Gourmandistan

Pork and walnut crépinettes, because caul fat is amazing

CrépinetteIt is not a secret that Gourmandistan loves odd bits of animals, from oxtails to hog jowls to entire pig heads. Now, thanks to our badass local baker/pig farmer, we have another part to cherish—caul fat. This magical, membranous lipid has given us several memorable meals recently, including these delightful crépinettes.

Caul fat, for those of you unfamiliar with it (we’re looking at you, most Americans), is a sheer membrane overlaying the stomach of some animals, including sheep, cows and pigs. We got ours from our buddy Bob Hancock of Blue Dog Bakery, who raises his own heritage hogs to make hams and charcuterie. Gourmandistan is eagerly awaiting the opening of Bob’s spinoff butcher shop, but for now we just stop by the bakery/cafe and quiz confused counterfolk about what random parts might currently reside in a downstairs freezer. We don’t know if it’s because Bob’s special pigs have superpowers, but while most recipes recommend soaking the fat in water to make it pliable, Blue Dog’s caul was quite workable right out of the (thawed) package.

We had made these patties from a Pork & Sons recipe some years ago, our cookbook notes indicating they were “a bit bland, even with extra salt & pepper.” We may have actually used the pigs’ feet and ears as called for, as there was no indication we’d done anything different save add extra salt and pepper. This time we used a large pork shank and a couple of thin jowls, substituted Lacianato kale for spinach and switched peanuts for lightly toasted walnuts. While we were at it, we served our crépinettes on crispy potatoes Anna, not the slightly mushy potato cake Stéphane Reynaud thought would go with the original.

Crépinette

We were quite happy with our version—the caul fat cradling the soft meat, greens, garlic and walnuts, its fat melting into the ingredients while leaving a crispy brown coating outside. A bit of crème fraîche laced with chives and mustard added a bit more flavor to the crépinettes and crispy potatoes, which we’re looking forward to having again in the near future. We’re also going to be returning to Blue Dog in search of more caul. Because who knows what might next need a bit of fat wrapping in Gourmandistan?

PORK AND WALNUT CRÉPINETTES

(adapted from Stéphane Reynaud’s Pork & Sons)

Crépinettes:

  • 1 large or 2 small pork shanks
  • 2 pork jowls
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • several sprigs of parsley
  • 1 small bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • generous 1/4 c. chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
  • generous handful of chopped parsley
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh chives, snipped or chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lb. caul fat

Put shank, jowls, onion and parsley sprigs in a large pot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 3 hours, until meat is tender. Drain and set aside. Once meat is cool, pick flesh off the bone, discarding fat and gristle, and shredding into small pieces. You should have about a pound or a little more.

Drop kale in boiling, salted water and cook until soft. Drain. Squeeze dry, then roughly chop.

In a large skillet, sauté garlic over low heat in olive oil until lightly colored. Add meat, kale, lemon rind, walnuts, parsley and chives. Season well with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing, until well mixed. Set aside to cool.

Cut the caul fat into six squares. Place 1/6 of the meat mixture in the middle of each square. Wrap the fat around the meat, making thick patties. Place on plates, cover and refrigerate until set up. (You can refrigerate for several days.)

Place patties in a cold skillet (or skillets if cooking all at once). Cook over low to medium heat, turning occasionally until browned. Using tongs and laying the crépinettes up against the side of the pan(s), brown the sides also. You want to make sure that all the caul fat wrapping is rendered and browned. There will be a lot of fat.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Warm a clean skillet or gratin dish in the oven. Add the crépinettes to the warmed container and bake for about 10 minutes.

Serve crépinettes atop Anna or rösti potatoes cooked in single serving rings, with topping (recipe below) and garnished with chives.

Crème fraîche topping:

  • 2/3 c. crème fraîche
  • 1 TB walnut oil
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh chives, snipped or chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp. grainy mustard

Mix all ingredients together. If too thick (and American crème fraîche is often a lot thicker than European brands), mix in some cream and/or milk.

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28 comments

  1. how lucky you are and well done to your butcher.! here in London such lovely things are virtually impossible to get – there is no market for them and professional butchers are almost disappearing (I mean people who do really know the different cuts and how to use them). Shame because all these lovely bits (it Italy we call them “the fifth quarter”, all the offals basically) are often incredibly useful and tasty. Even a humble meat loaf if wrapped in could becomes more delicious. On the contrary ,whenever I go back to Milano (Italy), I am relieved to see that all these nose-to-tail cuts are still popular and in demand.
    I used to have a restaurant here in England, in a picturesque seaside village called Lyme Regis (of The French Lieutenant Woman’s fame /book and Meryl Streep movie) and I was always shocked to realize that asking for anything that was not a basic cut was like asking for the moon (like, tripe, once a vey English cut). Well done to you for telling about these less popular dishes and cherish your badass butcher. Ciao from London, Stefano

      • thanks mad dog. I did try the ones you mention with no luck: tripe is very very difficult to get and they could not tell me what part of the stomach they would get (actually they did not know that a cow’s stomach is divided into sections) + once I was offered a 5 kg bag of unidentified tripe from another reputable butcher + caul it was a little bit easier to get, giving them plenty of notice. Having said that I am glad that Ginger Pig exists, insofar they seem to have a “no problem attitude” /then it is up to u if u want to pay those prices.

    • We are so lucky in that regard now! I remember those many sad decades when there was nothing but grocery store horrible, and wondering why chicken no longer tasted like chicken and pork was this wretched dry thing that didn’t turn out well no matter how much cream and butter you poured on it. Now it’s like what strange thing can I cook that will taste delicious because some local farmer cares about it?

  2. Wow, I’m impressed you have access to crépine, even here in Lille (where butchers are becoming rare), and eventhough my butcher down the street is considered one of the best in the area, crépines aren’t readily available; you could easily order them ahead of time though, and I think any butcher would be able to provide them. Your dish sounds and looks quite delicious, I like that you “Americanized” it by using kale instead of the more traditional chard or spinach. Very nice!

    • Bob (the pig farmer/baker) is in a class by himself, but overall we are so lucky here to be living through a renaissance of local farming. We’ve got lots of folks doing all sorts of interesting and humane things with animals. But don’t get me started on how horrible the corporate grocery stores remain…

  3. Once again, I´d like to invite myself to Gourmandistan 😉 I adore that recipe ! As of the S.R book which is one I don´t own – is it reliable? Worth buying?

  4. Eha

    Here in country Australia caul fat would be almost impossible to buy had I not a very cluey private butcher in the vicinity. Love this methodology of preparation: actually most often use it to keep my pig’s blood pancakes [a very favourite Nordic recipe] together and add a little fat to those! That said Stefano has difficulty in accessing tripe: I suppose proper honeycomb tripe ? – THAT I can get from almost everywhere here and together with liver[s], kidneys and sweetbreads, life would not be worth living without . . . .

  5. I wholeheartedly agree: Hurrah for caul fat! Love your crépinettes and the wonderful combination of pork and walnuts. Can’t believe, I can’t find Pork & Sons in my Reynaud collection, jeez, off shopping now. N

  6. This American knows what caul fat isand I’ve the family recipe for head cheese using a hog’s head. The problem is where to find them? (OK, that’s an excuse as far as the head cheese goes. I’ve no intention of looking for a hog’s head. I might find one.) This dish of yours sounds fantastic, Michelle, and just might give me the impetus to restart the search for caul fat.

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