Cochon 555 Comes to NYC

Finding a foodie that is into pork is kind of like spotting a pair of skinny jeans in Williamsburg. Both can exist without the other, but when coupled, an easy synergy arises. It’s natural and comfortable. The popular ramblings of foodie gurus like Bourdain and Chang have placed the pig on a pedestal—and spawned more than a handful of pig-related tattoos. In spite of all that, I must admit that I, too, have consumed the pork-flavored Kool-Aid. Case in point, the plethora of pork posts I’ve written over the past year. It’s becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ for me so deciding whether or not to attend the pork-centric Cochon 555 was a no-brainer.


Participating Chefs (L-R): Frank Langello (Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca), Michael Toscano (Perla), Lauren Hirschberg (Craftbar), Seamus Mullen (Tertulia), and David Standridge (Market Table)

What is Cochon 555?

Cochon 555’s website bills itself as:

A one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event – five chefs, five pigs, five winemakers – to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.

Promote is the key word and their approach isn’t all that different from what you’d see from a music label promoting the next big thing. Just substitute “rock star” with “rock star chef.” Promoting sustainable farming is a lofty goal, but a bit of a red herring in this case. At the end of the day, this is a for-profit venture with a steep price. This event is really about promoting some kick-ass restaurants and other delicious products (while making a buck) by giving attendees the opportunity to try high-end food and drink and experiment with their own pairings all within a convivial festival format. Appreciating both parts of the equation sets the table for a good time.

What Worked

Walking into the space, there was an energy in the air. You could tell that people were excited to be there. While the floor was very crowded, there was a precious handful of standing tables and small, out-of-the-way niches where you could stow away and focus on the star of the event. The restaurants on display were well-chosen and diverse, offering a spectrum of food and a variety of styles. The flow of the evening was smooth — differing from other festivals by offering a variety of scheduled events throughout the evening, keeping things fresh.


Why yes, they did butcher an entire pig on the festival floor. The cuts were then individually auctioned off to benefit the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). There was something kinda bad-ass watching Sara Bigelow from The Meathook methodically break down an entire pig.

What Didn’t Work

Criticism is an important part of my writing and Cochon 555 left me with a number of critiques. I don’t like to dwell on the negatives, but when people are spending $125 for a general admission ticket ($200 for a VIP ticket), the bar is raised and things should be near flawless.

First off, it was crowded. Fighting your way through a sea of people only to be greeted by another wait to get food was a big letdown. I understand the need for a swanky event to have an equally swanky venue (Cochon 555 NYC was hosted at the Ritz-Carlton). Perhaps moving to a less expensive and more spacious venue would improve this without taking anything away from the event’s reputation. Even more disappointing is coming to a table with no food. Service for the majority of restaurants ended early — running out of food at an event of this caliber is unacceptable. Additionally, of the menus posted by each restaurant, I was only able to try about half of the dishes listed.

The majority of the pork dishes I tasted left me, quite frankly, a bit underwhelmed. The number of outrageously salty dishes was astonishing. Nearly all the pork felt overly fussy, complicated, and intense (and not always in a good way). I understand the urge to migrate towards bold flavors, but much of the food sacrificed nuance in the name of extremity. The pornographic amounts of truffle being thrown about was not only excessive, but felt somewhat desperate. In the end, two of my three favorite bites were swine-free.

What I was Looking For

Criticism aside, coming into this event, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of it. Most of the culinary world (including this event) is enamored with pairing food and wine, and rightfully so. It’s easy. Wine’s typically dry nature, acidity, and tannic content make pairing it with food easy. A bit more challenging, and equally rewarding, is pairing food and beer. I’ve always thought that the diversity within beer style taxonomy offers an amazing spectrum of pairing opportunities. Goose Island’s choice to prominently sponsor a food event that mentions ‘wine’ in it’s tagline (and not beer) seemed a bit idiosyncratic. Talking with their representatives and learning about their goal of promoting beer and food helped resolve this seemingly odd match of brand and event.

