern western world most people are completely disconnected from the food they eat. It’s so easy to get food that is ready made, or vegetables that have been picked, washed, peeled, chopped, and wrapped in plastic. If you’re a city dweller without connections, it’s very difficult to get your meat the old fashioned way. Meat bought from the supermarket or butcher is ready to go straight into the pan. If it wasn’t for the label, most people wouldn’t even know what they were eating. Actually, even with the label most people have no idea.

La matanza del cerdo – the killing of the pig – is an old tradition in Spain. But unfortunately, it’s not as common as it once was. In days gone by, it was common for small villages to get together once a year, kill a few pigs, and divide up the meat between the villagers. For one of my friends, this is still a family tradition in the mountainous country of northern Catalonia where her family lives. Earlier this year, Rob and I were lucky enough to be invited.

29/02/2014, 12:00am – Vic, Cataloña

The house

After an hour’s drive from Barcelona we arrived the at house of Señora Montse. Within 10 minutes, we were seated at the smaller dining table and served chicken schnitzel with home grown potatoes, carrots and peas. Sounds basic, but the vegetables alone were amazing. Once I had a taste of the home made aioli there was no more talking to until the food was gone. I mashed the vegetables together and mixed through some aioli. 2, 3, 4 helpings… I lost count. The food was gone and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think in English let alone the Catalan/Spanish/English mix that was being spoken around me. Luckily Rob was there to entertain our hosts while I entered a short coma.

The aioli that I ate was so good that I vow to try and reproduce it when I get access to a pestle and mortar. When I do, you will find a link to the recipe here. Until this time, here is a basic recipe that I pulled from Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy. Julia Child has a similar recipe that also uses bread. Sounds ridiculous to me, but who can argue with Julia Child? She also says that you can’t make Aioli with a blender (as you can with mayonnaise), because the garlic develops a bitter taste, and the sauce doesn’t have the right texture. I can confirm that the aioli I had on this occasion was made with a pestle and mortar, and did not include bread.

Tapas Revolution by Omar Allibhoy
Traditional Alioli
Serves 4

3 garlic cloves
0.5t sea salt (flake or rock)
200ml olive oil

Peel your garlic and halve them lengthways. Unless the cloves are very young, remove and discard the small green shoots in the middle (called the germ) as this can be bitter, especially when uncooked. Finely chop the garlic.
Put the chopped garlic and salt in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a very very very (I mean it!) smooth paste.
Start adding the oil in a very thin stream, mixing all the time. The idea is to emulsify the olive oil with salt and garlic paste. Keep adding the oil a very little at a time until it’s all used up. This step can also be done in a bowl with a whisk.
This will keep for a day in the fridge but it’s better to serve it immediately.

29/02/2014, 01:00am – Vic, Cataloña

As I write this I am currently lying in bed in the most amazing house – if you can call it a house – that I’ve ever been in. It belongs to Señora Montse. It is in the mountains of northern Catalonia with a nice view of the Pyrenees. It is grande and beautiful. Everything about it is amazing. The roof beams are of thick bare wood. Still with the bends, grooves and knots that remind you it was once part of a living tree. The masonry work and tiling is immaculate, flawless and spotlessly clean. The most perplexing thing is the size. It’s only once you get inside that you realise how big it really is. The main dining table sits at least 20 people. I haven’t even seen half of it yet.

I can hear the breeze blowing through the house as I feel a coolness replace the ambient warmth of the heater. The doors softly rattle in their frames. A dog barks 2 floors below and it echoes through the whole house. I’d better get some rest. Tomorrow is a big day.

29/02/2014

After a coffee and the sweetest breakfast I’ve had since I was 12, we headed to the preparation area at 7:30am. The first pig had already been killed and it was time for the second.

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I watched as the second and third pigs were killed and butchered into large pieces. The second piggy must have figured out what was happening from the sound of the first, because she put up a good fight. She was strung up by her hind leg and her throat was cut. The blood that drained was collected for later use. The total exsanguination took about 10 seconds, but the muscles continued to twitch for several minutes after time of death was announced.

On Señora Montse’s property the process of boar to butifarra usually goes as follows:

Once this pig is dead and has stopped twitching all the tiny hairs on it’s body are singed with a large blow torch, and scraped off with a knife.

