Pork Products


When you’re on your way to another city on a Saturday morning to cater a friend’s baby shower, the last thing you want is to hit a giant pothole on the freeway that takes out a tire. This is where I found myself this Saturday, sitting on an off-ramp two miles from my destination, having caught the edge of a giant pothole that I’d managed to avoid every morning for weeks. Luckily, my friend’s husband was available to pick up the food and transport it to the party. I arrived ninety minutes late, deep in the weeds. Fortunately, the food was mostly ready to go.

Brunch food. Brunch food. It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch. You don’t get completely what you would at breakfast, but you get a good meal. I’m not really a brunch person – usually there’s too much sweet stuff – but when I’m cooking, it’s a different story. Brunch in my book also should be heavy on the eggs. And there will be meat. And the meat should take the form of sausage.

We’ve made sausage before here, stuffing it into casings first. Breakfast sausage often has no casing – rather, you form a small patty and fry it up. The advantage to this kind of sausage is the nice brown crust that forms (thank the Maillard reaction for that). Also, fat renders from the meat as it cooks, resulting in a somewhat leaner sausage. Cook them too long, though, and they can be dry, unlike casing sausages, which are juicy and fatty.

I find that a ratio of 1 teaspoon of Morton’s kosher salt to each pound of meat provides perfect seasoning. If you use table salt (which I don’t recommend), use 2/3 teaspoon per pound of meat. If you use Diamond kosher salt, use 1 1/3 teaspoon per pound. Always form and cook a test patty after grinding but before cooking loose sausage or stuffing casing sausages – this is your only chance to add more seasoning.

Speaking of grinding, your job will be easier if you dice and freeze the meat first to about half-solid. Commercial grinders are sharp enough not to require pre-freezing, but most home grinders are not, and your meat – and especially your fat – will smear if it’s not cold enough. The dreaded smear yields a paste-like texture and will clog your grinder, so keep everything well-chilled while grinding.

Pork sausage, fennel, smoked peppercorn

I used a heritage Berkshire pork shoulder, with a creamy white fat cap. Normally I like somewhere between a 3:1 and 4:1 meat to fat ratio, and the pork shoulder filled the bill without any additional fat. If you elect to use a lean meat cut, supplement with additional fat from a fatty part of the animal, such as the belly, or fatback, to achieve the desired ratio.

2 lbs pork shoulder with the fat cap, or 1 1/4 lbs trimmed pork shoulder and 3/4 lb belly or jowl
2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp fennel seed
3/4 tsp sweet paprika
3/4 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground smoked black peppercorn
1 small onion, small dice 1/4″
12 cloves garlic confit

Optional: hog casings

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, and garlic confit with the seasoning and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Before the freeze.

Meanwhile, if you plan to stuff the sausage, soak the casings in warm water, and change the water several times. Then rinse the insides of the casings, untangling as you go. Discard or cut the broken parts of casings that burst. Place the casings in a small bowl. Soak the casings well in several changes of water at least an hour before grinding and stuffing. Rinse inside and out.

Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, fennel, paprika if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible. and refrigerate during the next step.

If not stuffing the sausage, form about 2 tbsp of the ground meat into a ball, flatten, and depress the center slightly to keep the sausage form forming a ball when it cooks, as meat fibers contract during exposure to heat. Repeat until you use all the sausage (or freeze a portion of the ground sausage for future use).

If stuffing the sausage, assemble the stuffing feed tube. Lubricate with water or oil and load the casing onto the tube, pushing as you go. Tie off the end with cotton thread or clip it using a food-safe, clean clip. Begin to load the stuffer and stuff the sausage, easing the casing off the tube as the stuffing comes out. Do not overstuff (as in stuffing the casing too tightly). You may tie it off by twisting the casing as you go (tie it with thread later), or wait until the entire sausage is stuffed and then pinch it off at intervals, twist the casing, and then tie with thread. Prick with a thin needle to remove excess air from the links.

Cook sausages in a pan over medium-low heat. You also can freeze sausages for storage. Lay them on a Silpat on a sheet pan, in a single layer, and freeze until firm. Vacuum pack or transfer to plastic freezer bags.

Breakfast sausage patties.

Sausage in casings.

East Asian, Pork Products

Market food.

