For the second year in a row, chefs, pig dishes in hand, and the folks who love to indulge in porcine goodness gathered in Red Hook, Brooklyn at Erie Basin Park for the fifth annual Pig Island festival organized by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43. As in past years, this event featured hogs raised by upstate farmers, local wine, cider, and craft beer, and a lot of creativity, showcasing the range of culinary creations that can come from using the whole animal. Fortunately, as well, even though there had been an early threat of thunderstorms, the inclement weather held off until the very end of the day.
This year, I felt that there was definitely a broader range of dishes and concepts for using the pigs than has perhaps happened in previous years. The tortilla seemed to be the vehicle of choice for delivering pork products to hungry mouths, whereas, last year, more bites seemed to be on sliders or bread. There were so many incredible offerings that it is difficult to select just a few stand-out items. There was an esteemed panel of judges that had that heavy responsibility, so I can just talk from the point of view of my own tastebuds here.
Taking home the award for “Fearless Stomachs Only,” Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo created Volcanes de Chorizo Casero. Two different versions of pork meats topped with tomatillo salsa: a red Mexican sausage called Longaniza and a green chorizo, where the herbs were blanched and then mixed in with the meat. The small square item at the top of the picture is a version of chicharrones made in Mexico where some of the meat is still left connected to the skin, and then they are fried together, creating a crispy, puffed, pork fritter-like morsel. I could have eaten plates and plates of these offerings, the flavors blended so well together, fatty meat, creamy cheese, hearty tortilla, and spice and acidity that just cut through all of that to bring the dish together. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a chance to swing by at the end of the event to pack up any leftovers that they might have had.
Another memorable dish that I ate on Saturday was this inspired creation by Chef Jesse Jones. For a spin on the usual pulled pork sandwich with slaw or other vinegar-based toppings, he built a strudel using slow-cooked pork. The rounds were heated up on the grill and served with a barbecue sauce from Fairway, his event sponsor, and dressed with lightly pickled cucumbers, which were still crunchy enough to provide a nice textural balance to the succulent meat and pastry. This is the kind of plate that makes me want to come back to Pig Island year after year because chefs just go for whatever they think might work to celebrate the hog, and sometimes it just comes together beautifully.
A newcomer to this food festival, Revolving Dansk went for a more traditional-with-a-spin for one of their dishes. Taking their cue from the Danish hot dog wagon (pølsevogn), which they mention is virtually the only street meat in that country, they served up the Copenhagen Street Dog complete with a tangy remoulade, crisp locally-made Scandinavian pickles, crunchy onions, and a drizzle of a Danish salty licorice sauce, upon request. It might sound like an unorthodox combination, but it worked. I’m not a huge hotdog fan, and I would have gone back for seconds on these. The hotdogs themselves were served on rolls made by Brooklyn bakery Leske’s.
Those three plates were my favorites of the day. For a complete list of the participating chefs, visit the Pig Island website. Here’s what the judges decided were their best dishes:
Fearless Stomachs Only – Hecho en Dumbo‘s Volcanes de Chorizo Casero
Best Nasty Bits – Ends Meat’s Pork Nuggets
Best Naked Meat – Ovelia‘s Spit-roasted Pork
Most Refreshing – Flinders Lane‘s Pork Salad
Most Mayan – Jimmy’s No. 43‘s Cochinita Pibel
Best Scrapple from the Apple – Egg‘s Scrapple Taco
Best on Buns – Pig Guy NYC‘s Pork Sliders with Lime Chimichurri
Best Sweet Cheeks – Butter‘s Bacon Banana Bread with Caramelized Bacon
There were lots of great dishes filled with various versions of pork and pig bits, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down the best things I ate to just three items, as many of them were really quite delicious so it feels a bit like splitting (hog) hairs. All the chefs and their teams worked in blazing hot conditions under bright sunny skies, behind smoky grills, to bring us yet another terrific event. When I got on the bus to head back over to the subway, I overheard one volunteer say to a friend, “I smell like barbecue and pork.” His companion chuckled, “As you should!”
A big “thank you” to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and creator of Food Karma Projects for inviting me to participate in this event and to cover it this year for him. The food opinions stated here are my own.