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The hard contact area of the hooves are removed by torching and then pulling off. The top of the head is removed from the cheeks to behind the ears.

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The skin is sliced along the spine, then the flesh is sliced and the ribs are broken on either side of the spine with a small hatchet.

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The spine is removed and the body is splayed open. The stomach, intestinal organs and other offal are removed and prepared for later use. Bit by bit, the pig is butchered into manageable pieces. The only body parts not used are the eyeballs.

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The large pieces of meat are then cut into smaller pieces and sorted into two categories: cuts with visible blood, and cuts without.

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The skin is stripped of most of its fat (which is reserved), then cut into small squares which are reserved for the llangonisa.

Skin

Squares of skin fat

The cuts with visible blood are minced along with some of the reserved fat (not the squares shown above).

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To this mince, salt and pepper are incorporated, the mixture is fried, and the seasoning is adjusted to taste.

Side note: in The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz suggests incorporating curing salts (nitrates and nitrites) into the fillings of dry cured sausages. Curing salts are often added to dry cured sausage fillings to prevent oxidation of fats, to produce pink coloured meat, and prevent the growth of C. botulinum. To the best of my knowledge, the llangonisas were made without curing salts. I am unsure of the measurements of salt used (or if it was even measured at all) in the making of these butifarras. But, Katz suggests using 3 to 3.5 percent salt based on the weight of the meat for a wild fermentation like ours. Wild fermentation refers to obtaining the microorganism that help to preserve the meat from your hands and the air, as opposed to using a starter culture.

Different butifarras have different fillings and each one differs according to the recipes below. In my email correspondence with Señora Montse after the event, I tried to clarify the general amounts of fat and meat used in the description below to get to the real secrets of the recipe, but each time I asked she forgot to address that particular question. With all my other pesky questions she was very patient and informative…mysterious. The ratios of lean meat to fat given below are only my best guess.

Butifarra bona: Carne semigrasa (a mix of lean meat and fat with a ratio of 80:20), salt and pepper.
Butifarra negre: 1/3 carne perol (the offal which is first boiled. This includes ears, snout, cheeks, any other flesh from around the skull, lungs, brains, liver, kidney, heart, tongue), 2/3 carne grasa (meat to fat ratio of 70:30), a little blood (to give the colour), salt and pepper.
Butifarra perol also known as butifarra cuita: 2/3 carne perol (see above) 1/3 carne semigrasa (see above), salt and pepper.
Bull: Carne muy grasa (meat to fat ratio of 60:40), a little blood to give colour, salt and pepper.
Llangonisa: Carne muy buena – meat without fat and without any trace of blood (like cuts from the upper part of the leg), fat cut into 1cm squares, salt and pepper.
Chorizo (which we didn’t actually make): lean meat, small chunks of belly fat (same as for llangonisa), pimentón, salt and pepper.

For all the sausages that need to be hung, many different factors come in to play. If you plan on making any kind of cured meat, you want to be very well researched. I would start with The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz which gives a brief overview of all thing related to fermentation, and many resources to explore for further reading.

Below is the finished filling for Butifarra Negra.

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To check the seasoning, fry a little of the filling and taste. Adjust if necessary.

Preparing the intestines to be used as sausage casings is apparently a long and tedious process. This time the natural casings were previously prepared by the butcher. Before they were used the casings were thoroughly washed. The butifarra fillings are pumped into their casings, and then tied off into individual or bunches of sausages. Bull uses a larger casing (probably ox bung). Air bubbles are undesirable when filling sausages, but with llangonisa, as with all dry cured sausages, extra care must be taken to avoid pockets of air.

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Sausages in bunches Individual sausages.

In the case of llanonisa, each sausage is tied off by tying a basic knot, folding the loose casing end over the opposite side of the knot, then tying the whole thing off again. They are then laid on a table and poked with pin sized holes on 4 sides at intervals of approximately 2″. They are left to rest for a few hours before being hung.

Llangonisa

Lungs, snout, ears, brains, liver, kidneys, heart, and scull are boiled for a few hours until cooked through. With bones removed the flesh ground up to make carne de perol.

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The bull mixture is stuffed into a larger casing, and then tied off with string.

Stuffing the bull bull

The bull is simmered for 3 hours, then removed to cool and hung for 1 week.

