Fruit, Pork Products, preserving

Just peachy.

Now that we’ve comfortably settled into autumn, I can admit that I kind of hate summer. I don’t talk about this very much because people seem to consider it roughly equivalent to being a Communist or a baby-eater. Summer-dislike is a relatively new thing, just since I moved to the sweaty mid-Atlantic at the millenium. I grew up in Milwaukee, where, starting sometime late in spring every year, the local forecasts remind area residents that it’s “cooler by the lake,” and you can look forward to wearing shorts and drinking beer outside. In the Milwaukee of my childhood, and probably even today with climate change and all, you can count on daytime highs of 75 to maybe, maybe 85 degrees at the lakefront. You turn off the air conditioner and open the windows at night so you can hear the crickets. In Washington/Baltimore, you can count on stagnant 95 degree days like being smothered by sopping hot towels. Even at midnight, you can find yourself standing in the dark, soaked in sweat, mainlining Gatorade and begging for the sweet release of death.

Unlike the celebrated summer of the Great Lakes, the months between Memorial and Labor Day out east are good for two things only, which admittedly are pretty good. One is the beach, which is self-explanatory. The other is farm stands, with their array of limited-time-only goodies like sweet corn, tomatoes, melons, and stone fruit. Nothing against apples and oranges, of course, but they store so well that they’re available, and fine quality, all year. Try buying a decent peach in December, though. It doesn’t exist; the only available specimens were picked weeks earlier, rock-hard and barely golden, in another hemisphere, and soften into rosy-looking but cottony imitations of the real thing.

When peaches come into season, their partisans go crazy. In the classic Seinfeld episode “The Doodle,” Kramer extols the virtues of the Mackinaw peach, an elusive (and fictional) treat from Oregon available for only two weeks a year. “It’s like having a circus in your mouth!” Evidently, the Mackinaw peach has become a holy grail of peaches for many fruit enthusiasts; Google “mackinaw peach” for numerous accounts of disappointed peach fiends who go hunting only to be mocked and turned cruelly away. In too good to be true fashion, the Portland Food Group discussion about Mackinaw peaches devolved almost immediately into hostile foodie one-upmanship. If you thought PDX was all about laid back, flannel-wearing potheads, think again.

So don’t go looking for Mackinaw peaches, or annoy the PDX food community with well meaning questions about their seasonal treat. It doesn’t exist. And now that it’s a little late in the season, the remaining peaches in markets aren’t the juice gushers of mid-July and August. Don’t let them go to waste, though – pickle them. You won’t taste a more delicious combination than pickled peaches with any smoked meat. Brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey, duck – all are vastly improved by the addition of the pickled peaches.

Pickle brine seems like a no-brainer to pour down the drain. Don’t do it! As is the case with boozy peaches, a lot of the peach flavor leaches out into the pickling liquid. Strain and keep it refrigerated for use in shrubs or cocktails like the Kentucky Pig & Peach. NB: the first dish I ever developed was an emulsion of dill pickle juice (Vlasic or Claussen) and butter. I was four years old. Pickle butter is the shit when you smear it on Triscuits.

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Smoked pork belly, chicharrón, pickled peach
In this dish, a smoked cured belly – basically bacon – serves as the foil to the sweet-tart peaches. If you like some kind of starch with your meats, grits or creamed corn are the way to go.

This dish has multiple components, each requiring multiple steps. If you can’t deal with all of them, you can get the gist of the flavor combination by making the pickled peaches, and then preparing the pork through the poaching phase. Slice, brown the fat side, and serve with pickled peaches on the side.

Start the pork at least two days and up to a week before service. You’ll cure overnight, then smoke and poach the next day. If you have time, weight the belly for a great firm texture and even thickness.

For the pork:

1 lb belly, trimmed of skin (reserve skin for chicharrón, below)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper
peppercorns, thyme and bay

2 quarts chicken stock
1 inch chunk yellow rock sugar
6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 c usukuchi soy
1 head garlic, sliced along equator

1/4 c white wine vinegar (same as used in the peach pickle)
2 shallots, minced
1 c dry, floral white wine
2 c smoked pork stock (from braise)
bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2″ section of licorice root
1 star anise
6 tbsp unsalted butter.

