Anatomy of a Dish: Jacob Richler on why Nota Bene’s St. Canut Farms Suckling Pig with Savoy cabbage, Boudin Noir sauce and Kozlik’s mustard works so well.
Every food critic sizes up new dishes according to some sort of personal checklist. For starters, I like to see that the main attraction is clearly cast in the starring role, was cooked the best way possible, and merited that attention in the first place. I want its supporting cast of flavours to be involved in some captivating conversational cut and thrust without clamouring rudely for the spotlight. And while I like surprises, and always enjoy something new, I want all the cast members to be related, or, at least, old friends on good speaking terms. No strangers at the party; everything must belong. And finally, it has to taste good too.
This new dish of suckling pig that Nota Bene chef-patron David Lee put on his new menu on the occasion of his restaurant re-launch last month is in my estimation an instant classic. This is why.
1 – Let’s begin with the starring ingredient: Quebec’s St-Canut Farm raises some of the best suckling pig you can find anywhere. It’s large for a suckling pig, tricked into continuing to suckle after the age at which normal pigs are weaned by being fed a diet of extra-warm cream. You are what you eat. This pig’s fat tastes of churned butter.
2 – That would not necessarily amount to much if it wasn’t cooked right. But here it’s treated perfectly: no brine or intrusive seasoning, just salt and pepper and a long dose of the perfect low temperature to maximize its superb natural flavours and supple texture. Plus, a blast of hot oil to turn its skin into sublime crackling.
3 – So what about the supporting cast? Does everything fit? Perfectly. All roast meats find perfect complement in their natural jus. That’s there. Weaned or not, pork is a fall and winter food: it goes with winter vegetables. And the cabbage that in life pigs so enjoy in the trough is also a perfect partner in its afterlife on the plate. Pork is also fatty and benefits from the palate-brightening acidic tang of this sweet apple purée and spicy mustard.
4 – Still, even after all that, this dish might not sing without an element of originality and surprise. That’s delivered here in spades in the form of blood sauce – liquefied boudin noir. More precisely the exact mix of pork blood, spice and chestnut flour that would become boudin noir…if its cooking were not arrested at 51.5° C. Liquid almost-boudin: rich, intoxicating, and inspired.
5 – And the coup de grâce? Restraint. There is nothing superfluous on the plate, nothing there that doesn’t belong, nothing out of place. Just what’s right.
And that…that is cooking of the highest order. And it tastes magnificent.