by Mike Sula
I didn't know what the hell a pork collar was. I just told Rob Levitt I needed a big chunk of meat, something I could braise all day in a chipotle-roasted tomatillo salsa, a la Bayless. And it should feed 13 people. "Pork collar," he said. "Come and take a look."
In December, when I wrote about Levitt and his plans to open Chicago's first all-local, humanely raised, whole-animal butcher shop, he knew he was going to have to be a salesman and a teacher, convincing customers to try new and unusual cuts of meat, and showing them how to cook them.
He's developed a visual pitch. When I arrived at the Butcher & Larder on its third day in business, he lined up right-hand man and former Mado sous chef Chris Turner in front of the counter, spun him around, and carved imaginary blade marks down one side of his spine. That, he explained, was where the collar came from.
It's the part of the shoulder that runs from the base of the pig's neck to the tip of the loin. You don't often see it stateside, but it's commonly used in Europe. It's the same cut of muscle used to make coppa, and the layer of fat on top is the best for curing lardo. Levitt can get more mileage out of a pork shoulder by selling the shank and collar separately, which folks can roast, braise, or cut up for stews and sausages.
"It's gonna be the new pork belly," he said.
In dire circumstances I bet Turner's back meat would make a delicious braise, but Levitt sealed the deal when he disappeared into the walk-in and emerged with a seven-and-a-half pound marbled beauty, tied up, and looking like a big meaty caterpillar. He told me to submerge it in the braising liquid just up to the fat cap and put it in the oven around 350, promising that after a few hours the skin—which he'd scored horizontally—would crisp up beautifully, and the meat underneath would fall apart.
I did as I was told, and my guests, drunk on lipids, demolished it in short order. And the collar just kept giving. Before I carved it up I removed the gelatinous fat cap, plenty of which had been rendered into the braising liquid. The next day I simmered the fat slowly with the remaining scraps, and salvaged two jars of pork confit. We won't starve for awhile.
Levitt is selling the collars at $12 a pound, and he'll cut them into smaller pieces if you like. All of the pork he sells is butchered from cross-bred Yorkshire-Duroc pigs raised by downstate's Slagel Family Farms.
The Butcher & Larder, 1026 N. Milwaukee, 773-687-8280