Combine the salt, sugar, and white pepper. Coat the belly evenly with the seasoning and place with peppercorns, thyme, and bay in a vessel just large enough to hold the belly. Cure under refrigeration, turning over after 12 hours. If you have extra time, cure up to 4 days and turn after each.

Rinse the cured belly and pat dry. Set up a smoking apparatus with charcoal and apple or hickory wood chunks (I use an offset smoker) and smoke the belly at 180F for 3 hours.

Combine the stock, sugar, thyme, soy, and the garlic. When it comes to a simmer, add the smoked belly. Simmer until just tender, about 2 hours. Remove the belly from the liquid; strain and set aside. If you have time, seal in a bag or wrap in clingfilm and chill down; then place in a small container, about the same size as the belly. Top with another container or cutting board and weight, refrigerated, at least four hours.

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For the reduction:

Prepare the reduction. Bring the shallot and vinegar to a simmer in a saucepot over medium low heat. When the vinegar has reduced to au sec, add the wine and reduce again to au sec. Add the stock, herbs, and spices and reduce by about 2/3. Strain through a chinois and mount with cold butter.

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To serve, cut the belly into 1×2″ rectangles. Score the fat on top and place, fat side down, in a hot pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a 250F oven for another 6 minutes. Serve the seared belly atop the reduction and the pickled peach purée, and serve with a chicharrón.

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For the chicharrón:

skin from pork belly
grapeseed or rice bran oil

Scrape as much fat as possible from the underside of the skin. Divide into several strips about 1″ wide.

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Place the skin in a sauce pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil for about an hour, until gelatinous and flexible. Add more water, if necessary, to keep the skins completely submerged during boiling.

Drain and, when cool, trim any remaining fat from the skins. Place on a silpat on a sheet pan and dry in a 160F convection oven for 2-4 hours (times will vary based on the thickness of the skin) until completely dry and glassy. Cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container – if you have a silica dehydrator pack, add it to the container. You can store these for a fairly long time, but with a silica pack, they may become too dry to puff well at some point, so try to use them within a month.

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To cook, bring a pot of grapeseed or rice bran oil to 360F. Break the skins into chips about 3/4″ square and add not more than two at a time to the oil. Using a spider, keep turning the chips as they puff. Once they have completely puffed, remove and drain on paper towels; salt and serve immediately.

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For the pickled peach:

2 lbs peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 12-16 slices each (depending on size)
1 c white wine vinegar (champagne is best)
1 c filtered water
1/2 c + 1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
4 star anise
about 2 dozen Pondicherry (true red) peppercorns [Note: this is not the same as pink peppercorn; substitute black if unavailable]
4-6 dried jasmine flowers (elderflower is great also)

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices, and flowers and bring just to a boil, ensuring the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Divide the peaches among mason jars and pour the pickling liquid evenly over them, distributing the spices and flowers. Chill down and store. The peaches will be mildly pickled after about 6 hours and are optimal at 2-7 days.

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As depicted in the photo, the peaches and their pickling liquid have been blended to a sauce. Blend all the peaches (sans spices or flowers) with enough pickling liquid to achieve a medium-bodied purée.

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Kentucky Pig & Peach

I developed this recipe to use up a bottle of bacon-flavored vodka a friend brought possibly as a hostess gift and possibly to razz me. That’s the “pig.” But during a recent visit to Kentucky’s MB Roland craft distillery, we picked up a bottle of Black Dog – basically white dog in which dark-fired (smoked) corn constitutes part of the mash. That kind of smoky white dog is even better in this drink, if you can get it.

Don’t use pickling brine from the first two days of pickling to make this drink; it won’t be peachy enough, and somewhat too sour. Whatever brine you don’t use to make this drink you can strain into a clean container and keep for months in your refrigerator.

Final note: as with most things, better ingredients = better cocktail. But it’s dumb to waste really top drawer booze on a mixed drink. Use something decent, like Maker’s Mark, but don’t use your single-barrel whiskies; save those for sipping.