Over the course of the evening, I ate and drank in a manner that would cause Elvis to blush. At the end of the night, three pairings stuck in my mind.

Pairing #1: Beef Tartare with Lolita


Rib Eye Tartare with Truffle on Pork Cracklin’ from Del Posto – Paired with Lolita. My first bite of the night, and one of the best. The aged rib eye tartare had a sweetness and subtle fruitiness that was complementary to the sour (but not puckering) Lolita. Lolita has a big ripe raspberry nose with a mildly earthy component that worked really well with the truffle. Putting the tartare on a crispy pork cracklin’ was an excellent textural counterpoint to the beef.

Pairing #2: Pork Paella with Matilda


Paella de Cerdo From Tertulia – Paired with Matilda. Yes, this was an intensely salty dish. Somehow though, the intensely salty pork worked with the nice char on the outside of the meat, and was kept in reign when paired with Matilda. The best thing about Matilda is that it features a pleasant Belgian yeast profile while retaining a nice round body and malt component. The maillard-heavy toasted malt flavors worked really well with the charred pork. The pork was quite fatty and decadent, which the effervescent nature of Matilda cleaned up with ease. The almost dirty-rice-esque ‘paella’ was loaded with bits of organ meat giving it a mineral-rich character that worked well with the peppery yeast character in the beer. A touch more dryness in the beer would have made the pairing even better.

Pairing #3: Duck Charcuterie with Sofie


Duck Charcuterie (Torchone de Foie Gras, Rillete, Salami, Smoked Breast)  from Hudson Valley Foie Gras – Paired with Sofie. I have a soft spot for duck, especially duck charcuterie. The products offered up from Hudson Valley Foie Gras were top notch and I especially enjoyed the Foie Gras. Smeared on a simple slice of baguette and washed down with Sofie, the pairing was divine. Sofie, with it’s somewhat austere dryness and prickly carbonation, cut through the fatty foie like a knife, daring you to consume another bite. The earthy and luscious liver worked extremely well with the slightly fruity and somewhat peppery yeast character in the beer. The malt in Sophie is minimal, but has a subtle pilsner malt sweetness that complemented the inherent sweetness in the foie without dominating it.

Cheers to Goose Island

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complementary media badges they offered my wife and I enabling us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple years after they were purchased by AB InBev. I tend to withhold judegment to their beer and their actions. The beers they brought to the event were well made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine want to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complimentary media badges they offered my wife and myself allowing us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple of years following their purchase by AB InBev. I tend to limit my judgment to their beer and their actions in regard to their customers and brewing peers. The beers they brought to the event were well-made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine eagerness to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

Multi-knife hip holster, one super-enthusiastic dude, and a Colicchio photo bomb all in one photo.

A multi-knife hip-holstered butcher, a dude really digging said butchery, and a Tom Colicchio cameo all in one. Photo by Jessie Quan.

Gratuitous food porn outtakes.

Pork Belly Confit Sandwich

I’m bringing gluttony back. And pork shall be my accomplice. Heady and emboldened by my previous duck confit success, I decided it was time to confit something even more decadent than duck — pork belly. It seems slightly absurd taking a cut of meat that is primarily fat and slowly cooking it in a bath of more fat, but this recipe creates one of the most succulent bites of meat you’ll ever eat. Absurd or not, it is delicious.

Pork belly confit, baby arugula, and heirloom tomato on homemade spent grain sourdough bread. Paired with a side of pickled carrots and Mission Street IPA.

My take on the humble BLT sandwich. Pork belly confit, baby arugula, and heirloom tomato on homemade spent grain sourdough bread. Paired with a side of pickled carrots and Mission Street IPA. The hop notes in the IPA complement the peppery arugula while the bitterness cuts through the fatty pork belly. At $6.99 and six-pack, Mission Street IPA, brewed by Firestone Walker and re-branded by Trader Joe’s, is a great value.

