The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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december 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  87 DECONSTRUCTING DISHES WITH PREP T o contemplate the alt-universe menu at the sort of, kind of Italian restaurant in Philadelphia called Alla Spina is to tumble down the culinary rabbit's hole. This is a world where crab and horseradish deviled eggs seem perfectly normal—where poutine with lamb neck gravy and mozzarella curds is par for the course. And where there's a carbonara burger with fried egg, guanciale and black pepper pecorino maio- nese; a mortadella hotdog with spicy pickles and cabbage relish; and a swordfish "BLT" with basil maionese and guanciale. Any of which are worth deconstructing. But none is more deconstructable than the simply named pig tails with fennel agro- dolce. And as Chef de Cuisine Pat Szoke explains it, it's "just one of those things . . . ." Merrill Shindler: One of . . . what things? Pat Szoke: This is a Marc Vetri restaurant, so it's going to have a lot of Italian influence. But we want to have fun with it. This is the one place in the company that doesn't have to adhere to pizza and pasta. We used to have pizza. Then we did away with it . . . For pig tails? Yeah, they are uncommon. But they seem to be getting traction. As a restaurant group, we're very pork-centric: mortadella cheesesteaks, cotto, terrines, a whole pig's head. Who orders pig tails? It's a cool bar snack. It's not for everybody. But for those who like the pig from the head to, well, the tail—everything but the oink—it's very approachable. It's just like any other part of the pig—crispy skin, moist meat and some fat. Since there's just one tail per pig, do you have to order dozens of pigs to get those tails? No. We order them by the case. They come in frozen blocks, 15 or 30 pounds. We go through a lot of them on weekends. So, do you get a whole tail when you order them at the bar? That's a strange way to impress a date. We actually get two or three orders per tail. We brine them for three days in a mix of salt, sugar and water. Then we add puréed herbs. And cook them in a mix of half brine, half water. With the fennel agrodolce, they come out a little sour, a little sweet. We cook them in the sauce till they're tacky, then fry them till the meat is crispy. I guess in Pennsylvania, where scrapple is an object of desire, I shouldn't be surprised. Weekdays, we serve four or five orders. Weekends, it goes up to 15 or 20. If you're doing 300 covers a night, that's what happens. Is this going to replace the Philly cheese- steak as the drinker's dish of choice? Far as I know, we're the only place in town with tails. When you eat it, it sticks to your fingers. It's the sort of dish you eat with a beer. You've got to have a beer in hand, a couple of beers at least. That brings it all together. PHOTO: JASON VARNEY Oink" "Everything but the TAKING THE PIG BY THE TAIL AT ALLA SPINA by Merrill Shindler

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