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A good environment, nourishment make for happy pigs

… and pretty happy cows too

THE EMERALD Isle is renowned for its lack of snakes (thanks to St. Patrick), leprechauns (and their pots of gold), people with the gift of gab (it is, after all, the home of the Blarney Stone), and music (Enya, The Cranberries, and U2). And if Bord Bia market specialist Jack Hogan has his way, it will be renowned for its meat.

Bord Bia, the Irish Government Food Board, with co-funding from the European Union (EU), held an Irish Pork and Beef Masterclass with Grand Hyatt Manila’s Executive Chef Mark Hagan. Mr. Hagan made Confit Pork Belly and Grilled Beef Striploin for the class, while Bord Bia’s Mr. Hogan explained how Irish cows and pigs are raised to create excellent meat.

First, he promotes Ireland’s geography —  “Our island with 1,500 kilometers of coastline is a strong and natural defense against the spread of viruses and diseases, such as Asian Swine Fever,” he said. Furthermore, Ireland has no wild boar population (thus protecting the gene pool), and strict EU regulations give Ireland what he calls “world-leading biosecurity standards.”

Up to 80% of the land in Ireland is used for agricultural purposes. “We are a non-industrialized island which means we have a clean environment free from pollution,” said Mr. Hogan. The pigs are also free from growth hormones and promoters, ensuring a healthy product. They’re also processed at six months; the younger animal yielding more tender meat. Animal welfare regulations in the EU, meanwhile, ensure a good living environment for the animals. “Irish pigs are raised in controlled environments with plenty of clean, open space and nourishment. Irish pigs are some of the happiest pigs in the world,” said Mr. Hogan.

If the pigs are fed grain, the cows are fed grass. “It is produced as nature intended,” said Mr. Hagan. What’s good for the sow is also good for the cow (paraphrasing a popular adage), and Mr. Hogan underscores Ireland’s environment and agricultural culture in ensuring happy (and therefore, delicious) cows. Their lifestyle gives them an edge: according to Mr. Hogan, their beef has higher levels of Vitamins A, B1, D, and E, as well as Omega-3.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN MEAT
Mr. Hagan, meanwhile, started the demonstration by slicing open the striplon, still wrapped in plastic. “Like butter!,” mused host Issa Litton in the kitchen, as we participants (who had been sent meat to cook along with the class) all watched via Zoom. Mr. Hagan neatly and fluidly sliced the thick striploin with nary any struggle. With this, Mr. Hagan quickly grilled it, but not before demonstrating how he made the sweet chili glaze to go with it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hagan gave tips on what he looks for in a cut of beef: “Definitely the fat on the outside. A tinge of yellow, not too much over there. You want it to be yielding as much as possible.”

As for the pork, Mr. Hagan patted the slab of pork belly, about to be turned into confit, and said, “The fat content in this animal is a dream come true for a chef. It’s just right.”

Based on the cut of pork I received (which was turned into a pork pot roast and not a confit), it has a thin, but not too-thin, layer of fat, about the width of a pinky finger. While pork fat is much appreciated in these islands, it becomes not only too rich and cloying after some time, but also a dangerous health hazard.

Healthy animals might make healthy meat, but do they make for good-tasting meat?

While acknowledging his own biases as an Irishman himself, Mr. Hogan explained how a healthy living environment actually affects the final product. “If animals have open spaces, they’re free from stress. They’re grazing in their natural environment, eating what they should be eating, and moving freely about the land. There’s very little cortisol and stress hormones that come in within their lives, which makes for a more tender product.”

So, happy animals become tasty food.

Below are the recipes prepared by Grand Hyatt Manila’s Executive Chef Mark Hagan. —  Joseph L. Garcia

CONFIT PORK BELLY
Ingredients:

Pork Belly

400 gm of Irish Pork Belly

3 gm of Rosemary

100 gm of Rock salt

4 gm of Garlic

White Onion Puree

1 kg of White onion

500 ml of Milk

500 ml of Cream

25 gm of Butter

Salt

Olive Oil

Braised Shallots

100 gm of Shallots (peeled)

1 knob of Butter

200 ml of Chicken stock

1 clove of Garlic

1 sprig of Fresh rosemary

Honey Mustard Sauce

30 gm of Dijon mustard

30 gm of Grain Mustard

85 gm of Honey

30 gm of Apple cider vinegar

10 ml of Soy sauce

Salt

Pepper

Preparation:

1. To prepare the pork belly, first make a curing salt by blending the rosemary, garlic, and rock salt in a food processor until coarse. Rub the portioned pork belly with curing salt. Line a perforated pan with cling film, then transfer the cured pork belly. Let it sit for six hours covered in chiller.

2. Preheat Sous vide machine to 75 degrees Celsius. Wash the pork belly, pat dry and vacuum seal. Place in the sous vide machine for 12 hours. Once the pork belly is cooked. Remove from the bag, cut into portions and chill until required.

3. To prepare the white onion puree, melt butter in a pan then add the thinly sliced white onions and season with a good pinch of salt. Sauté until translucent. Add cream and milk, cover with a cartouche and simmer until soft. Drain the liquid into a large colander. Transfer into a blender, process until smooth and pass through a fine chinois. Put back the puree into a pot and reduce to consistency.

4. For the braised shallots, heat butter in a pan and sauté the shallots until soft. Add a clove of garlic, chicken stock, and a sprig of rosemary. Cover with foil and transfer into the oven and bake for 8 minutes.

4. To prepare the honey mustard sauce, transfer the Dijon mustard, grain mustard, apple cider vinegar, and soy sauce into a bowl, and whisk together until incorporated. Transfer the mixture into a sauce pot, heat the honey mustard sauce and season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

Place the pork belly on each plate and dot the white onion puree alongside. Scatter the braised shallots across the plates and drizzle with honey mustard sauce. Serve immediately.

GRILLED BEEF STRIPLOIN
Ingredients:

Beef Striploin

200 gm of Irish Beef Striploin

butter

Salt

Pepper

Chili Glaze

45 gm of Gochujang paste

225 gm of White sugar

112 ml of Mirin

25 gm of Garlic

250 ml of water

Lettuce Wrap

4 leaves of Lettuce

20 gm of thinly sliced red onions

30 gm of sliced Japanese cucumber

Black and white sesame seeds

Preparation:

1. To make the chili glaze, blend the garlic with water, mirin, and Gochujang paste until smooth. Place the garlic paste in a sauce pot with the sugar, then mix well. Simmer and reduce over a low heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches a thick consistency.

2. Heat a heavy bottomed pan until smoking hot and sear the beef on one side for one minute. Turn the beef onto the other side and leave for 20 seconds. Add the butter and paste the meat for a further 40 seconds. Remove the beef from the pan and place in a cooling tray and leave it rest. Cut.

To serve:

Fill the lettuce leaves with sliced beef striploin, drizzle the chili glaze sauce then garnish with thinly sliced red onion, cucumber, and black and white sesame seeds.

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