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On a recent visit to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, I was lucky enough to enjoy a terrific meal at a restaurant called Bock Bisztro, which served many dishes made from Mangalitsa pork. Although I had eaten the meat of this particular breed of pig before and knew just how delicious and fully flavored it could be, this was the first time I noticed how incredibly versatile it is. The meal easily rates as one of my best in recent years.
I hope that watching the Iron Chef’s work with this magnificent beast in Kitchen Stadium will inspire you to go in search of this alternative to traditional pork breeds, either in the restaurants of some of the nation’s top chefs or in your own kitchens.
You won’t regret it.
What is a Mangalitsa pig?
Mangalitsa pigs, or as they are known in their native Hungary, Mangalica pigs, are a breed of hog that is renowned for their deeply flavored meat and for their high fat content. The name Mangalica literally means “hog with a lot of lard.” They are sometimes also known as “wooly pigs” because of the curly haired fleece that covers their body.
The Mangalitsa pig is genetically very similar to the Iberian pigs of Western Spain that produce the famous Jamon Iberico. And like their cousins, the Mangalitsa pig is renowned for the quality of the fat that it produces, which is low in saturates and high in oleic acid. This comes from the feed given to the animals, which primarily consists of wheat and acorns.
Where are Mangalitsa pigs from?
The pigs were first bred in the early the part of the 19th century at the request of Archduke Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So prized was the meat that it was only supplied to the royal family.
The meat remained popular until the 20th century when the demands of the new communist government meant that attention was turned to the farming of leaner animals that produced more meat more rapidly. The Mangalitsa pig almost died out, but recent efforts to revive its popularity have proved highly successful and Hungarian farmers now produce more than 60,000 animals a year.
Until fairly recently, the delicious meat and fat from Mangalitsa pigs was pretty much a Hungarian secret. In the last five years, however, the pigs have begun to be bred both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, and Mangalitsa pork has recently begun to appear on the menus of such esteemed restaurants as Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Iron Chef Mark Forgione’s Restaurant Marc Forgione.
How do I cook with Mangalitsa pork?
Many people, when first presented with a cut of Mangalitsa pork will often confuse it with a piece of beef, because of its dark color and rich marbling.
Traditionally, the meat was slow-cooked in stews or used to make sausages and hams. The creamy fat was whipped and mixed with salt, spices and even crisp fried onions to make a topping for crunchy bread.
Bacon made from the belly of the Mangalitsa pig is quite easy to make and particularly delicious. If you can purchase strips of the air-cured hams, they are excellent wrapped around monkfish tail or thick halibut steaks to be pan-seared and then finished in the oven.
The shoulder cuts can be slow-cooked and work particularly well when served with dried fruits such as prunes soaked in brandy, and while the ribs don’t have a lot of meat on them, they work well with an Asian-style glaze.
Make sure not to waste the fat. Many restaurants in Hungary will just serve slices of this delicacy as a dish on its own with just a sprinkling of sea salt to add taste and texture. Because of its high content of unsaturated fat, the slices will begin to melt as you place them on your tongue, releasing an incredible flavor across your mouth like pork candy.
Where can I buy Mangalitsa pork?
Given that Mangalitsa pork is such a recent arrival to U.S. shores, it is highly unlikely that you will find it in any supermarket or even any gourmet stores, although it is now becoming available at a few of the best farmers’ markets on the East and West Coasts.
The best opportunity to purchase Mangalitsa pork to prepare in your own kitchen is online; there are now a number of farmers who will ship direct to your door. Check out Mosefund Farm in New Jersey and Heath Putnam Farms in Washington state. Their websites also carry some information about which restaurants purchase their product.
It may seem like a lot of work to find a piece of meat, but I guarantee you that once you have taken your first bite from a piece of Mangalitsa pork, you will agree it was well worth the effort.