I was at The Pig on Weaver Dairy in Chapel Hill talking with the owner, Sam Suchoff, when we got on a tangent about the best way to bread fried chicken. I started with how my mother had schooled me with a classic dry-wet-dry technique, with a few well-timed moves regarding the oil temperature. He eventually described how his was a hybrid that involved using half of one common variation with the reverse of another. Honestly, it didn’t sound possible (and probably isn’t) but that wasn’t really the point. I was just looking for an interesting story and fantastic-tasting unique food is always interesting. That’s what brought me to The Pig in the first place.
But then Sam paused and said, “For the record, you can’t print that fry-batter recipe. It’s special.”
Now that’s interesting.
There are some things you brag about in business and some things you don’t. Companies like to make it known when they give to charities or donate to their communities. And likewise, Sam isn’t afraid to talk about how he gets his pigs from North Carolina farmers, buys his veggies local from Stanley Hughes, oversees every inch of the meat they prepare homemade, and how he even goes and meets (or meats) with his swine farmer at least once a year.
But a perfected fry technique? That’s another story. Those have to stay in-house. And you can’t blame him because it’s their recipes and preparations at The Pig that set them apart.
I can’t print all of those techniques but it would be way too long anyway — just a list of everything they make homemade could fill up an article. Sam usually does about five pigs a week, all from Acres Station Meat Farm in Pinetown, NC. They make their own barbecue, pimento cheese, bacon jam, smoke their own cheddar, make their own bologna (not a typo) and slow cook some of the best brisket around.
The brisket comes from Cliffs Meat Market in Carrboro and is dry-rubbed then slow cooked for over twelve hours. So moist is the result that they make sure to put the sauce (tomato-based) on the side.
Speaking of sauce, Sam tries to stay clear of the Eastern vs. Western debate. As a non-NC native he never had a dog in the fight, but does confess that The Pig stays fairly Eastern and therefore vinegar-based. Though to Sam, the important thing isn’t the sauce or cut of the meat but how it’s cut, which is something they take pretty seriously.
They slice nearly every ounce of meat in-house, and the coolest thing about The Pig might be that they’ll cut most of their raw or cured meats to go like any meat market. I bought a half pound of country ham for the Holidays and watched Sam personally slice and package the Eastern North Carolina-bred pig like Italian Prosciutto. (There are plenty of different varieties to choose from but the Country Ham is fantastic.)
Considering what else is on the menu, you’re likely to make the same mistake I did by asking what type of meat stock is in the homemade macaroni and cheese. Amazingly, there is none. You have to try it to understand, but it’s so perfectly savory you’d bet your life it was loaded with pork or beef drippings (it also has the perfect amount of fresh ground black pepper, as any real connoisseur knows is the key to good mac & cheese ).
As the macaroni may have suggested, Sam used to be a vegetarian. “Instead of just throwing something random on the menu, we really try to get creative and make our vegetarian options tasty,” he said. The mac and cheese gets it’s savory flavor from the smoked cheddar that they cold-smoke themselves in the restaurant. They also have a veggie-gravy that uses brewer’s yeast to give it a meaty taste.
Obviously the vegetarian dishes aren’t a huge part of any BBQ joint, but it shows how seriously they take their food at The Pig. And when the owner supervises nearly every step from the production to when it ends up on your plate, I guess you really can say it’s their food.
Next time you want some North Carolina hog that’s had as much thought put into it as you do when you’re looking for great food, try The Pig. It’s can’t-miss. Just make sure you save some money for after the meal — the homemade to-go cuts are hard to pass up. Trust me.
The saying “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip” is thought to have Biblical origins, though I suggest you forget about that and embrace this root vegetable and its greens as a delicious and versatile source of Vitamins C, A, and K, as well as calcium and foliate. Turnips are considered a winter-time produce, though you may find them at local farmers’ markets through March.
I met up with Stanley and Linda Hughes at their Pine Knot Farm stand at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and could not resist purchasing their purple top turnips. These freshly dug turnips are so sweet that the white, glistening, raw slices are simply delicious sprinkled with a bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper!
I imagine that Stanley was in the fields early that morning pulling on the sturdy turnip greens to release the tubers from the organically nourished soil. And, to be sure, Linda was supervising and developing tasty offerings for their market customers.
Stanley’s niece with turnips
Invited to a recent girls’ night out celebration, I decided to present the guests with shot glasses of Creamy Turnip Soup, garnished with a dab of yogurt and turnip greens. I am pleased to report overwhelmingly positive responses.
Shot glasses of Turnip Soup
Creamy Turnip Soup with Turnip Green Garnish
1 head garlic, separated into cloves, and wrapped in aluminum foil
5 turnips, medium size, peeled, cut into quarters, reserve turnip greens
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into quarters
4 cups vegetable, chicken stock or water
½ T Sea salt and 1 ½ t. freshly ground pepper
½ t. freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup of Greek yogurt
Place ¼ cup olive oil in bottom of heavy roasting pan. Add turnips, onions and toss to coat and season with salt and pepper. Add packet of garlic. Bake in 425 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing once or twice during cooking process, or until turnips and onions are fork tender. Unwrap garlic and when cool, squeeze out the flesh and discard papery skins.
Place roasted vegetables in a large stockpot. Add liquid and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Puree until smooth with and immersion blender of food processor. Return soup to pot, stir in nutmeg, and ¼ cup of the yogurt. Reheat. Taste and adjust seasonings. Wash several tender turnip leaves and tear them into ½ inch strips. Serve soup in preferred vessel, garnish with a dollop of yogurt and several strips of greens.
Turnips were an important food for the Romans, especially in the time of the Republic, before their Empire spread and brought in rich agricultural lands. At the beginning of the 3rd century BC the war hero and consul, Curius Dentatus, was approached by envoys from the hostile Samnites while he was roasting turnips over a fire. They offered him a large amount of gold to defect to their side; but he preferred to attend to his turnips.