My time here in Okinawa is winding down. It's been quite a time. I've waxed lyrical on the fruits of the island's seas and fields, but I can hardly leave without my own homage to the favored fruit of Okinawan pastures: the pig.
I have porked my way up and down Okinawa, from sôki in Yambaru to rafutii in Naha. Trotters, ears, rectums, wombs, ribs... Okinawans pride themselves on eating every part of the pig but the squeal. My own rounded-out rump is a porcine manifestation of the delicacies I've enjoyed. But which part to cook for you, my beloved public?
Last week, at Sakaemachi Market, the answer stared out from behind the butcher's display case:
Eat me, it implored.
Glaring with its empty, piggy eyes...
So I bought a pig face. A little internet research yielded this recipe for cured, rolled face. I figured I'd attempt an interpretation, given my limited kitchen.
So I got a tongue, too, and brought my pig face home. I unwrapped it, and we contemplated each other.
It was not easy to handle this pig face and tongue. The texture was unfamiliar, and the smell of freshly scrubbed flesh was very raw to me. The tongue was slippery and evocative of...
....well, you tell me.
If I'm going to eat meat, though, I feel a responsibility to use and respect the entire animal. From snout to tail. So I picked up that pig by the tongue...
And got to cutting.
The tongue meat was firm and bright.
I chopped it into bits and mixed it with salt, brown sugar, onions, and garlic. I put it in the fridge to cure for a few days.
For the pig face, I turned it flesh-side up...
... and rubbed in black pepper, salt, and brown sugar.
I gave it a real good facial scrub.
Then rolled it up and hogtied it...
Then, I also added it to the fridge (warned the roommate) and cleaned up the evidence...
The next day, I decided that I wanted to add some turmeric and citrus to the cure. It took me a little while to steel myself to touch the face again, though... I prefer to think of myself as generally steel-stomached, but the face didn't really feel like meat to me yet. I'm still a very amateur cuiseur de chair, after all. Finally I unrolled it again...
After adding the turmeric and citrus, I rolled and tied and wrapped it up again, returning it to the fridge.
I gave the face and tongue about four days to cure. In the meantime, I had plenty of time to think about pigs. It didn't hurt that any kind of eating around town kept the general dosages of pork high.
I recalled my father's story of the most legendary pig slaughtering of his home village in Hungary. After the War, some methods the slaughter changed: a blow torch became standard equipment for burning off the fur, for example. Other traditions remained, namely the one that allowed all grown men (and probably some children) to drink palinka from well before dawn on the day of a slaughter. Since time immemorial, by the time the pig was laid low, a few villagers would passed out right alongside it.
One year, either because the hog was exceptionally spirited or the peasants especially drunk, the slaughtering was difficult and taking a long time. Someone pointed out that the pig could be put to death painlessly by administering gas from the blow torch.
And so they killed the pig. But when they put the flame to it's hide to burn of the hairs, the pig exploded.
It was devastating at the time, since a pig -- from tip to tail -- meant meat for several families over the winter. And I know I just laid down a line about respect for the body of the animal, etc. But that respect doesn't preclude a wicked smile from playing on my face when I imagine my belovedly lumpen predecessors crouching to avoid flying bits of exploding hog.
(I invite you all to share your favorite pig slaughtering stories in the comments section.)
Back to the pig face. It emerged four days later from it's esthetic treatment.
I diced the cured chunks of tongue.
And removed the cured ears from the face, and slivered them up.
I scrubbed my face.
Placed it flesh-side up on the cutting board, and added the ear slivers.
On top of this, I added the diced tongue.
Taking the greatest care to not let any savory bit escape, I wrapped it up for the final time.
My knots are a bit clumsy, but it seemed like they were fast.
Into the pot! I added soy sauce and brown sugar...
And a bottle and a half of awamori (distilled rice liquor).
And I simmered it and simmered it and simmered it for about five hours.
It emerged a deep brown...
After it cooled a bit, I wrapped it in cotton cloth and added even tighter strings.
It was less a pig in a blanket than a pig in a corset. The recipe recommended hanging this little piggy in the fridge overnight, so I jerry-rigged what I could as the mini-fridge would allow.
I warned the roommate.
It was a fitful night. If everything worked out, the rolled face was supposed to emerge as a lovely, sliceable loaf of pig flesh. But I worried. First thing the next morning...
I freed it from its bondage. And put it to the knife.
To my great relief, it was easy to cut it into luscious slices of pig, all shot through with tongue and ear.
Salty, sweet slices of piggy pigness.
The plan was a brunch of pig face sandwiches, salad, home fries. I had made some pickles overnight to spice up the sandwiches.
Carrots marinated in miso and brown sugar.
And goya -- bitter melon -- in rice vinegar and brown sugar.
I also made a sweetly sour sauce from the pork drippings, adding onions, rice vinegar, and brown sugar and caramelizing it on the stovetop.
So: with slices of pig face...
And pickles on hand...
We began to build brunch sandwiches.
Pig sauce. ソース。
Pig face. 豚顔。
Oh... and I also added a fried egg. 卵もどう？
Bite. Chew. Repeat. 噛む。
Stuff your face!
Thank you, pig. With all humility: Itadakimasu!