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Monday, October 26, 2015

A jaw-dropping lesson in butchery at Blood on the River

I'll never listen to zydeco the same way again

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 12:36 PM

click to enlarge Toby Rodriguez led the butchering of Tank Jackson's Ossabaw pig - KINSEY GIDICK
  • Kinsey Gidick
  • Toby Rodriguez led the butchering of Tank Jackson's Ossabaw pig

In the sterile world of American grocery stores, meat arrives hygienically packaged, presented in clean, climate-controlled shelves with only the slightest hint of the blood that once flowed through it. As many a culinary writer has written, we've forgotten where our food comes from — and the death that must occur to keep us fed. 

But there was no escaping that truth Sunday at Holy City Hog's Blood on the River: a Lowcountry Boucherie. Organizer Tank Jackson rounded up 50-some chefs and two of the preeminent voices in butchering — author Adam Danforth and Cajun chef Toby Rodriguez — for a hands on, knives out, butchery-a-thon. 

I arrived at 8:30 a.m. just in time for the first event: the killing of a 300-pound Ossobaw pig. In a semi-circle the chefs and crew stood around a trailer. Inside was the Ossobaw. Rodriguez addressed the crowd, asking for quiet and no photos to avoid startling the pig. Then a shaman, clad in a leather-fringed vest, came out and blessed the gathering. Rodriguez entered the trailer with a gun in hand and fired. Unfortunately, the single shot wasn't enough to put down the animal, its screams echoing in the early morning air. Another assistant joined Rodriguez in the trailer and another shot was fired. Finally the cries ceased. The pig's throat was cut and the bleeding began.

If that sounds traumatic, I'll be honest, it was. And it should be.

"If we had a little bit of guilt attached to the meal we're eating, I think we'd be better off," Rodriguez later said. He's right. In a world where drive-thru nuggets are the shape of ping-pong balls and processed meat is now considered a carcinogen, the sound of a pig dying is a necessary wake up call.

But this wasn't a preachy Michael Pollan event. Instead Rodriguez and Danforth were there to share their butchering skills and they got right down to it. After hoisting the giant hog on a table, Rodriguez encouraged everyone to start cleaning the pig, saying, "If y'all got knives get 'em sharpened. This ain't a spectacle."

The chefs pounced on the carcass, removing fistfuls of course black hair to the sounds of Zydeco music. With seven or so chefs at a time, they made quick work of it and soon Rodriguez was up on the table sawing the pig down the middle. Questions were thrown out as he went, like one chef who asked why when he gets a pig at the processor it's required to hang for 24 hours. Rodriguez chalked it up to DHEC regulations.

But there were lighter moments too. When Rodriguez removed the lungs, Danforth put the trachea to his mouth and re-inflated them. "Anyone else want to try?" he said. "It was my kid's birthday this weekend, so I already blew up a bunch of balloons," one chef declined to a round of laughter.

click to enlarge Adam Danforth re-inflates the pig's lungs - KINSEY GIDICK
  • Kinsey Gidick
  • Adam Danforth re-inflates the pig's lungs
Along the rest of the property, chefs set up stations, prepping vegetables for traditional Cajun boucherie dishes like boudin, cracklin's, and backbone stew. "Who's got the liver?" Rodriguez would call out and then an aproned chef would appear with a metal pot, ready to catch the fresh organ and get to cooking.

By 10:30, the better part of the pig's interior was clean, and huge cauldrons were heating up, like one with 5 gallons of lard ready to cook pork rinds. But I couldn't stay for the meal, or the inevitable butchering of a handful of chickens, some turkeys, rabbit, and squirrel. All I could swig down was some cherry juice from professor David Shields — an old variety of sour cherry he's hoping to bring back to popularity. 

I took a big gulp and wiped my mouth, a trail of thick, crimson juice staining my hand. How fitting. 

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