Not long ago, a chef I know posted on Facebook about his horror of composed plates. He explained that, for his entire life, he has not been able to stand for the different components of a dish to touch each other. Meat is not to touch side dishes, and sides are not to touch each other. His revulsion evidently is not uncommon*: the internet is replete with obsessives who cannot abide the thought of carrots nudging beef. This fear, which amazingly has a name (brumotactillophobia), seems almost universal among children, perhaps accounting for the necessity of those partitioned lunch trays in grade school.
That said, pointing out to a fully self-actualized adult that his eating habits stand him in good stead with the second graders of the world wins you no friends. Sometimes it’s better just to set an unavoidably good example. For instance, one might make a dish in which every bite was perfect and complete, and so well integrated the committed brumotactillophobe would have no power to resist.
Farro porridge, smoked pork, pickled cabbage
Many laughs have been had at Brooklyn’s expense over the past few years, and justifiably so. I’m as fond as anyone of mocking the borough’s Warby Parkerization, a process so thorough I no longer associate Brooklyn in any way with the opening credits to Welcome Back Kotter, with its tenements and pushcarts and working-class juvenile delinquency. And so I rolled my eyes last December at the news that an “artisanal porridge shop” had opened in Park Slope.
But as with so many things that initially appear ridiculous, there was a tug, an irresistible impulse to turn back for a second look even as you feel sheepish for doing so. I laughed at the Three Little Bears-ness of the artisanal porridge vendor, but the fact is, I looked at the menu and totally would have eaten the hell out of any of the savory porridges. Back in the early 90s, I had a barley “risotto” at Joachim Splichal’s Los Angeles restaurant Patina, and, on replicating it at home, found it far more delicious and easier to prepare well than its namesake. For one thing, whereas risotto leans heavily on the quality of the stock for its flavor, whole grains like barley, farro, and rye are hearty and earthy even prepared with water. For another, risotto’s perfection is fleeting; once attained, it vanishes almost immediately, leaving the dish gummy and soft. Porridges made from whole grains absorb liquid more slowly, and retain their bite even after being held for some time. I’ve used hulled barley, unpolished carnaroli rice, farro, rye grains, winter wheat, malted wheat … pretty much anything the beer supply store carries – to make savory porridges over the years. I’ve even made it from malted grains left over after my husband drains off the wort during beermaking. On my last trip to Copenhagen, I enjoyed a tremendous rendition featuring wheat berries, red cabbage, traditional Danish pickled cucumbers, and ham from Mikkel Marschall of Kadeau Bornholm.
Porridge is best made from things you already have lying around. For example, I don’t recommend actually going to the trouble to cure and smoke a pork shoulder specifically for this dish. It just happened that I did smoke about fifteen pounds of shoulder in the early fall, vacuum sealing slabs of the pork with its own fat and freezing it for the winter. We always have some form of cabbage in the house during the cold months. And we have a huge bin of various grains for making beer. You don’t need to buy or prepare anything special for a delicious pot of porridge. If you have brown rice or barley lying around, use that. Stir in bits of leftover mushrooms, or diced roast beef. Any foods that taste good together will be delicious combined in porridge. Make sure to include a tart element, like pickled onions or similar, so every bite is complete and perfect.
For the smoked pork shoulder:
Note: This yields far more than needed for this recipe. If you’re the kind of person who would go to the effort to cure and smoke a pork shoulder, having a surplus of smoked pork shoulder will not bother you in the least.
4 lb/1800g bone-in pork shoulder (picnic)
50g brown sugar
5g smoked granulated garlic
5g pimentón dulce
5g onion powder
5g ground black pepper
Combine the dry ingredients. Rub the pork shoulder well on all surfaces, and in any cavities. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and cure, refrigerated, for three days, turning every 12 hours.
Set up a smoker with wood of choice (I prefer fruit woods for pork and smoked this shoulder over applewood). Smoke the unwrapped shoulder fat side up for 4 hours at 200F, rotating 180 degrees once about three hours into smoking.
Wrap the shoulder in foil and return to a 225F oven. Cook to an internal temperature of 190F. Remove from oven and rest about 45 minutes or so. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat in as large a piece as possible from the bone, being sure to extract the big nuggets within the bone hollows.
For the smoked pork stock:
This yields about 4 liters of stock.
4000g chicken stock (use water if stock unavailable and add 1000g chicken wings, necks, and backs)
smoked pork bone from shoulder, above
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
2 allspice berries
12 black peppercorns
250g each diced onion, carrot, and celery
Bring the stock (or water and chicken wings/backs/necks) the smoked pork bone, and the herbs and spices to barely a simmer (around 190F). Keep covered and hold at that temperature, skimming if needed, for about four hours. Add the mirepoix and simmer another 45 minutes. Strain.
For the compressed cabbage pickle:
about 10 leaves savoy cabbage (medium sized head)
75 ml white wine vinegar
75 ml filtered water
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
Combine the vinegar, water, spices, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, cool.
Shred the cabbage about 1/8″. Bag (in 2 separate bags) with equal quantities brine. Seal and drop in a large pot of vigorously boiling water. Boil 6 minutes and chill in ice bath.
For the farro:
45g unsalted butter
one small onion, small dice
125g dry white wine
500g smoked pork stock from above
80g unsalted butter
175g cabbage pickle from above
275g smoked pork from above, diced
Garlic chive blossoms
salt and pepper
Soak the farro for about 6-12 hours in cold water. Drain well. Set immersion circulator to 194F.
Place a large saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Reduce heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and sweat; add the drained farro and toss well in the butter to coat. Sauté for about 3 minutes until well toasted. Add the wine and stir, allowing the grain to absorb the wine. Season with additional salt.
Transfer to a plastic bag. Add smoked pork stock and vacuum seal. Drop into circulator and cook for 25 minutes. If necessary, chill in ice bath until ready to serve. [The bag will contain a substantial amount of unabsorbed liquid; absorption will continue to some degree during cooling. This is normal.] If you have neither the means nor inclination to cook the grains sous vide, continue ladling in hot stock as you would for risotto, stirring constantly over low heat. Expect the cooking process to take about 45-50 minutes.
Transfer bag contents to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until farro is soupy but liquid is thick and creamy.
Beat in remaining 80g butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in diced cabbage pickle and smoked pork. Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with dehydrated spinach, herbs, and flowers. Serve immediately.
*YumSugar polling is obviously unscientific.
** You can dehydrate spinach leaves in the microwave or dry at 150F on silpat-lined sheet pans in a convection oven.