For two cocktails:

1 1/2 oz vinegar from pickled peaches
2 oz bourbon
2 oz smoked white dog [MB Roland’s Black Dog] or bacon vodka
6 drops barrel-aged sorghum bitters
2 large ice cubes, plus extra

Stir all the ingredients besides the ice cubes. Place one large cube in each of two old-fashioned glasses. Strain the cocktail over ice and serve. A little sprig of mint would not be out of place.

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Pork Products, Potatoes, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Soup

Land and sea.

When I was a kid, we ate most family meals at home. My mom worked – like most women today – and, every day upon coming home from the local junior high, she’d pull ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry and start making dinner Some nights, we’d have American classics like roast chicken, beef stew, or spaghetti with meat sauce. Other nights, we’d have favorite Taiwanese dishes like soy braised pork with boiled eggs, or steamed fish with black bean sauce. And once in a while, we went out.

There weren’t a lot of dining options in the western suburbs of Milwaukee in the 70s and 80s, short of pizza, burgers, and family-style restaurants. My favorite place was Marty’s Pizza, which turned out enormous pizzas in rectangular pans, cut into squares. I ate it with friends at birthday parties and after high school football games, and there was something about the shallow-crusted pie, with its sweetish sauce and nuggets of Italian sausage, overlaid with bubbling, browned mozzarella, that was irresistible. Part of the lure of Marty’s was the fact that my parents would never take us there, for reasons they never explained – a family feud, perhaps, or a grudge against Marty? If my family went out for pizza, it would be to Shakey’s – where buffet stations entreated us to “Take all you want, but please eat all you take.” Shakey’s – which no longer survives in Milwaukee but as I understand it can still be found in parts of the South and West, and inexplicably the Philippines – seemed exotic in its own way, as round pans bearing thin, crisp-crusted pies would empty and reappear on the buffet stand, alongside fried chicken and battered Mojo potato rounds. Shakey’s had a sort of Olde English theme going, corrupted by pizza-parlor checked tablecloths and player pianos, and from time to time you would notice a wooden sign on the wall, reading “Ye Olde Notice,” that would inform the customer of its check acceptance policy or the superior quality of the pizza.

Once in a while, my parents’ appetites for lobster and crab took us to Red Lobster. While they cracked open lobster claws to dip in drawn butter with lemon, I invariably dined on the clam chowder. I was a picky kid, and my parents – rather than wasting the $15.99 on a frighteningly large pile of snow crab legs I’d probably just push around the plate – went with the safe bet. Having eaten many a can of Campbell’s New England Clam Chowder, I could be counted on to enjoy a cup of Red Lobster’s chowder and a baked potato, heavy on the sour cream and butter. At some point in the meal, I usually proclaimed the chowder to be “excellent” and called for a second cup, to be eaten with as many cellophane packets of oyster crackers as I could charm off the waiter.

Red Lobster’s chowder was of the roux-thickened variety, practically as thick as béchamel and with a tendency to congeal once it cooled. In fact, I think I used to amuse myself by standing the spoon up in the chowder and counting the seconds before it would fall to the side. And to be honest, I’m not totally sure it contained fresh clams (which in retrospect would be really strange for a seafood restaurant, but it’s Red Lobster, and it was long time ago). I was six years old, though, and it obviously didn’t matter to me. I went crazy for the diced potatoes, the cream, and the little green bits of parsley sprinkled over the top.

Chowders of all kinds – clam, lobster, corn, chicken – are still a favorite, although I let the potato do the thickening these days, and I always add some kind of cured pork product, like bacon or pancetta. As you know, I’m a big fan of the ibérico de bellota pork products from Iberico USA, and I recently got my hands on some panceta, smoked bacon from the belly.

Panceta de ibérico de bellota.

