September 2nd, 2012. Flyin’ to Chicago. The Purple Pig.
Feast. Milk-braised pork shoulder with mash, balsalmic pig-tails w/ grated egg and parsley, the JLT (jowl with tomato, frisee, and fried egg), pork blade steak, and corn w/ tomatoes w/ an arugula pesto.
The balsalmic pig-tails with grated egg were interesting; I never heard of “grated egg.” It sounded a bit revolting and confusing, because I wasn’t sure what to expect with grated egg. After an egg is boiled, the yolk is crumbly yet soft, and would not do well with a grater. Cooked egg whites however, are a different story, and are akin to something like shaved Jell-O. Their structure is more set than cooked yolk. Theorizing aside, the grated egg turned out to be a fun garnish. The egg white kept its structure, all the while trapping the softer, sandy yolk in between. In most bites, I was able to taste balsamic egg and sandy yolk, all mixed in with pig tails.
The JLT came swooping in like a monstrosity, along with the knife that came with it. It was mechanically difficult to eat. No one wanted to break the yolk and when we tried to cut it, it kept slipping and sliding. It was like playing JLT Jenga. Because of this, it was difficult to actually get all the flavors in one bite. Meh. Aesthetically sound, but kind of useless.
The pork blade steak was nicely seared, juicy, and refreshing when eaten alongside the arugula that came with it. Pork used to be a meat that was not eaten pink; this was solely due to the fact that there was the potential of bacteria and parasites within the body of the meat. Nowadays, we’re mostly worried about Salmonella. However, ever since the USDA started holding pork to the same standards are beef, veal, and lamb, pork can now be left pink and juicy. (Not to say that well-done pork, not well-dried-out pork, is still delicious).
The corn with tomatoes dressed in an arugula pesto turned out to be one of the more outstanding dishes of the night; it was ordered by one of our vegetarian friends. The balance of acidity and sweetness was on the dot. Corn provided the starchy body of the dish, as well as the slight sweetness that would offset the acidic tomatoes. All that vegetarian goodness was evened out with a grassy pesto that bound it back together. Very vegetarian indeed, and quite refreshing.
The milk-braised pork shoulder was plenty tender, but with no milk taste. Turns out the milk marination was a main factor in rendering the soft delicious shoulder. The action originates from enzymes within the meat, called calpains (let’s call this C1), calcium activated enzymes that cause the breakdown of the Z-lines (muscle fiber) of myofibrils, resulting in tender meat. Its brother, cathepsin (C2), also works to cause breakdown of proteinaceous material, specifically, actin-myosin bonds.
Calpastatin (yes the third C word that sounds the same…C3, yeah?), a calcium-activated inhibitor, regulates the activation of C1; more C3 means less activation of C1, which means less tender meat. If you’re wondering, you’re right. Both C1 (the enzyme) and C3 (the inhibitor) are activated by calcium, so they will be “competing.” There will be some degree of inhibition of C3 on C1, but we can expect a reasonable amount of C1 to be activated. Is this the only mechanism of milk-tenderization? No, of course not, as the science behind why milk-braising would make anything tastier or softer is a bit…scant. Some attribute the tenderizing effects on the pH of milk, and this isn’t even brushing on the hundreds of other compounds that milk contains, including potential enzymes that may “pre-digest” meat. Perhaps that explanation would do, instead of this…alphabet of C’s.