Note: The recipe for pork belly confit was adopted from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. This book goes into great detail about confit, rendering fat, and the greater world of charcuterie.

Step 1 – Prepare Your Fat

One of the more difficult requirements of confit is collecting the large amount of fat needed to cook your protein in. While lard is readily available at many markets (look for ‘Manteca’) it tends to be highly processed and hydrogenated. Some butcher shops will sell their own house rendered lard, but it is just as easy to buy some pork fat back and render it yourself. The process is pretty basic. The fat back is diced and then slowly cooked with a bit of water until all of the moisture is cooked out and you’re left with pure melted fat. The liquid is then strained of solids and allowed to solidify. For this recipe I rendered out about 6 pounds of fat back for use in the confit.

Step 2 – Cure Your Pork Belly

Pork belly, salt, herbs, and a dry white wine.

Twenty-four hours before you’re ready to confit your pork belly, the meat is cured. To do this, a mixture of salt and herbs is rubbed over the meat, which is then submerged in a dry white wine and placed in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This infuses the meat with flavor and gives it a preservative quality should you decide to store the meat for future use. I used Jim Drohman’s Pork Belly Confit recipe found in Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. You can find an online version of the recipe here.

Step 3 – Confit the Pork Belly

The cubes of pork belly are submerged in a bath of pork fat and slowly cooked.

The cubes of pork belly are submerged in a bath of pork fat and slowly cooked.

After 24 hours of curing in the refrigerator, the pork is removed from the cure and patted dry. The meat is submerged in the melted lard and cooked at 250°F for 2-3 hours until the meat is completely tender. Once cooked, refrigerate the confit so that the fat solidifies and encases the meat. If fully sealed in fat, the meat should stay good for a couple months. When you’re ready to eat the confit, simply melt the fat off and then reheat in a frying pan until warm and crisp. Retain the lard which can be used again for other confits, biscuits, tortillas, eggs, or pretty much any other recipe calling for fat, oil, or shortening.

The pork belly is lightly sauteed in a skillet to crisp up the exterior. It is then sliced and placed on toasted spent grain sourdough bread with butter, tomato, and baby arugula.

The pork belly is lightly sauteed in a skillet to crisp up the exterior. It is then sliced and placed on toasted spent grain sourdough bread with butter, tomato, and baby arugula.

Making Duck Confit Rillettes

Like most Americans growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, duck was not something my family or I ever ate. Huey, Dewey and Louie were entertaining TV characters that never found their way to my dinner table. As my food experiences expanded and I began seeking out new foods, I was quickly indoctrinated into the Church of Duck. In many ways, duck is the perfect poultry—far superior to the mass-produced manufactured chickens most people eat. Modern chickens have been bred to be lean with massive breasts (insert joke here). The duck’s beauty is much more Rubenesque; a thick layer of fat underneath their skin keeps them warm in the water and succulent on our plates — something simply not found in most poultry. This high ratio of fat is easily rendered to cook all sorts of things in. One of my favorite things to do is confit duck legs in the fat and then make rillettes out of the cooked meat.

Note: This recipe was adopted from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. This book goes into great detail about confit, rillettes, and the broader world of charcuterie.

Duck rillette smeared on freshly baked spent grain sourdough bread. Pairs well with Duvel, Saison Dupont, or other dry and effervescent Belgian ale that can cut through the fatty richness of the duck while complementing the light gamey qualities of the rillette.

Duck rillette smeared on freshly baked spent grain sourdough bread. Pairs well with Duvel or other dry and effervescent Belgian ales that can cut through the fatty richness of the duck while complementing the light gamey qualities of the rillette.

Step 1: Make Duck Confit

Confit sounds much more complicated and haute cuisine than it really is. Like a lot of ‘gourmet’ food, it has modest roots as a food preservation technique used to help even out seasonal surplus and shortages of food. Confit is simply the process of poaching meat in a bath of fat at a low temperature over a long period of time. The fat is cooled and solidified, encasing the meat in a fatty tomb free of oxygen, allowing it to be preserved for long periods of time.