My husband persuaded me to fry up a few slices – “to sample the product in its pure form,” he reasoned. I’ve cured my own ibérico bacon, but this panceta, having been smoked as well as cured, tasted like a superhero version of regular bacon. More crispy fat, more sweet/smoky meat. Of course, as we ate nearly half the package, only a few slices remained. I decided to incorporate them into clam chowder. Unfortunately, the market was nearly out of clams – the dozen manila clams they could offer weren’t enough for chowder – so we went to Plan B. Oyster stew. We’re still in the cold-water months (the so-called “R” months), and the oysters are plump and sweet.

Why seafood and pork products? They’re a classic combination, an age-old way for coastal communities to stretch scarce meat products with plentiful ocean resources. Most fish and nearly all shellfish are low in fat, and the richness of pork not only adds flavor, but provides additional fat to enhance the flavors of the seafood. Think of shrimp and grits, chowder (of course), the many Chinese and Vietnamese dishes that combine seafood and pork, and the Portuguese classic porco à alentejana. Of course, with the passage of time and increasing affluence, the land/sea combination came to epitomize a certain type of rapacious consumption, far from its origins. The surf and turf available at most steakhouses is an exercise in excessive “luxury,” a parody of fine dining; the carpetbagger steak, a favorite of notorious glutton Diamond Jim Brady, is so over the top it terrifies even my husband. There’s no need to make a mockery of the concept, after all.

Oyster stew

It’s worth the effort to use live oysters in the shell, rather than pre-shucked oysters in liquor. Roasting whole oysters in a blazing hot oven will impart a little bit of a smoky taste to the shellfish, and the roasted whole oysters yield far more liquor as well. Besides, once roasted, the oyster is easy to shuck; in fact, you’ll know it’s ready to go when the top shell pops open. Be sure to strain through the finest mesh possible to remove any grit.

The panceta from Iberico USA is luxurious, fatty, and delicious, and as things go, it isn’t crazily expensive. The fat is especially nice for cooking the leeks and celery. You can use any good quality bacon, though; just be sure to buy a thick cut, and reserve the fat for cooking. You want that smoky taste throughout the stew.

about three dozen oysters, scrubbed under cold water and kept on ice
6 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
about 12 sprigs thyme
1 c dry white wine, like Champagne
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well
2 ribs celery, strings peeled
1/4 lb bacon, preferably of ibérico de bellota
1 c heavy cream
pepper to taste
3 additional sprigs fresh thyme, about 6 chives, and 1/4 c flat leaf parsley

Oven 500F/260C.

Split the leeks in half lengthwise and slice thinly (less than 1/8″). Slice the celery ribs thinly crosswise about 1/8″. Set aside separately.

Arrange the cleaned oysters in a single layer over the bay leaves and thyme in one or more large, heavy pans (like sauté pans or a heavy roasting pan). Divide the wine equally among the pans. Place the pans in the hot oven and roast just until the oyster shells open. Remove immediately from the oven and, with tongs, move the oysters to a plate to cool, pouring the oyster liquor into the roasting pan as you go.

Ready to roast.

Roasted, with bonus oyster crab

Pour the remaining oyster liquor through a fine filter (such as a mesh tea strainer or a chinois). Repeat, lining the chinois/strainer with a triple thickness of butter muslin or cheesecloth. When the oyster shells are just cool enough to handle, pop the top shell open with an oyster knife and cut the oyster free. Keep the oysters in the liquor. If you find oyster crabs (pictured above), eat them!

Dice the bacon about 1/4″. Place a large, heavy saucier over medium heat and, when hot, add the diced bacon to the pan. Saute until crisp and deep golden brown; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off all but about 1 1/2 tbsp bacon fat (reserving the rest for a future use). Add the leeks and reduce the heat; sweat until tender. Add the celery and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan.

Mmm, ibérico bacon.

Strain the oyster liquor once more through the chinois into the pan. Bring to a simmer and reduce to 2 c. Return the vegetables to the pan, then the cream. Bring back to the simmer ad add the oysters. Heat through.

Garnish with the diced fried bacon and the minced fresh herbs.

Oyster stew, panceta.

Special thanks to the people at Wagshal’s/Iberico USA for providing the panceta for this dish.

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Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Spain

Waste not, want not.

Here’s a question that comes up a lot: what happens to all the scraps and trim from all those nicely-plated dishes and tiny little vegetable cuts? Isn’t that a wasteful way to cook?

A little history. When I was a kid in Milwaukee, my mother dispensed most parental wisdom in the form of aphorisms, usually when I was under suspicion of wrongdoing or inefficiency. If she suspected me of lying about coming home at midnight rather than 3 am, she’d prod me that “honesty is the best policy.” If I complained about the unfairness of some punishment or adverse consequence – no doubt justly administered – she would declare, in an ominous tone, that “you reap what you sow.” It was as though the ghost of Ben Franklin had come to inhabit the form of a thirtysomething high school librarian in the Milwaukee suburbs. We’re both older now, but even today, a chat about spending habits and 401(k) plans might end with a raised finger and the admonition that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I’ve often thought a great idea for a toy would be a doll, modeled after my mother circa 1973, that would utter a different aphorism every time you pulled the string.

Mom and me, summer 1973

Among my mother’s top five tenets was “waste not, want not,” which I usually heard after she found me throwing out a moldy peach or discovering that I hadn’t eaten the chicken sandwich she’d packed me for lunch because I decided to spend my allowance on pizza instead. I made great sport of this back in the day, but she was right. When it comes to food preparation, you should find a way to use everything, and to avoid waste. Trim goes into sauces, pasta, and soup; bones go into stock; fat converted to a frying or poaching medium. Which brings me to the pig. As you know, I went hogging a little while back and picked up various cuts of the raw ibérico de bellota pork product. The hallmark of the ibérico pork is its clean, sweet fat, and the belly was an unbelievable example of this lardiness. Only the day before, at WholeFoods, I’d picked up a couple of pounds of what seemed to me unusually thick Niman Ranch belly, the meat interspersed with layers of creamy fat. At the time, it seemed like a pretty awesome piece of meat (and truthfully, it is a enough nice belly). The meat embedded in the ibérico belly was the same maroon as in jamón, though, and the fat cap twice as thick. When I got home, I put them side by side.

Side by side: Ibérico belly compared to an actually very nice Niman Ranch belly. LOOK AT THE FAT.

Side by side color comparison.

I trimmed the bellies into two squared-off pieces and froze one. The fat from one I expect will make some superb lardo in the near future. I cured the other in the manner of bacon. Sliced and fried until crisp, the ibérico bacon joined some heirloom tomatoes and avocado in the best BLT ever.

Best BLT and chips EVER

The potential for waste in this process was pretty high. Turning pork belly into crispy bacon means leaving behind trim (before cooking) and melted fat (after cooking). In fact, being mostly fat, about 1 1/4 lbs of ibérico bacon yielded about a quart of clear, clean-tasting fat after cooking. Rather than waste the fat, I used it to fry paper-thin slices of russet potato, seasoned with white truffle salt. And rather than tossing out the trim, I diced it and incorporated it into a surprisingly quick yeast bread.

Note: I bought the raw ibérico product at Wagshal’s Market in DC. You can buy via mail order through their Ibérico USA site, or through La Tienda.

Ibérico bacon

Do yourself a favor and use a kitchen scale. I’ve provided approximate dry measurements, but you’re better off weighing everything. Generally, I like to smoke the bacon (or use a smoked salt or pimentón to lend the same smoky taste), but in the case of the ibérico belly, I think it’s best to let the taste of the fat stand on its own.

4 lbs (~2 kg) ibérico pork belly, skin removed (reserve for chicharron or something)
100 g kosher salt (2/3 c)
50 g granulated sugar (1/2 c)
5 g TCM (about 1/2 tbsp)
2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 sprigs thyme, washed and dried
4 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled

Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly. Dredge the pork belly to coat on all sides. Press the thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and crumbled bay evenly to coat.

Place in a large (2 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. Double bag. Press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. Place the bag in a stainless steel pan (or other large, flat) container and refrigerate for about ten days. Every day, turn the bag over and redistribute the cure evenly over the surfaces of the pork. Touch the pork each day to feel its firmness.

After about ten days, the pork should feel firmer and there should be more liquid in the bag as the salt has penetrated the meat. Once the pork feels fairly firm/rigid, remove the pork from the bag, discard the cure, and rinse thoroughly. More curing time is not better in terms of curing since your belly just gets saltier and saltier. Once it’s firm, take it out.

Preheat an oven to 180F/83C. Place the bacon on a rack over a sheet pan and roast for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours (depending on thickness) until it reaches an internal temperature of 140F. Chill promptly and refrigerate up to three days before use; otherwise, freeze.

Sliced up.

Potato chips

Unless you cook a lot of the bacon at once (say two pounds or more), you’ll need to save it up in the refrigerator or supplement it with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or rice bran oil, for frying. Use something with a high smoke point whose taste won’t compete with the ibérico’s flavor. Fry the potatoes in batches and don’t try to fry too many at once; if the temperature of the oil drops too much, the chips will be greasy.

Don’t be tempted to fry at too high a temperature (over 350F/176C); the oil will break down (rancidify) more quickly, and what’s more, your chips will burn. You can slice potatoes into cold water, soak, and rinse to remove some of the surface starch first, but I’ve never found this a necessary first step. Instead, I slice using a handheld benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil.

one very large russet potato, washed well and dried
2 quarts fat rendered from ibérico bacon, strained (or as much fat as you have, plus enough grapeseed or rice bran oil to supplement)
fine salt, such as popcorn salt

Place a rack over a baking sheet and line with a double thickness of paper towels. Place a deep but not wide pan containing the fat over medium high heat, with a frying thermometer. The oil should not fill the pan more than halfway. Heat to 345F/174C. Slice using a benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil, being sure not to crowd the pan. You should slice about 1/8 of the potato in each batch.

Russets frying in iberico fat.

Adjust the heat upward if necessary to keep the temperature from falling below 285F/140C (and be sure to lower it again if necessary to keep it from rising above 350F/176C). Using a spder-type skimmer, move the potatoes around in the oil to ensure that they remain separate.

Fry until the potato chips are crisp (not soft) and light golden. Remove with the skimmer and drain on the paper towels. Season with salt (I like a white truffle salt). You also can try adding some flavors – I sometimes like combining a fine salt with powdered malt vinegar, for a salt and vinegar potato chip, .

Chips fried in iberico fat.

Ibérico ring bread

The bread dough for this recipe isn’t mine; it comes straight from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible. This is her recipe for prosciutto ring bread, substituting diced ibérico bacon for the prosciutto. Amazingly, this bread goes from raw ingredients to finished product in two and a half to three hours, meaning that it’s possible to make it on a weeknight.

Because the diced ibérico bacon is far oilier than prosciutto, you will have to incorporate it by hand rather than using a machine.

I’ve made this using both barley malt powder and barley malt syrup. I highly recommend using the powder. You will not be able to stop eating this bread once it comes out of the oven. After the first day, toast it. There’s no need for butter or any additional fat – the ibérico bacon makes the bread very rich – but if you like, a fig jam would complement the pork perfectly.

340g AP or bread flour
10g barley malt powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp instant yeast (just shy of 1 tsp active dry yeast)
3/4 tsp salt
1 c water, 90F
1/2 lb trimmings from ibérico bacon, about 50% meat/50% fat more or less, diced 1/4″
2 tbsp melted ibérico fat

450F/232C oven, with baking stones or an upturned large cast iron pan.

Whisk together the flour, yeast, pepper, and barley malt. When combined well, whisk in the salt. Add the water and mix, using the dough hook, on a stand mixer, or with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand or in the mixer for about ten minutes on a medium-low setting, until the dough is smooth and springs back slowly when depressed.

Turn out onto a board, stretch out slightly, and spread the diced bacon on the surface. Roll up and form into a ball. Dust with flour and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Rest for about 20 minutes or so.

Roll the dough into a rope about 18″ long. Form into a ring, tucking the ends together. Transfer to a silpat-lined sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and rise for about 90 minutes to 2 hours in a warmish room until doubled.

Load the sheet pan onto the baking stones and throw a cup of ice onto the oven floor. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until deep golden brown on the outside. The loaf should be hollow inside when tapped, about 190F.

Cool on a rack.

See how it's studded with bacon

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Pork Products, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Spain

Uncanny.

I’ll stipulate that, when I travel, I like to buy stuff and bring it home. Some people like T-shirts and liquor; a long-ago secretary collected little souvenir spoons; an attorney on my staff favors novelty socks. When I was younger, I used to memorialize my trips abroad with the typical duty free booty – Hermès eau de cologne: check. Two liters of whisky: check. Giant bar of Toblerone: check. Boring!

Eventually, I realized I was failing to capitalize on foreign markets running out my exemption with discount Glenmorangie and enlarged chocolate bars, and, on a 1995 trip to Madrid and Córdoba, changed things up with a visit to the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés. For those of you who don’t know, I am a great big supermarket junkie. When I travel, I insist on visiting the supermarket. Not that I don’t love the kind of market that’s been taking place once a week in the town square under a bunch of big stripey tents since the seventeenth century, but I’m actually more interested in finding out how people really shop in other countries. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I dragged him into a Carrefour near Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on our way to catch the local bus to the beach. After an hour inside surveying the goods during peak tanning hours, Nat was justly annoyed. Now, of course, he takes it as a matter of course that a trip abroad means doing time in one or more local supermarkets, preferably with a backpack. See? Marriage is all about flexibility.

Anyway, on returning to Minneapolis, I learned that my luggage had been lost. A day passed, and then a week, at which point I gave up on recovering the sacks of Marcona almonds, maíz gigante, Bomba rice, and packets of squid ink, not to mention certain favored articles of clothing and a list, made poolside and fueled by leisure and cocktails, ranking the best 50 episodes of the Simpsons in order of various criteria. In early June, more than three weeks after my return and by the time my Spanish tan had started to fade, my office phone rang. Northwest had located my bag. Would I prefer to receive it at home or at my office? When it arrived two hours later, the black wheel-aboard showed no signs of its exciting detour to Antananarivo (!), where I imagined it sitting at the end of an outdoor jetway for weeks, warmed by the Madagascar sun, lonely and stuffed with unclaimed Spanish bounty. And when I opened the bag, everything was intact.

On our most recent visit to Spain, last September – just one night in Barcelona transiting between Languedoc and London – we made a quick visit to the supermercado and filled up a backpack with treats like big cans of pimentón, olive oils, tinned pulpo (octopus), berberechos (cockles), navajas (razor clams) and chipirones (baby squid), various Spanish beans. Recently, after a quest for fresh octopus ended in failure, I remembered the tinned product in the pantry. Mostly I eat the tinned souvenirs as a snack in my office, but here was a good time to find out: could cooking make these canned products more, uh, uncanny?

Barcelona shopping haul.

The answer is yes. The pulpo became part of a play on the classic pork and shellfish combination, with house-made chorizo meatballs and sweet pickled green tomato. The chipirones joined other Spanish imports from the trip – Calasparra rice and squid ink – as well as an egg-cooking technique I picked up at the outstanding Hisop a few years ago.

Pulpo.

Octopus, chorizo, sweet tomato pickle

Obviously, if you can find fresh octopus, use that instead. I couldn’t in Baltimore, which surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Yesterday, I came upon fresh baby octopus at the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, but, you know, too little too late.

Unlike the true Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation, this sausage will be made and eaten fresh. To simulate the tang of the fermentation, this chorizo includes a small amount of sherry vinegar. The recipe makes about twice what you will need; freeze the rest, tightly sealed, or use it to stuff casings.

Chorizo:

1 lb fatty pork shoulder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pimentón de la vera agriculce
1 tsp pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
3 cloves garlic
6 cloves garlic confit
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, garlic, and garlic confit with all the seasoning except the vinegar, 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.

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, seasonings if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible and toss with the sherry vinegar.

