SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
All this summer, we've been bringing you farm to picnic basket recipes or side dishes, sandwiches, salads and drinks. Today, the quest for what might be the perfect pork loin sandwich. Catherine Welch of Rhode Island Public Radio started at the farm, where the star of this sandwich spends lazy days in a country pasture.
CATHERINE WELCH, BYLINE: Down a gravel road, across an old, red barn a couple of light pink pigs roll in the mud to keep themselves cool in the midday heat.
PAT MCNIFF: For me, if I was a pig, this is where I'd want to be.
WELCH: That's farmer Pat McNiff. He's got a point. For six months to a year, these pigs get to laze away on about an acre of this small Rhode Island farm. A couple of them poke around through the tall grass, others nap under a tree, the more industrious ones root around in the dirt for a snack.
MCNIFF: They don't have to pay taxes or they don't have a mortgage to worry about, they don't have to worry about getting fed. You know, it's a good life.
WELCH: That good life, says McNiff, makes great pork.
(SOUNDBITE OF PIG SNORTING)
MCNIFF: That's a happy pig. You see him, you know, wagging.
WELCH: They're so cute. I've already fallen in love with, like, four of them. How do you take them to the slaughter house? Does it start with not naming them?
MCNIFF: Well, we don't name them, that does start with it. But it's also, like, we kind of recognize what they are, what they're going to be in the end. And, you know, you have to have empathetic detachment so you have to have this empathy and love for the animal to treat it well to have a great life. But you also have to realize at some point that you're going to say goodbye to it and it's going to become food.
WELCH: Food for customers like Providence chef Matt Jennings, who, covered in tattoos, looks more like he runs a rock band than a restaurant. Jennings strolls up to greet McNiff busy selling meat and eggs at the farmer's market.
MATT JENNINGS: Good. How are you? Nice to see you.
WELCH: Jennings is collecting ingredients for his restaurant's lunch special, a pork loin sandwich.
JENNINGS: Yeah. We're going to pick up some pork loin from Pat.
WELCH: He slides over to the next booth and checks out the leafy greens. Then it's off to his restaurant to make a pork loin sandwich on a challah roll with a south American sauce called chimichurri. Not wanting to wait around with a reporter who'll poke around his kitchen, Jennings has already gone ahead and brined and roasted the pork loin. He pulls it out of the freezer and walks it over to his meat slicer.
JENNINGS: You can do it at home with a really sharp knife. Just watch those fingers.
WELCH: Jennings carefully slices thin pieces off the loin then heads to his work table, chopping a few cloves of garlic, loading it into a mortar and pestle, along with some ginger beer vinegar, salt, cumin, cilantro, tarragon, mint, and thyme. He adds a squeeze of lemon juice, and mixes it all up into a thick dark green liquid. It's a dressing he mixes in a bowl with long, thin slices of cabbage.
JENNINGS: A kind of, like, just nicely dressed, acidic glorified coleslaw to top that sandwich and help cut the fat.
WELCH: Finished with the preparation, Jennings stacks the meat on to the roll, the cabbage onto the meat and immediately after placing the other half of the bun on top, he takes a bite.
JENNINGS: You can tell it's a good sandwich when it runs down your arm. We got a little bit of that happening here. So, I would say success.
WELCH: Don't forget to bring napkins on your picnic. So, if you brine and roast the meat ahead of time, this pork loin and chimichurri slaw sandwich can be made and place inside your picnic basket in about 20 minutes. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch in Providence.
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