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The Pompatous of Pigskin

If you are a football fan of any kind you’ve likely heard the name Johnny Manziel – aka ‘Johnny Football’.  He is known both as a Heisman Trophy winner as well as a talented but brash quarterback.  Earlier this year, Manziel was touted as one of the top picks in the NFL draft.  Once thought to be a shoe-in top 10 pick, he slipped all the way to the 22nd pick made by the Cleveland Browns who are perennial losers and football’s version of baseball’s Chicago Cubs. He was selected to ostensibly compete for the starting position but was destined to play backup to the team’s starting QB who was returning from injury.

Nine games into the season, Manziel and his ego have been on the field for a total of about 5 plays and has thrown one pass – an incompletion.  He has been relegated to the second team and it’s unknown when he’ll ‘arrive’ as the Browns are at the top of their division and showing no need to replace their starting quarterback.  No matter how talented he may be – what is known is that he’s relegated to the sidelines until needed.  Which, in the NFL, may be on any given Sunday.

This is why he practices every single week – studying, playing with the second team, and generally staying mentally fresh and prepared to go into the game on a moments notice.  He cannot afford to be lazy or rely on his accomplishments in college.  They mean nothing now.  What does mean something is the way the he practices and prepares for the day he’s called upon to come into the game.  Practice does indeed make perfect – in sports, butchery or anything worth learning for that matter.


What I Accomplished Today

Hello jerky my old friend….yes, the day began with jerky once again.  I have no clever jerky quips today.  Moving on…

Tuesday brought the knife-dulling zen experience of finely chopping 1 cup of sage, 1.5 cups of rosemary and 1.5 cups of parsley which were then combined with a half cup of finely ground black pepper and some duck gelee used to coat the 24 picnic hams we’d tied yesterday.

Then I moved on to de-boning two legs of lamb. For the first, I removed the aitch bone and then Frenched the shank up about an inch.  Then I tied the lamb with loop knots up as the photo below shows – except with about twice as many loops and only a single blue USDA stamp.  Much prettier than I did but you get the idea.  The second leg was completely de-boned and cut up for grind as were multiple necks and bellies (which I learned how to de-bone as well).



Then came the highlight of the day – I was able to work with salumi ninja Andreas who showed me how to properly case and tie Sbriciolona which is a rustic salami made with pork, fennel and red wine.  I was pretty amazed at the number of times we pierced the casing with a sausage pricker as it was far more that I’d done in the past.  The other cool thing was learning how to tie the salami properly and then work it once in the casing to compact it more.  By massaging the farce in the casing we were able to gain another 1/4″ or so of space on the end of the casing which we then tied off again.  The tighter bind will give the salami a better texture once cured and ready to eat.  Nice trick.

After this was the duck party.  Apparently anything done in more that a quantity of 10 at The Fatted Calf is called a ‘party’.  So, duck party it was.  We completely de-boned 15 duck for stuffing tomorrow and a number of others into parts for pate and confit.  I was much more successful at this today that last week.  Must be the practice and the right attitude towards the work.  Instead of being defeated by the duck today I chose to be the victor.

And last, but not least, I cracked about 4 quarts of toasted hazelnuts which will be included in the stuffing tomorrow.  And I ate a couple along the way.  A nice way to finish off the day!


Repetition is Key to Learning Butchery

Now, I’m not comparing myself to Johnny Manziel or even a backup quarterback of any variety.  But Johnny and I both know the concept of ‘taking reps’ with the first or second team as it’s a familiar one both in sports and life.  I’ve learned (or at least been reminded of in the last week) the need for practice.  Last week I couldn’t manage to break down a duck with any consistency.  Today, I was able to completely de-bone a half dozen of them with pretty decent results.  No, I wasn’t the fastest or even the best at it.  But coming from a place where I was completely frustrated to today where I took a whole head on bird and removed it’s bones without leaving a hole in the skin is pretty damned amazing.

I’m finding in my nascent butchery experience that doing something once or twice just doesn’t cut it – even if done marginally right.  It takes repetition to learn and memorize how to do the job and do it well.  I’ve probably broken down and/or deboned about 15-20 ducks in the last week and I feel like I’m finally getting it.  That said, I’d probably need to do 100 more over the next few weeks to feel like I knew exactly what to do the same way – every time.  Practice, practice, practice.

To read from the beginning of my journey as a stagiaire at The Fatted Calf click here.

For Day 6 – click here

For Days 8/9 – click here