Category Archives: Butchery

The Secret Behind Our Burger

Not to toot our own horn or anything … but our burger is good. Like, really good. And even for someone who rarely eats red meat — it’s pretty darn scrumptious. Maybe it’s the high quality ground beef we use from Slagel Family Farm in Fairbury, IL, or maybe it’s because we add our own house-made worcestershire sauce to the beef.

Ok, maybe it’s both.


Every week, we receive our meat delivery from Slagel, which always contains ground beef. After all, the burger does grace the menu every day of the week — even on Sundays for brunch. The ground beef we use is made up of 85% lean beef, 10% pork fat and 5% beef fat, which is then combined with our special worcestershire sauce — which is the big secret behind our burger. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re using super high-quality beef, so let’s get to that first …

Check out this bit of information from Slagel’s website; they talk about their beef and what makes it so good:

 “We raise Batavian cattle on a diet of grass, grain and alfalfa, hay and wheat straw. We do not strictly feed all grass or all grain to our cattle since we feel some variation in their diet is beneficial. Our cattle do not receive hormones or implants, so they must be fed for 18-24 months, which is considerably longer than industry averages. By combining this breed of cattle with properly managed production techniques, we result in premium quality beef which generally grades high choice and prime. This prime beef is then dry aged at our processing facility approximately 25 days to enhance the product quality even further. The carcasses are then hand-cut to order into steaks (which can be dry aged even further if desired), dry aged ground beef, roasts and many other cuts.”


Even if you can’t get your hands on Slagel’s ground beef, try making our worcestershire sauce at home and adding it to your own burger the next time you’re grilling. It’s a bit of a process but totally worth it.


(yields ~1qt)

  • 6 oz. fresh horseradish
  • 1 oz. sardine filet; soaked and cleaned of bones
  • 2 onions
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
  • 2 c. water
  • 4 c. champagne vinegar
  • 1 c. dark molasses
  • 12 cloves
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 lemon; peeled and chopped


Add horseradish, sardine, onion, jalapeño, garlic and pepper to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Then, add the puree to a heavy-bottomed pot and cook until this mixture has caramelized. Be careful not to scorch the bottom! Once it has caramelized, add the water, vinegar, molasses, cloves, salt and lemon to the pot. Simmer over low heat and allow to reduce. Check the seasoning. Remove from the heat and cool. Then, blend it once more until very smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks. This also freezes great!


While other dishes have come and gone over the years, the burger remains a constant on our menu. I do suppose there’s something to be said about the simplicity of ordering a really delicious burger, even when it’s up against other intricate menu items like our milk-streamed brisket with cornbread polenta and a foie gras-tomato vinaigrette, or the spit-roasted half chicken with potato and honey-yeast gnocchi in a dried chili sauce.

Perhaps it’s that “safe” feeling you get when ordering a patty of beef stuck between two pieces of bread: there’s no guesswork — you know you can just sit down, eat something that’ll taste really, really good, wipe your mouth off, and call it a night. So, goodnight.

The King of Porc Returns

“I don’t think I’m very good at butchery,” says executive chef of Nightwood, Jason Vincent, also known as “JV” by us kitchen folk. “For someone who isn’t a butcher, I’ve done it a lot, but this is only the third pig I’ve broken down in a year.”


But for anyone who knows JV, it’s hard to believe that he could “not be good” at anything in the kitchen — especially since winning the Grand Cochon competition this past summer at the 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado. There, he beat out nine of the country’s most talented chefs (including Michelle Bernstein, Kelly English, Naomi Pomeroy and Marc Forgione) to be crowned the “King of Porc.” Though his humility is refreshing, I’d say that’s something to brag about.



The competition — Cochon 555 — begins regionally, and the rules are simple: five chefs are to prepare a menu entirely from one breed of heritage pig. The winner, who is chosen by a panel of 20 local judges and audience members, then goes on to compete at the Grand Cochon for the finale event. And once again, let’s not forget who won this year’s competition …

JV used a Tamworth heritage breed hog from Triple S Farm to create his award-winning dishes, which included: a liver chip, a version of cocido (a Spanish-style pork and vegetable stew), a bacon-butterscotch doughnut served with soft scrambled egg and “hollandoink” sauce, and a bloody mary on the bone.

Credit: Cochon 555

Credit: Cochon 555

And just when we thought the celebration was dwindling down, JV told us that farmer Stan Schutte from Triple S Farm was coming by with yet another Tamworth hog for the restaurant, but this time, it was a special, acorn-fed variety. So when Stan pulled up in his truck last Thursday morning, I jumped off my stool at the kitchen counter, grabbed my camera and ran outside to document the delivery:


The acorn-fed hogs are a seasonal livestock, and since this is only the fourth year they’ve raised this particular kind, we felt extra lucky to have one. “It was killed about a week ago, so it doesn’t get much fresher than that,” Stan told us. Not to mention, because these hogs are pasture-raised and hand-fed, they’re incredibly gentle and calm, which in turn, makes the meat taste better. “It has a very natural nutty flavor, and the meat is a more intense red color,” Stan said. “This is some high quality meat you’ve got here.”


The hog was about 7-months old and weighed just over 250 pounds.


The head and bucket of blood made their way down to the walk-in cooler while JV started to break down one of the halves upstairs at the counter.


“The first time we broke down a whole pig, it took us 7 hours, and then 4 hours the second time, so we’ll see how this goes,” JV said.  “It’s kinda fun.”


Removing the ribs …





“Now comes the hard part — figuring out what I want to make and not fucking up the cut!”


Bacon. Enough said.


While JV has great plans for utilizing the entire pig, for now, he’s deboned the leg, rubbed it with a mixture of seasonings (chili, garlic, onion powder, dill), roasted it and steamed it. This will be sliced and either pan-seared or grilled for the dinner menu. He also made an incredibly gelatinous stock using the head, which he plans to use for soup dumplings. He visualizes the dish begin served on a searing hot plate, perhaps finished with raw fish and ginger. And if you love bacon, don’t miss the NYE menu — one appetizer option is a lobster-bacon stew, which will feature the Tamworth bacon (above).


“The cool thing about this blog is that it’s not just ‘hey look! I’m butchering a pig!’ but it’s like, somebody sees it and they’re better at this than me, and maybe I run into them and they’re like ‘hey! I saw you butchering a pig,’ and maybe they’ve got a couple of pointers for me.”

Want more? Check out our video below of JV in action: