This post is a follow up from our first butchery attempts. We learned loads in that first year, and we’ve tried to learn from our mistakes, got better with our recipes and tried a few new things.
The first thing we’ve done differently this year has been the timing. Last year it was still really warm in November when we did the first pig and it was a complete nightmare trying to get everything into the fridge, so this year we’ve left them until late December and killed them both close together. It’s been nicely cold, so we could leave the carcasses hanging outside overnight which made the butchery easier as the meat was cold when we came to handle it, and meant that more of the blood had drained. Altogether a better experience.
Secondly, we’ve left a lot of the more fiddly butchery until later. Our helpers all seem to really enjoy making sausages and mince, so we have just stripped the meat from the bone and frozen it for dealing with later. This has saved a lot of time. Also, last year we just put mince etc into plastic bags to freeze, but found it took a long time to defrost, so this year we’ve again cut the meat into bags, but frozen them flat so that they are thinner and will defrost easier, and also they stack better in the freezer, saving space.
We’ve also spent some money on better equipment. A proper boning knife, and a butcher’s saw have made a huge improvement in speed and accuracy, and a smaller brining barrel uses less brine to cure things in. My friend Glen brought round an absolutely mahoosive cleaver for us to try out. If I were ever caught out in the zombie apocalypse, I would want such a tool, but for cutting up a pig it proved to be a bit overkill.
We’ve made black pudding again this year, but we’ve got a bit more canny with it. The biggest problem was the time taken from draining the blood, to getting the offal needed to complete the recipe. It meant a large part of the day of the kill was spent waiting for bits to arrive, and we were boiling the puddings well into the night. This year we’ve kept back all the ingredients we needed, heart, lungs, spleen and back fat, from a previous pig, and prepared them all the night before, so that when the blood had been drained we could just mix it all up straight away and stuff the casings. A whole lot quicker, and meant that we weren’t standing around waiting. We made a bit of a mistake in not piercing a large enough hole in the skins, so some of them burst, but we can still use the cooked mixture to make some black pudding sausage rolls.
For the hams, we’d prepared 40 litres of brine for a wet cure, and we’ve made the hams smaller this year for more even curing. Last year’s hams were simply too big and didn’t cure properly, so we lost a fair amount of valuable meat. All the hams have gone into the wet cure together, so as they are all different weights, they have been weighed and labelled with when they need to come out of the cure. We attached the labels to long bits of string tied around each piece, so we can find what needs to come out easily. So, we now have two bottom-half back legs for boiled ham, two top-half back legs for gammons, and two other top-half back legs in the freezer for making salamis in the New Year. The other two bottom-half back legs are in the salt box; I cut them small enough that we could fit both in the same box.
I’ve made brawn again this year, but again, as with the black pudding, I’ve kept back the parts that I need, 2 trotters and 2 ears, from last year’s pigs, so saving time preparing them. The extra trotters have made a much better-setting jelly for the brawn. The head from our second pig has been used for experimental recipes. Our neighbour, Nadelka, is keen to pass on the knowledge she learned from her grandfather, who was one of the village butchers, so she’s teaching me some traditional Bulgarian butchery skills and recipes. So we’ve made things with the cheeks, tongue and half a belly. I’m interested to see how they turn out, as it’s a very different process to what I’ve read on other butchery and curing websites. The Bulgarian method of de-hairing a pig seems incredibly difficult and long-winded; I’m still not convinced that it’s the best way. I still have four trotters and one tail to experiment with, so I’ll try some different methods and see what works best.
We’ve rendered our lard differently this year too. We’ve done it in a pan, and drained off the melted fat as it appears, straining it straight into a large bowl. This has made it a much neater job, and the lard has not cooked at much so it has a less ‘cooked meat’ flavour, so will be better for baking.
This year I managed to keep the testicles! So I now have four large balls in the freezer. I think I’ll be eating these on my own, although a few other people in the village have not tried them out, so maybe a ball meal with a few friends will be in order 🙂
We’re trialling a different method of storage and labelling this year. With two pigs to fit in, freezer space has been at a bit of a premium, so we’re trying to freeze things into flatter packs for easier stacking and defrosting. We also found that most of our labels fell off in the freezer, so now we’re batching together things like chops, bacon, liver etc, into carrier bags, and labelling the carrier bag with a cardboard label attached with string. So long as everything stays in it’s bag (ha ha!), we should know what we’ve got. We’ve also sliced up a lot more finished product; hanging bacon and has in the kitchen looked very rustic, but they just dried out too much, so this year we’re slicing it all up and freezing inter-leaved with greaseproof paper for easier portioning.
So, apart from the back bacon, streaky bacon, wet-cure hams and dry-cure hams, black puddings, mince and diced beef, which are all pretty much as we did them last year, just with a few refinements, I’m also trialling lardo, marinated belly, cured pork tongue, Nadelka’s recipes for cheeks (бузи, boozi), cured loin and cured belly (I’ll write up the recipes for these when they’re finished), and I’m trying to make pork scratchings, so far without success. These are all in small batches for experimentation, and I’ll probably freeze them when they’re ready. We’ve managed to get what was a five-day process down to two days per pig, and everything in the freezer looks a lot more organised.
As a footnote, next time we will kill both pigs on the same day if possible; the one left on his own was really miserable for his last days. We had to go and keep him company, play with him a bit and offer tasty treats to try and cheer him up, as he obviously missed his brother.