Confit techniques can be used with all sorts of proteins and fats. In this case, I used duck legs with duck fat as the cooking medium. The first step is to take duck legs (I used four) and dry cure them with a mixture of salt and herbs (garlic, clove, bay, and pepper all work well). This is then refrigerated overnight, drawing moisture from the meat, deeply seasoning it, and imparting a preservative quality.

The next day, the meat is thoroughly rinsed and then gently cooked at the lowest setting your oven can manage — generally around 200°F — submerged in the duck fat (I used about 1.5 pounds). It is important to do this uncovered so that any moisture can evaporate. Once the duck legs sink to the bottom of the pan and the meat begins to fall off the bone (about 6-8 hours), it is done. From there the dish is allowed to cool. The fat solidifies, encasing the meat. At this point I like to refrigerate the entire thing allowing the meat to ‘ripen’ anywhere from a week to a month during which the flavor will improve.

Step 2: Create the Rillette

Duck confit is a wonderfully versatile ingredient to have on hand for use in a variety of dishes. Reheating the legs in a frying pan and crisping up the skin makes an absolutely succulent and delicious main course. Another option is using the confit as an ingredient for another dish such as cassoulet. With this iteration, I opted instead to pick the meat off the bones (setting the skin aside) to make rillettes.

A rillette is essentially a creamed paste consisting of confit meat, a touch of duck fat, and a portion of the gelatinous ‘confit jelly’ that settles to the bottom of the confit pan. These ingredients are blended to taste with an appropriate level of seasoning (a word of warning, confit jelly can be extremely salty) and then capped with a layer of melted duck fat which solidifies and gives the rillettes a great shelf life.

Once complete, the rillettes are stored in the fridge and can last months. They are delicious with some crusty bread!

Penne Paired with Logsdon Farmhouse Seizoen Bretta

Penne and Logsdon Farmhouse Seizoen Bretta

Fresh Pasta and Seizoen Bretta

Reminiscing about a past you have never actually experienced can be an interesting experience in itself. Your mind tends to create a utopian image of the way people used to live and instill upon your current psyche a sense of loss for something you never had. Whether it ever existed or not, my mind likes to go to a place in the not-so-distant past where people sourced products from those who were experts in a particular trade and whose knowledge of their craft was both a matter of personal pride and value to their customers. Our busy lives make this type of product sourcing difficult (as does the cost). The ubiquitous all-in-one-vegetable-hermetically-sealed-vacuum-packed-meat-deli-baker-green-grocer is an easy, and in many ways, logical option. With that said, I look fondly on those quiet mornings when nothing dire needs my attention and the sun and blue sky beg me to take a walk and pick up the products I need for that evening’s dinner. This particular Sunday morning started with the craving to make a pasta dish similar in some respects to the spaghetti with meat sauce my grandma made when I was growing up and that my wife (and many other family members) love.

Washington Park Sunday Market

Picking up my basil at the Washington Park Farmer’s Market

The day started with a short stroll from my apartment to the Sunday Farmer’s Market held at Washington Park. (Fun Fact: Washington Park was home to the Brooklyn baseball club which would later move to Ebbets Field and become my beloved Dodgers.) Here I scored a large bunch of fresh basil for $2–a steal by New York (or really any) standards. Basil in hand (along with some awesome sourdough bread from Orwashers bakery) I headed over to Cobble Hill.

My next stop was to pick up the meat for my sauce at Los Paisanos Meat Market.

Los Paisanos

Los Paisanos Meat Market





Los Paisanos–a Brooklyn institution for over 45 years–provides great meat, fresh pastas, cheese, and many other Italian specialties. The main reason I came here was to obtain some guanciale, which would form the heart of my sauce. Guanciale is a lot like bacon, but uses the hog jowl rather than belly and is not smoked. The jowl is much fattier than the belly and has a more pronounced porky flavor. This would be the base for my sauce, providing delicious fat and a rich cured saltiness. While there, I rounded out what I needed for the sauce, picking up canned San Marzano tomatoes, a well-aged Parmesan cheese, and housemade ground beef mix.