Contrary to recent appearances on this blog, we don’t really eat a whole lot of Asian food. I’ve been on something of an East Asian binge lately, though, and once I get the bug, I have to let it run its course.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. This binge has brought us yakitori and kara age, kimchi fried rice and Korean pickles, galbi, ma po tofu, and roast pork buns. And yesterday, it was steamed and pan-fried foods, the favorites of night market stalls in Taiwan.

Night markets aren’t unique to Taiwan, but they have reached a sort of perfect expression there. Like most other open-air markets – whether the Camden or Old Spitalfields markets in London, the night bazaars throughout Thailand, or the souqs of Tunis and Marrakech, night markets contain numerous stalls selling everything from music CDs (sometimes the genuine article and sometimes not), paperback books and comics, clothing and shoes, jewelry, and household goods. Where else can you buy – all in one night – a new pair of Pumas, a leather-sleeved varsity jacket that says Horny Boy Do Not Fall In Love If You Are Lonely It Is Dangerous, a bootleg Radiohead cd, and a kilo of mangosteen?

But then there’s the food. You’ll know if you’re in a Taiwanese night market because of the smells. Some night markets are known especially for their food, and as you make your way through the stalls and shops, you’ll find carts vending grilled sweet pork sausages, frying up pungent “stinky tofu” (chòu dòufǔ 臭豆腐) and dousing it in sweet and garlicky sauce, deep-frying huge, flat, crispy chicken breasts dusted with white pepper, chili, and Taiwanese basil, and flipping oyster omelets (ô-á-chian 蚵仔煎). In the summer, you can pull up a seat at any number of tables or bars and cool down with shaved ice topped with fruit, red beans or mung beans, gelatin cubes, and condensed milk (tsua bing 剉冰/刨冰).

Shilin Night Market

Tainan night Market

In a country overflowing with delicious dining options, night markets rank among my favorite places to eat. There’s the XXL chicken stand at Shilin Night Market 士林夜市, possibly the best-known of the night markets, which marinates the chicken in soy, wine, and spices before dredging and frying it. There’s the delicious hot drink that tastes like limeade. In Tainan – home of the best night markets in the country – I always have to have the savory oily rice (Tâi-lâm iû-png 台南油飯), full of pork and dried shrimp, or the noodles – either the danzaimian 擔仔麵 with their unctuous pork sauce and scallions, or the ô-á mī-sòa 蚵仔麵線, thin, brothy noodles with fresh oysters.And there are the meat- or vegetable-filled buns. Some are simply steamed (bāozi)包子); others are fried as well as steamed.

Water-fried buns 生煎包

I just learned the name for these buns, which are so-called because they’re fried in a little oil while simultaneously the dough steams from adding water to the hot frying pan and covering the pan. The technique is similar to frying potstickers. You can fry on both sides, or just one. The absolute best place to eat these buns is at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. just blocks from the Jiantan MRT Station.

Weigh the dough ingredients, in grams if you are able. Measuring before baking yields the best results.

2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
2 oz/55 g sugar
1 1/2 tsp/6 g baking powder
1/2 oz/12g active dry yeast
2/3 c /150 g filtered water, warm – about 105-110F/40-43C
1 tsp oil

Combine the dry ingredients except for the yeast. Proof the yeast with the warm water. After five minutes, combine in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm area to rise 45-60 mins until the dough increases in volume by about 50 percent.

3/4 lb ground beef, preferably home-ground from chuck, bottom sirloin, or another flavorful but inexpensive cut
3 bunches scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch five spice powder

Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the beef and scallions. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Punch down the dough, knead lightly, and set to rise again for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into four equal pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and divide each into six pieces for a total of 24. With a wooden pin, roll out into a thin disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter. Place about a 1 1/2 tbsp filling in the center of each dough disk. Bring the edges together to form a ball, pleating to close, and twist the top knot. Place the balls knot side-down on a Silpat or lightly floured surface until ready to cook.

If necessary, perform the next step in batches. Set a large saute pan (with a lid) over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a circular pattern – do not let the sides touch. Add about 1 c water and cover the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden on the bottom, about 5 minutes. If you like, flip each bun over with tongs and fry on the other side as well.

Glutinous rice in lotus leaf 糯米雞

When prepared with bamboo leaves instead of lotus leaf, this dish is called zongzi 糭子and is a specialty – along with oyster omelets – of my parents’ home town, Tainan. Both the bamboo zongzi and the lotus leaf-wrapped nuo mi ji 糯米雞 are equally delicious – you may find the lotus leaf preparation easier to fold.

1/3 lb pork shoulder
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp white pepper
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 salted duck eggs (optional), yolks only, halved
3 c glutinous rice
2 tbsp dried shrimp
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
3 whole lotus leaves (available at Chinese stores; other types of groceries are unlikely to carry them); if necessary, substitute 12 large grape leaves without rips or tears, soaked in water and rinsed

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, and then soak in filtered water for about 3 hours.

While the rice soaks, prepare the pork. Pour 1 1/2 c boiling water over the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl; when reconstituted, remove the mushrooms, slice off and discard the stems, and slice the mushrooms about 1/4″. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Marinate in 1 1/2 tbsp soy, the Shaoxing wine, and white pepper for an hour, and then remove from marinade (reserve marinade). Place a small saucepot over medium high heat and, when hot, add a small amount of oil. Brown the pork well on both sides; reduce heat to low and add the marinade and 1/4 c shiitake soaking liquid; partially cover with the pot lid. Braise at a simmer for 2 hours, turning the pork as necessary. Remove the pork from the pot and slice 1/4″.

If using lotus leaves, boil the leaves until flexible and drain. Cut off the stem end of the leaves and slice the leaves with a knife into quarters (they come folded in half, so slice once down the middle, and stack slice the remaining halves again down the middle.

Drain the rice. Place a skillet on medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Add the dried shrimp and saute until opaque and crisp; add the drained rice and saute in the oil until the grains just begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat.

Place a leaf vein side-down on a board, and brush with a very small amount of oil. Spread 1/12 of the rice mixture in the center and add 1/12 each of the sliced pork and shiitake mushrooms, and one half of a salted egg yolk, if you’re using it. Fold the rice over the contents, and wrap the leaf into a square package. Secure with kitchen twine if necessary.

Wrapped leaves, ready to steam.

Place in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 2 hours. Serve with a little soy sauce.

Market style potstickers

I don’t know if this style of dumpling (jiǎozi 餃子) has a name. I do know that, for a few years after my parents moved to Taipei, my dad’s office was near a daytime lunch market in the Zhongshan area. Unlike night markets, which often sell food suitable to walking around, day markets focus almost entirely on noodles, soups, and other sit-down meal dishes, as well as fresh produce, meat, and fish for cooking at home. For a couple of dollars, you could fill up on soup or noodles at any of a couple dozen food stalls and carts, or you could buy a tray of a dozen or so dumplings – enough to fill you up. They were pan-fried on both sides, and filled with pork and scallions, and served with a little cup of chile-spiked soy sauce with black vinegar.

Unlike other dumplings I’d had – and I’ve made and eaten a lot of dumplings in my time – the filling in these dumplings wasn’t completely enclosed in the wrapper. And unlike traditional potstickers (guōtiē 鍋貼), these are fried on both sides, not just the one, and no water is added to the pan to steam the dumpling.

1/4 head napa cabbage, chopped fine
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 lb ground pork, preferably home-ground from shoulder or butt
2 bunches scallions, sliced thin
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Toss the salt and the napa cabbage in a colander and allow to drain for about an hour. Squeeze the liquid out.

Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the pork, scallions, and salted cabbage. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
1 c/ 225 g boiling water

Combine the ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into four pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and roll each into a long, thin (1/2″) log. Cover unused sections with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Cut off 1/2″ pieces and roll with a wooden pin into a thin circle. Place a couple of teaspoons in a straight line down the center of each dough wrapper. Gather the sides of the wrapper and pinch together on top. Place the dumplings flat side-down on a Silpat or a plate until ready to cook.

Set a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a row, with sides touching. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden; turn over and fry on the other side. Serve with a sauce mixed in individual bowls – about 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp black vinegar, and 1/2 tsp chile sauce, or to taste.

*Source for Shilin Night Market: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Shilin_Night_Market_9,_Dec_06.JPG
Source for Tainan night market:

Q&A, Random Thoughts, Soup

and the winner is…

For those of you who followed the Essential Vegetable Tournament, we have a winner! Here’s a question, before I tell you which food David Logue’s friends and colleagues dubbed most essential. Which do you consider more important – tomatoes or garlic? And why?

