Monday, November 9, 2009

San Martin continued.…Blowing and Shaving with the Russian Mafia

So here is this dead pig. What next? One of the guys ambles up with a butane bottle and a blow torch. Another comes up with two very old rusty knives. I go get mine and they tell me no, it cant be a sharp blade or it with cut through the skin. The guy lights the blow torch and starts to scorch the hair off the pig. This is frightful. The skin bubbles and bursts and the smell aint pleasant. We get to work scraping all the hair off the pig. The hair seems to only be part of a top layer and left underneath is the skin we are all familiar with. The skin that becomes crackling. This preliminary scraping gets rid of most of the hair but a more thorough cleansing is necessary. A hose is turned on and we are all handed pumice stones with which we scour the skin. It takes off any final hairs and leaves our departed friend smooth.

One of the guys is in charge of the ears and the hoofs. The ears are doused with water and fairly liquid and then wiped and brushed clean. The hoofs are more gruesome. The big black cloven hoof is yanked off revealing a second pinkish hoof beneath. The removed black outer hoofs look like some kind of weird discarded lids lying in the mud. There is something scary about this bit.

The pig is now ready for butchering. We lift the pig onto another table (the third – I am not sure why we keep changing tables) and carry it into the shed where she will be cut up; her bones, flesh, fat and innards all being consigned to one use or another. The first process is the removal of its trotters. I cant help but think of the Russian mafia. Bizarrely this is followed by another their trademark calling cards – the removal of the face. The legs are tucked under its body and it is pushed into an upright prone position a la sphinx. Jesus then cuts the creatures face away in one piece. Very, very full on.

We now set about cutting away its back fat. This is done by sending a knife down to its spine and then along the entire length of its backbone finishing on either side of its tail. The pig, well known for having a lot of fat, does not dispel the notion. Including the skin, the fat is 3 inches deep. When removed we have two pieces about 4 foot long and 1 foot wide.

Next the legs and shoulders are loosened and pushed flat against the table. So far this is going completely opposite to how I expected it to go. The animals intestines are still inside and it is lying down on all fours. I expected it to be hanging and the intestines the first thing to be removed. I also expected boning knives to be used. Not one is present. Jesus comes forward with his tools – a mallet and a hatchet. He places the hatchet on the rib furthest down its back and with one deft blow, chops through it. He does this all up one side and then repeats it with the other side. This now leaves the entire spine separate from the carcasse except for its tail. He very carefully cuts between the anus and the tail and the spine comes away. It is removed and salted to be later served as boiled bones with cabbage. This is what will happen with all the bones.

Jesus carries on with the butchery. It appears to be all him. I am told that the matador, ie the killer, ie Jesus, is in charge of the kill, the butchery, the seasoning of the sobrasada and black pudding and the cooking of lunch and dinner. He is most veritably The Man.

The ribs are pulled open revealing the liver and a hell of a lot of fat. The liver is removed and placed on the table where all the innards will go. The innards and anything that has blood or has come into contact with blood, will all go into black pudding or either of the 2 meals that will be cooked that day – the Frito de Matanzas and the Arroz de Matanza. The Frito is a fry up with potatoes and the Arroz is a stew with rice.

Jesus is a very skilled man and he knows his way around the inside of a pig. He pinpoints exactly the various pieces to be removed, all invisible under a mass of still warm and wobbling fat. He makes a little nick in what looks to me like nothing but blubber and out pops a kidney. He does this again and again.

Eventually everything has been removed except for the bowels and intestines. This he removes, deftly again and gives them to me in a bowl. “Where?” I look. “To the women” he replies. With a smile.

I go out of the shed and walk over to the 3 old women who are washing intestines from another pig (the ibicencos make SO MUCH sobrasada that more that one pig’s miles of intestines is required). There is a blackened, steaming cauldron for cooking the black pudding (morcilla) near them and they are all elbow deep in intestines. Macbeth, I think. I give them the bucket and retreat.