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After being stuffed into their casings, the butifarras are hung to dry. Sometimes they are boiled before being hung as for bull as shown above. Details are given below.

Side note: I do not know the exact condition in which the butifarras were hung. All I can say is that it was a cool, dark cellar in the mountains around Vic, Catalonia at the end of February. Katz says that except for the first few days of fermentation, which often take place in a warmer temperature, dry-cured sausage are hung in an environment with temperatures in the range of 13-15C (54-59F) and 80 to 85% humidity. A humid environment is required so that the sausages don’t dry too quickly.

The llangonisa is checked for doneness by feeling for hardness. I assume this requires years of experience. Katz says that the easiest way to tell whether a dry cured sausage has been properly dried is to weigh it. It is usually ready when it has lost one-third of it’s original weight.

Butifarra bona: Hung overnight, until dry.
Butifarra negre: Boiled for 10 minutes and hung overnight, until dry.
Butifarra perol or butifarra cuita: Boiled for 5 minutes. No need to hang, just let them cool before refrigerating or freezing.
Bull: Simmered very slightly for 3 hours on a low heat (don’t boil the water), then hung for 1 week. After hanging, bull can be eaten as is. No need to cook it again.
Llangonisa: Hung for one month, and checked regularly to see that they harden.
Chorizo: Hung for 15 days.

Hanging sausages

The sausages are then packed in plastic ziplock or vacuum bags, and refrigerated or frozen until they are ready to be cooked.

The loins are sliced and eaten as medallions. The ribs and spine are cut into manageable pieces with a small axe, and used in stews/stocks along with the hooves.

Loin Spine and Ribs Spine

Once the sausages have been prepared they can be cooked and served immediately, or refrigerated / frozen until a more appropriate time such as a dinner party or BBQ. While we were there they were finishing off the last of the bull of the previous year’s matanza.

Three little piggies, many helping hands, and a full day’s work produced plenty of meat for everyone with some of the best sausages I’ve ever tasted. At regular intervals throughout the day we would snack on slices of bull on bread and sweet pastries doused in alioli. For lunch we had fried liver, thinly sliced and dressed with salt, pepper, finely chopped fresh parsley, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.

When the meat was divied up, Rob and I were given one of each type of sausage (except the llangonisa as it was still hanging) to take back to Edinburgh with us. We were told that among other ways, butifarra negra & butifarra cuita/perol can be cooked in the microwave, butifarra bona in the oven or in the pan but it should be punctured or split open first (then it’s advisable to put cheese on top!). The bull still needed to be hung once we got home, but once it had been we could simply slice it and eat it as is. We followed all these instructions and everything turned out swimmingly. The bull developed a little mould on the outside after a week in the pantry. The right kind of mould is actually desirable as it protects the sausage from the adverse effects of oxygen and light. Sometimes mould spores are even added to the outside of dry cured sausages. According to Sandor Katz, the literature disagrees as to which mould is acceptable, some saying only white mould, others saying a range of colours from grey-green to white to orange is fine. We decided to remove the outer layer before eating. It was delicious.

Sounds like a great weekend right? Well it didn’t end there. The next day was truly a feast with plates full of calçots, freshly made butifarras, and porrones of red wine. Calçots (pronounced calsots) are like a large spring onion and only found in Catalonia around the start of spring. They are charred black over a fire of bamboo before being wrapped in paper and allowed to rest.

5-10 minutes later, with the green tops held in one hand, the charred and blackened outside is stripped away with the other. The caçot is lathered in an almond and tomato based sauce and lowered into an open mouth. Red wine flows out of the porron in a small stream and if you’re really good you can get it all in your mouth at a full arm’s distance without spilling a drop.

The salsa calçot was the hero of this event, and you don’t need to be in Catalonia to make it. One day I will master this superb condoment and you’ll find a link here.

While technically a Valencian dish, arroz al horno can be made quite successfully using butifarra negra and butifarra bona. Arroz al horno would have to be one of my top 3 favourite Spanish dishes. The recipe will be post here once I’ve typed it up.

If anyone is feeling inspired and wants to tackle the matanza del cerdo at home, I would suggest first trying something a little easier like haggis. This is exactly what I did and you can read about my experience and find my recipe here.

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