by Kaitlyn Goalen
photographs by Jillian Clark
If there’s one type of protein that’s ubiquitous in North Carolina, it’s pork. We have a rep as a hog-farming state, a tradition that holds today. Here in Raleigh, we’re lucky to have access to plenty of local and conventional pork purveyors, and until very recently, I approached the meat as if it were any other grocery store staple, a recurring anchor to many meals.
But lately I’ve been making an effort to untangle pork’s availability with my consumption.
Just because I could eat pork on a daily basis doesn’t necessarily mean I should. Really, “should” is the wrong word, because this resolution isn’t coming from a place of morals. It’s more about awareness.
Instead of purchasing and consuming pork on auto-pilot, I’ve found it more enjoyable (both from the perspective of a cook and an eater) to make a project out of pork, using it as an excuse to learn something new in the kitchen. The best lessons from this new approach have come from my efforts to improve on any unusual cuts or scraps I’ve come across.
Restaurants have been invoking this practice for a while now under monikers like “nose-to-tail” or “whole-animal.” But it’s been difficult to embrace anything resembling the philosophy at home because – let’s face it – very few of us have the space or the wherewithal to purchase and butcher a whole pig for our supper. But by purchasing from local farms and local stores, we can get a taste.
Scott Crawford’s new-ish Standard Foods grocery, for example, is a perfect place to take a dive into a new cut or a strange-sounding protein. The last time I stopped in, the butcher on hand was hawking a cut of pork called an “ugly steak.” Unfamiliar with the specifics, I opted to use it in a recipe that acts as an art gallery for scraps: a sandwich.
Specifically, a banh mi, which showed off not only the ugly steaks, but also made quick use of the remnants of my crisper drawer (magically transformed into pickles) and pâté (the ultimate scrap-saving dish).
The resulting sandwich was far more enjoyable than a slice of bacon eaten by default.
Pork banh mi
Makes 2 sandwiches
2 medium carrots
½ daikon root
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ pound skin-on pork belly
½ pound pork steaks (such as ugly steaks from Standard Foods)
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 12-inch fluffy baguette
2 ounces country pâté (optional), cut in ¼-inch slices
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed, roughly chopped
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
Slice the carrots and daikon into thin 2-inch-long sticks. Place the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Massage the vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes; they will begin to soften and release water. Drain and rinse, then place in a medium bowl. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine ¼ cup sugar, apple cider vinegar, and ½ cup water. Cook, stirring, until the vinegar dissolves. Pour the brine over the vegetables and let sit for at least 1 hour before serving. The pickles can be made up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated in a lidded container.
On a work surface, rub the belly with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Wrap in plastic and let sit for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rinse the belly, pat dry, and place on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Roast the belly for 90 minutes, then increase the temperature to 450 degrees and cook for an additional 20 minutes, until the skin has puffed up into crackling. Remove from the oven and let cool. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees.
Season the steaks with ½ teaspoon salt and the ground white pepper. In an oven-safe skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers. Sear the steaks on both sides until they take on a dark-brown color, about 4 minutes a side. Transfer to the oven and cook until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Let rest for 15 minutes.
While the steaks are resting, mix the mayonnaise and fish sauce in a small bowl. Cut the baguette into two 6-inch lengths, then slice each piece crosswise. On the top halves, arrange the country pâté slices (if using). Smear the mayonnaise on the bottom halves. Slice the pork belly into ¼-inch-thick slices. Thinly slice the pork steaks. Divide the belly and the steak slices among the two sandwiches, layering the belly first, followed by the steak slices. Top with some of the pickles, cilantro leaves, and jalapeño slices. Serve.