Trotters, crispy pig’s ears and head cheese nothing is wasted when Chef Justin Miller prepares a whole pig dinner for special occasions at Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa. He sources his plump Kunekunes at Old Reminisce Farms in Mira Loma. Kunekunes are small, docile pigs from New Zealand originally raised by New Zealand native Maoris, they roamed freely through the villages. At the Old Reminisce farm they graze, instead of rooting, on grass.
“They breed for high fat content and thicker meat. When I go, I’m looking for a plump pig,” says Chef Miller.
After choosing from the baby pigs at the farm, the chef waits six to nine months, then picks his choice up directly from the slaughterhouse. For preparation, “My Sous chef Colleen and I take the better part of a day to butcher,” he says, “Putting everything together is a fun challenge for the kitchen staff.”
“I like to debone the whole animal, leave the head on, stuff it with vegetables and spices, and then roast it whole. The outside turns really crispy and the inside stays nice and moist.” Miller uses fennel pollen as a seasoning because it pairs well with the sweetness of the meat. He also roasts the bones to make a dark stock, “I like to use it with soup or, even better, risotto.”
Some recent menu items made from a whole Kunekune pig were served as a special offering on Father’s Day:
¢ House cured pancetta
¢ Fennel sausage stuffed trotters and local cherries
¢ Bibb lettuce salad with peaches, gorgonzola, red wine vinegar and crispy pig’s ear
¢ Pork ragu
Miller came by his whole animal proclivity as an impressionable teenager on Maui. “I was around 13 years old when we first moved to the island. I remember seeing a beat up truck driving on the highway with a wild boar strapped to the front bumper. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” he recalls. Digging a pit then burying the animal wrapped in tea and banana leaves led to delicious, tender meat.
The chef also used to paddle a canoe for the Hawaiian Canoe Club. “They used to have an annual party with Kalua pork and turkey. It was the best! Eating huge portions of pork on the sand, what could be better?” he reflects.
He shares a couple of hints. “A 70-pound animal will probably take a good four hours to cook, but it really depends on the size,” he comments, “Don’t burn the skin because it will get bitter.”
“I like to dry out the skull in the oven the display it in the kitchen for a while. I usually say that it is a server that got out of hand!” says Chef Miller. From wag to wig, no part of the pig is wasted in his kitchen.