As a cook, I can’t imagine a world without garlic. Not that I’d want to live without tomatoes – pasta sauce, pizza, braised beef, and all kinds of Latin American dishes wouldn’t be the same, and some things – sauce espagnole and sauce americaine, tomato salad – would become a memory. But I’d manage. More than half the pasta sauces we eat right now are sans tomato – either just olive oil, or egg, cream, or butter-based sauces, and there’s always pizza bianco. Asian braised beef dishes almost never include tomato, and neither do many enchiladas, moles, and Latin American stews. Everything would be all right.

Not so if garlic became extinct. For the record, I’m not one of those “more is better” people when it comes to garlic. Except in the rare cases where garlic is the star, you shouldn’t specifically taste it. It’s an underpinning – savory, aromatic, barely sweet; sometimes nutty and mellow, and sometimes sharp and hot. But it’s an essential one. Without it, there’s nothing to counter the acidity of tomatoes, the heat of chiles, the blandness of meat, the bitterness of kale. Garlic plays a role in most savory dishes, in virtually every cuisine. So my vote goes to garlic.

So it should come as no surprise to you that TOMATOES beat garlic, 21-11, after barely edging out wheat in the final four. Tomato partisans defended their choice of the sun-ripened fruit – “give me a plate of plain toms (even sans their normal wheat-based accompaniments) to munch over a pile of garlic,” said one. Another pleaded the case for tomato’s nutritive value, arguing that while the flavor of garlic “is unsurpassed, [it] lack[s] the wholesome nutrition and substance of a tomato.” I asked David Logue for his thoughts on this underdog win, and final impressions about the tournament:

Q: Tomatoes beat garlic 21-11. That’s a pretty steep margin of victory. Were you surprised? How would you have voted, had you needed to break a tie?

A: I thought garlic would win. I would have voted for garlic over tomatoes. I also would have voted for garlic over onions. I don’t have anything against onions; I really would miss Indian food and onion rings, but I would get by. [Indeed, one voter who selected garlic observed that “garlic is the basis for many flavors of widely varying origins, whether one can taste it or not. Without garlic, the world would be a sad, bleak, and bland place.”]

Q: You said before the final that you tried to keep the matchups interesting. And in the end – as you said – two pillars of Italian cuisine went head to head. Rice and green onions went out in the first round, basil eliminated cilantro, peanuts stomped soy. Do you think this is telling – that Italian cuisine is, after all, our collective favorite?

A: The voters love Italian and so do I. I’m not sure how representative we are of the general public. About half of the voters are from the Bay Area or San Diego. Either way, they’re used to large Italian immigrant communities and an abundance of California Cuisine restaurants (which are basically Italian restaurants).

Q: Final thoughts on the tournament? Did you cut down a net and drape it around a basket of tomatoes when you tallied the final score?

A: Garlic would have been a great champ. Tomato is kind of cool… better than wheat. I was all set to email the bracket to the Garlic Growers … see if I could get them to use to advertise the Gilroy Garlic festival.

And there you have it. I can’t make up for the loss to tomatoes, but I can post a tribute to garlic – a garlic soup recipe that showcases the sweet, nutty qualities of the bulb.

Here’s the deal with the garlic soup. There’s a restaurant up in Vermont that makes a delicious cream of garlic soup. It’s creamy and mild and when we dine at that restaurant, my husband always has a bowl as a first course. The chef is proud of this soup and refuses to share the recipe. I think it’s weak to refuse to share – 90% of a recipe is in the execution, after all, and anyway, cooking is about sharing with others.

But whatever. I figured it was just a matter of time before I worked it out. The first time I tried replicating this garlic soup, I thickened it with bread, like the classic sopas de ajo, garlic soups from Spain and Portugal. It was delicious, but the texture was wrong. The second time, I tried an egg and cream liaison. Too rich. The third time was the charm.

Garlic soup

1 1/4 cups garlic confit
1 large onion, diced 1/4″
2 c beef stock, plus extra (up to 1 cup)
2 bay leaves
4 branches thyme
1/2 c cream
2 c whole milk

Place a sauce pot over medium heat and add the butter. When melted and bubbling, add the onion. Sauté the onion until fully tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Add the garlic confit and the beef stock; add the bay leaves and thyme branches. Simmer 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and all the thyme branches and transfer to the Vitaprep (or any other heavy duty blender). Purée until thick and completely smooth. Transfer back to a clean sauce pot. Bring back to a simmer; add the cream and simmer 2 minutes; add the milk and bring back to a simmer. If the soup is too thick, thin it with beef stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.