The Process



I began by cubing up a chunk of guanciale about half the size of my fist. I threw it into a heavy sauce pan and rendered out about half of the fat. I then added a diced yellow onion and sweated it out. From there, I added a pound of freshly ground beef and browned it. Next went in three 28 oz. cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, which were left to cook under very low heat for about 4 hours. With about 30 minutes left I added a handful of chopped basil and adjusted the seasoning with some kosher salt and pepper, as well as a splash (or three) of red wine vinegar. The fresh penne pasta that I purchased from Los Paisanos was boiled in water for about 4 minutes before cooking for another 3-4 minutes in the actual sauce. The plate was finished with some freshly ground aged Parmesan cheese and paired with Seizoen Bretta from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.

So, was the pairing any good?

Penne and Logsdon Farmhouse Seizoen Bretta

A lovely pairing

This was a wonderful pairing. The Parmesan cheese that was used had a nice fruitiness as well as an earthy undertone that sang wonderfully with the earthy brett used in the saison. Additionally, the saison was very effervescent and had a firm bitterness than created a nice interplay with the fairly rich and flavorful sauce. The only negative aspect was that the beer had a bit of a plastic / peated scotch phenol, which was a little harsh and stuck out a bit from the overall harmony of the pairing.

Hipster Ribs Paired with Lolita

Braised Short Ribs, Cucumber Salad, and Goose Island Lolita

Sweet, salty, and savory

Taking short ribs–a tough cut of meat full of connective tissue and fat–searing it and then slowly braising it in beer (or other liquid) can do amazing things. The Belgians do it with their Carbonade as do the French with their Beef Bourguignon. The result is a succulent, flavorful piece of meat that falls off the bone. The fat renders out of the meat, leaving behind some of the most tender morsels you can hope for. For this recipe, I’ve introduced an Asian-esque marinade for the short ribs prior to braising and then served it with a fresh cucumber salad and steamed rice. I then paired it all with Lolita from Goose Island.

The Process (or recipe, if you like)

Cooking from a recipe is not my style. Unless I’m baking and producing some sort of preserved or cured product, I rarely follow a recipe. Instead, I’m a firm believer in understanding the techniques (and the reasoning behind them), using the flavors I like, and tasting during prep to achieve these flavors. This recipe starts by marinating the short ribs for several hours in a combination of soy, rice vinegar, mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili paste, and a touch of sesame oil.  After several hours of marinating, preheat the oven to 300° F and begin heating some oil in a heavy skillet (that has a lid). Once the oil is very hot, sear each short rib (you may need to do it in batches) on all sides. Remove the ribs and then deglaze in the pan with about 12 oz. of beer. I used PBR because its neutral character wouldn’t conflict with the already bright flavors in the marinade. Add the ribs back to the pan and place in the oven (covered) for about 3 hours or until fork tender. For the last 30 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and baste every 5 minutes with the braising liquid. Serve with steamed rice and cucumber salad. The cucumber salad was quick-pickled (for about 5 hours) in a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar.

Short Ribs Paired with Goose Islane Lolita

Sweet, savory, salty– all rolled into one

So, was it any good?

'The Homebrew Wife' Approves

Looks like The Homebrewer’s Wife approves

Individually, both the plate of food and the beer were killer. The high point of the pairing was how the acidity of Lolita helped cleanse the palate and wash away some of the heavy fatty aspects of the short ribs. Additionally, the beer had an almost wine-like character and hint of oak tannin that also helped balance the richness of the meat.  The biggest issue was that the heavy raspberry flavor in the beer clashed with some of the umami-like beef flavors in the ribs.  Additionally, the cucumber salad provided a nice acidic counterpoint to the rich beef, making the acidity of the beer redundant and unnecessary.