We were so thrilled (and honored) to be invited to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile’s First Ever Whole Hog Dinner. If you just let the name of that meal sink in for a second, you’ll realize the potential for an overload of pure deliciousness. A whole hog, prepared by Chef Kurtess Mortensen of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. Can it get any better? After eating this incredible meal, we’ll attest it probably cannot.
We were invited by Ree Drummond herself and you can read more about that here. Along with many Pawhuskans as well as Oklahoma bloggers and social media influencers, we gathered at the Mercantile as the restaurant was closing for the night. After a wine and cheese welcome reception in the bakery, we joined 22 other guests for an unforgettable night.
This private Valentine’s Day dinner featured seven courses and used all parts of the pig. And this wasn’t just any ol’ pig. It was a Beeler’s pure pork hog that had been fed a diet of walnuts and olive oil. Yes, walnuts and olive oil. The result was pork unlike any other we’ve had: hearty, rich, and absolutely delicious.
Chef Kurtess Mortensen
Chef Kurtess Mortensen, who is also the general manager of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, was tasked with preparing a fine dining culinary experience. As we heard the description of each dish, we were shocked at the level of detail and preparation necessary for this meal. But Chef Kurtess was in his element. In fact, he seemed like a kid in a candy store as he explained the composition of each plate.
We’ve done 7-course tasting meals before. Usually there are one or two courses that don’t quite measure up. Not this time. Every single dish was one to remember, and we’ll be fondly reminiscing about the flavors of this evening for a long, long time.
Now sit back and feast your eyes on our photos and recollections of this unforgettable culinary experience.
Course 1: Pig Trotter Rillettes
Cracklings, Country Sweet Pickles, Corn bread
“Okie Cousin” – Bourbon, house made mint syrup, sweet tea and a dash of Tabasco.
Ann: The very first thing our server brought to our table of 12 was a cocktail called Okie Cousin. I’m not much of a brown liquor drinker but absolutely loved the sweet and spicy flavors of this drink which was served over pellet ice and garnished with a fresh lemon wedge and mint leaf. The Tabasco gave the cocktail a kick and it was the perfect pairing for our first course, Pig Trotter Rillettes.
The Pig Trotter Rillettes were just delicious. They were crisp on top, but moist (yes, I said moist) and tender on the inside. Served with a spicy mayonnaise and corn bread crumbs, my favorite accompaniment was the relish, which was a mixture of seven different pickled vegetables. I’ve known Kurtess was a master of pickling for some time, as the bread and butter pickles on the Merc’s fried chicken sandwich are to die for. The sour relish took the rillettes to a whole new level! Frankly, I couldn’t believe we were just getting started.
Course 2: Chile Verde
Homemade Tortilla, Salsa Pastor, Chicharron, Cotija
“Spicy Churro” – Rumchata, Coconut Rum, Fireball Whiskey, Coconut Cream
Steve: For our second course, Chef Kurtess took us on a little trip to Latin America. The dish started with a green chile sauce made from fresh Anaheim chilis, jalapeño peppers, as well as roasted onion and garlic. Next, he added veal demi glace and pork stock for even more richness. Then, came the shredded pork. He braised all of this for a long, long time. Next, he put this incredible creation on a homemade tortilla, (homemade!) then added a fresh pork rind, and topped it with pineapple salsa. On the side he sprinkled a little cotija cheese with lime zest. Believe me, for as beautiful as this dish looks, it tastes even better!
With the Chile Verde, they paired a “Spicy Churro” cocktail. Even though the drink had some heat, it also had enough cream to tone it back down. Served in a glass with a cinnamon-sugar rim, this drink went right along with the Latin feel of this dish. Are you a coconut lover? If so, you’ll love this cocktail.
Course 3: Crispy Pork Belly
Wild Arugula, Red Onion, Pear, Walnut, Local Honey & Dijon
Folly of The Beast Pinot Noir
Ann: Let me first say that I’ve never been a big fan of pork belly, so I was a little hesitant about this dish. However, Chef Kurtess has changed my mind on this one and he likely ruined all other pork bellies I’ll ever have which will just never measure up to this one.
For this “salad” course, Chef Kurtess did his take on an arugula honey mustard salad but instead of croutons, he used crispy pork belly. He told our group that he braised the pork belly for 26 hours at a low temperature until it became “super soft and basically like butter.” He dressed it with dijon mustard, local northeastern Oklahoma honey, red onions, freshly picked pears, and candied Oklahoma walnuts.
Hands down, one of the best “salads” I’ve ever had.
Course 4: Inside Out Pulled Pork Sandwich
DP BBQ, Whole Grain Mustard Slaw, “Toasted Potato Roll,” Pickled Asparagus
Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi Dry Riesling
Steve: For this creation, Chef Kurtess really thought outside the box. Drawing inspiration from the American South, he started with a layer of braised mustard greens on the bottom, then added pulled pork in the Merc’s homemade Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. In the middle came the toasted potato bread. On top of that came some mustard slaw with dill pickled asparagus neatly piled on top. Some more barbecue sauce surrounded the dish. With the bread in the middle, we could see how the chef had turned the sandwich inside out. With the way the flavors played together, we’ll be craving this “sandwich” for a long time to come.
Course 5: Pork & Beans and Pork & Beans
Pork Confit in Black Bean Cassoulet, Citrus Mojo Pork Butt with Haricot Vert
Saddleback Ranchers Red and Stags Leap Karia Chardonnay
Steve: Playing from traditional dishes, Chef Kurtess created a course I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m not kidding. Not even a little. It was so good that just typing this description makes my mouth water. The dish had two different parts and was served alongside both a red and a white wine to pair with each creation.
