Most great chefs know that the secret to a great dish — as well as a great wine pairing — is to find the balance between the acid and fat, the salty and the sweet.
This weekend, March 17 and 18, Chef Charlie Palmer will celebrate what he calls “one of the great marriages of the world” by presenting the 12th annual Pigs & Pinot benefit held at the Hotel Healdsburg and his restaurant, the Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg.
At the popular Taste of Pigs & Pinot on Friday night, there will be four celebrity chefs — David Burke, Nancy Silverton, Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio — joining an army of local chefs to present a dazzling array of pig dishes in all their fatty glory, from sausages and pâtés to pork belly and fried pig ears.
Tastes of the whole hog can be washed down with sips of 60 highly acclaimed pinot noir wines from Sonoma County and beyond. For chefs like Anthony Gallegos of the Jimtown store, who loves cooking the whole animal, the event offers a chance to demonstrate his deep love of pork.
“I’m a big fan of sweet and savory, and the flavor of pork is good for that, when you use the seasonal fruits,” he said. “Pork is so rich and fatty, and yet it cries out to have some acid as the balance.”
Gallegos, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in 2012 then worked at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant in Yountville, will be serving Braised Pork Belly with a Cherry Soffrito, Chicories and Crispy Shallots. His dish offers fat and acid, sweet and bitter and soft and crunchy, all in one bite.
“I wanted to do pork cheeks for this dish, but they are too expensive,” he said of his favorite cut. “Pork belly is bacon before it’s cured and smoked. You get the same fat, and the same meaty flavor.”
For the soffrito, he will cook down some onions and dried cherries that have been plumped in pinot noir, which adds acid. Then he adds sugar to bring out the sweetness.
“You want something sweet or acidic with the pork, and it creates a warm vinaigrette,” he said. “Then I make a salad of bitter chicories like frisée and escarole, top it with the sweet onion soffrito and the fatty pork belly, with the crispy shallots on top.”
One of the nice things about cooking the whole hog is that the extra fat that you trim off the meat can be used to make meatballs, burgers and sausage, which literally comes from the fat and extra pieces left over.
“You definitely want a lot of fat in sausage that you would cut off your other cuts,” he said. “So there’s no waste to the animal. You can even use the bones for stock.”
For the Taste of Pigs & Pinot event, the celebrity chefs will go hog wild — in a manner of speaking. David Burke will be cooking Clothesline Bacon (with maple pepper bacon, jalapeno and peanut butter); Bryan Voltaggio will be grilling two types of Yakitori (skewered meats); and Nancy Silverton will be preparing Pancetta Wrapped Sausage (Spiedino alla Piccata).
The following recipe is from Anthony Gallegos, chef at Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, who will be serving this dish at the Taste of Pigs and Pinot.