One question I've been asked is where exactly the coppa comes from on the hog. The coppa is a mix of muscles in the pig's neck and supports the head. As you move from the head to the middle of the hog, these muscles taper off and leave you with the solid loin muscle, which can be cut into pork chops, a loin roast, or turned into Canadian bacon.
In comparison to the lighter, leaner meat of the loin, the coppa is a deep burgundy color and striated with dense, white fat. As the hog roots and snoots for food, the coppa swings the great weight of the head, producing plenty of intramuscular fat. This constant exercise gives the coppa a great flavor and dense texture.
The Trimmed Down Coppa
Now, I'm using the phrase "coppa," relating to the process of salting and drying the coppa in the Italian tradition. Besides dry curing, you could rub down the coppa with chiles, salt, and sugar and poach it for a capicola ham. Or brine and smoke the coppa for delicious cottage bacon. Lastly, the coppa can be simply braised for my wife's favorite application, a pork neck pot roast.
The Shoulder Blade inside the Boston Butt
Once you remove the coppa, the rest of the shoulder can be braised for pulled pork, ground into sausage, or cubed for stew.
While watching the PBS show "Mind of a Chef" season 3 with Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, I saw an act of culinary heresy: Magnus put a steak in a pan, then immediately began to move it around. As a cook there are a boundless possibilities for creativity, but when you put meat in a hot pan you just let it sit there until it develops a nice crusty sear. Failure to do this results in a flabby, crustless piece of meat, along with the risk of tearing the meat as it sticks to the hot pan. It's an unchallenged rule.
The resultingly beautiful steak, however, that came out of Magnus' pan blew my mind. By moving the steak constantly, he explained, you keep the pan from cooling down, so the meat is always in contact with the full heat of the pan. Two things in Magnus' favor was a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and the tiny-but-frequent dabs of butter he added to the pan.
Dissecting this process, the cast iron will retain it's heat better than any other cooking vessel once preheated, and those small pats of butter will help keep the steak lubricated and sliding easily along the pan.
I was a little nervous the first time I tried this, as it went against everything I knew. But the logic made sense...so I dived in. Oliver and Jodi have these beautiful grass-fed Scottish Highland ribeye steaks, which seemed perfect for this cooking method. Grassfed steaks offer a world of beefy flavor, but don't come with all the fat you'll find in a commercial cow. The flavor of these heritage steaks shines brightest at rare to medium rare.
So I greased up a large cast iron griddle and preheated it to smoking hot. For a smaller steak a regular cast iron skillet would work just fine. Dabbing on some butter mixed with minced garlic and thyme, I dropped the steak down and heard a hearty sizzle. Grabbing the bone-end with my tongs, the steak slid easily around the hot griddle, coasting on a film of garlicky butter. Peaking on the cooking side, the steak had a beautifully even crust. I flipped it over, and added a few more pats of butter around the edges of the griddle.
Use a Sturdy Pair of Tongs
After about ten minutes of swishing the steak around on the griddle, it was just peaking into a beautiful medium rare. Served with some griddled zucchini and herbs it was a very quick and delicious meal - plus one with a technique that I'm eager to repeat.
Recipe at a Glance:
- Grass-fed Ribeyes (1 per person)
- 4 oz butter, room temperature
- 4-5 minced garlic cloves
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
Mix the garlic and thyme with the room temperature butter. If you're only cooking a couple of steaks, you'll have some leftover, which is perfect for sauteing vegetables.
Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle to high heat. Dab in a small pat of butter, moving it around to grease the skillet. Place the steak on the skillet and let sear for a few seconds. Now begin to move the steak around the skillet with a pair of tongs.
Keep adding a few dabs of butter to the skillet as you move it along, placing the butter in the next region of the skillet you plan to move the steak into.
Flip the steak and continue to move it around the pan, greasing the skillet with butter. Remove the steak when it hits 120 F for rare, 130 F for medium.