First, he told us about the cassoulet. He explained that a typical cassoulet is prepared using white beans, french garlic sausage, and duck confit. For his dish, though, he used black beans, and pork confit along with homemade andouille sausage, homemade salt pork, and homemade tasso ham. He topped the dish with smoky bacon breadcrumbs.
Can we just pause here and reflect on the fact that Chef Kurtess MADE sausage, salt pork and ham just so he could create half of this plate? This is the type of effort that went into every single dish on the menu!
The second part of the dish was a mojo pork based on Cuban flavors. It incorporated citrus, mint and green beans. The flavors of the two dishes could not have been more different, but they worked well together. When the rich saltiness of the cassoulet filled our palates, we had only to take a bite of the mojo pork which was light and fresh tasting to balance it out. Think of it as a complex sweet-salt cycle using incredible pork!
Course 6: Roasted Crown Rack
House Made Hazlenut Sausage, Prunes in Armagnac Brandy, Potato Puree, Seared Apples, Buerre Noisette
Vendetta Cabernet Sauvignon
Ann: When the plate for our sixth course arrived at the table, there were a few curious looks as we all surveyed the dish in search of the pork element. There was none. Instead, our plate included nicely arranged seared apple wedges in a buerre noisette next to the creamiest mashed potatoes I’d ever seen. I’d had the mashed potatoes at The Pioneer Mercantile before, so I knew we were in for a treat. Chef Kurtess explained that the potatoes were basically equal parts potato and butter.
The dish would not be sans pork for long. Soon our waiter, Dusty, arrived with the most beautiful crown rib rack which was served family style.
The pork was prepared sous-vide, a technique in which Chef Kurtess put the racks in a tightly sealed vacuum bag and submerged them in water to cook at 165 degrees. This way, they were evenly cooked through without overcooking at all. Before serving, the chefs took the racks out of their bags and roasted them off with brown butter and spices so that the outside got crispy but the inside stayed moist. This rack was stuffed with house made hazelnut sausage and prunes that had been soaked in Armagnac brandy.
The result was one of the most incredible pork dishes I’ve ever had. I could easily cut the pork with my fork and the way the flavors of the seared apples and sauce came together with the savory hints from the sausage boggled the mind. Kurtess said he decided to serve this dish with Ree’s buttery biscuits as well, as “we have nightmares that people are going to leave the Mercantile without a biscuit.”
Course 7: “Fat Elvis”
Candied Beeler’s Bacon, Chocolate Bread Pudding, Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Rum Soaked Banana Brulee
Peach Pie Martini – Peach Brandy, Vanilla Vodka, Liquor
One thing Chef Kurtess mentioned to us at the beginning of this course was that since Ree wasn’t able to be at the dinner, he thought it was a good opportunity to try to sneak some bananas into the Mercantile. If you follow The Pioneer Woman, you know that bananas are one food Ree doesn’t really like. However, we have to believe that if she tried this dessert, she might just change her mind.
The base of the dessert was a rich, warm chocolate bread pudding topped with marshmallow cream and peanut butter ice cream. To the sides were a caramel peanut sauce and a perfect line of rum soaked banana brûlée. On the very top of the dish sat one small piece of delicious candied bacon – the only sign of pork on the dish but a necessary ingredient for the theme of the evening. Believe us when we say this dessert was simply scrumptious. In fact, just looking at the picture makes us want to stand up and applaud!
A final cocktail
There was also one final cocktail served at the end of the meal — and don’t worry, we had a designated driver. With the dessert, we had a peach pie martini made with peach brandy, vanilla vodka, and liquor and served in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Chef Kurtess said it was a great pairing for the Fat Elvis dessert, as the king of rock-and-roll was quite fond of peach brandy and once drank nearly four bottles of it at one time.
Needless to say, Chef Kurtess and his team created a delectable meal to remember that would rival plates from the finest restaurants of New York, Chicago, or Las Vegas. And to think it all happened right in our little town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, population 3,377. Not many other towns with no stop lights can claim a meal this good.
The evening was a true culinary journey, with flavors from all over the world, and we loved every single bite. On top of that, the service was just incredible. The staff, both efficient and attentive, saw to every detail imaginable right down to new silverware with each course (we used 17 different pieces of silverware over the course of the meal). Ree’s best friend, Cyndi (Hyacinth) Kane served as a wonderful hostess throughout the evening, visiting with guests and making sure we were all having a splendid time.
As if the dessert wasn’t a sweet enough ending to the meal, the staff also sent us home with a box of petit fours that included a bacon truffle, passion fruit truffle, clementine pate de fruit, lychee pate de fruit, pear salted caramels and a rosemary brown butter sable in the shape of a pig.
Steakhouse in the works
While our dinner was a private, invite-only event, there’s good news for others wanting to have a similar fine dining experience! Word is that construction on a Pioneer Woman steakhouse in Pawhuska is underway and that this is the type of food and service you can expect when it opens. People have been coming by the tens of thousands to Pawhuska for comfort food. And we suspect our little town will soon be a bucket-list destination for fine dining enthusiasts, as well.
If this dinner was any indication of what you can expect in the new steakhouse, believe us, you’ll be in hog heaven.
Thank you to The Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond for the invitation and to Cyndi Kane and Kurtess Mortensen for your hospitality. While our whole hog dinner experience was complimentary, the opinions and fond memories of a spectacular culinary journey are our own.