Sweet tomato pickle:

2 lbs (about 3 large) green (unripe) tomatoes
1/2 lb (about 1 medium) yellow onion
1/3 lb (about 1 medium) red bell pepper
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds

Dice the tomatoes, peel and dice the onion, and seed, peel, and dice the pepper, all to about 1/4″. Combine with all other ingredients in a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer and stir, dissolving the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables have softened, given up their liquid, and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (the green tomato will be translucent as well). You should have a little less than two pints (4 c). If you like, can the pickle in a sterilized jars in a hot water bath. Otherwise, refrigerate and use within about a month.

Green tomato pickle.

To assemble:
contents of two tins of octopus in olive oil, drained

Put away half the chorizo for another use. Pinch off teaspoon-sized bits of the remaining chorizo and roll into balls. Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and fry on all sides until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the pan; increase the heat slightly. Add the octopus and fry quickly on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the green tomato pickle.

[sorry – no photo. The whole thing got eaten before I could get there]

Xipirones, arròs negre

Baby squid with black rice. You wouldn’t believe how tender and delicious the baby squid were in Barcelona. I haven’t been able to find such small squid here – about 1 1/2″ long in the body – nor anything as mild. So I always bring it back in cans. Not the same, but it’s pretty good – the Spanish have a way with canned shellfish.

Xipirones.

The rice, pimentón, and squid ink in this dish also are souvenirs of our last trip to Spain. Choose a Spanish short-grained rice, if you can – I used Calasparra rice, because I had an open bag, but Bomba is even nicer – its grain absorb more liquid and become plumper on cooking. If you can’t, use Arborio – it’s far easier to find. I used a pork stock to cook the rice because I like the savory quality it imparts to the dish – seafood stock is far too fishy, I think, especially once you add the squid ink.

The egg preparation is a straight rip-off of a great component I had at Hisop in Barcelona, and is awesome because frankly, poached egg white is more of a bland nuisance than a welcome addition to any dish. This preparation can be difficult to pull off because the yolk is delicate and breaks easily when poached without the white, so you should have a couple of extra eggs handy. If you don’t want to make the two-part egg component, just poach or fry the egg. You want a runny yolk.

two tins chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink), or substitute 1/2 lb squid cut into 1/4″ rings and tentacles
1 small onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp pimentón
1 1/2 c Calasparra rice
2/3 c dry white wine
2 packets squid ink
4 c pork stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf

4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp panko
olive oil

Place a 12″ skillet (or the largest skillet available) over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil. Pour the egg white into the pan and tilt quickly to coat the bottom of the pan evenly and thinly. Fry until crisp and golden, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning. When the egg white is crisp, flip the entire egg white over and cook until golden on the other side. Turn it out onto a cutting board and mince. Return to the hot pan, adding a little extra oil if necessary, and add the panko. Fry until everything is golden brown. Set aside.

Place a saucepot holding the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat. Place a sauteuse over medium heat, and when hot add a little olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the pimentón and the rice and sauté, stirring, until the rice is coated well with oil and barely toasted (it shouldn’t take on any color). Add the thyme and bay. Add the wine and squid ink and stir well, evenly distributing the ink, until the wine is absorbed. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring until absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked al dente. Add the squid to the pot and one final ladle of stock, heating through the squid and leaving the rice moist. Remove the thyme and bay.

Poach the egg yolks and drain on clean kitchen towels (be careful with this step; it is difficult to poach egg yolks without puncturing them).

Plate the arròs negre, top with the egg yolk, and a generous amount of the egg white/panko crumbs. When punctured, the runny yolk makes a great sauce to stir into the rice.

Arròs negre, xipirones.

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Garniture, Pork Products, Quick Meals, Vegetables

Under pressure.

When I was a kid, my mom had a pressure cooker. If you were born before 1975, your mom probably used one as well. Beans that normally take hours on the stove were tender in less than half an hour; tough, inexpensive cuts of meat could be shredded with a fork in an equally short time. Convenient, right? And economical. So why did pressure cookers disappear from the scene?

Truthfully, they never did. Pressure cookers developed an unfortunate reputation for riskiness, as tales of exploding vessels and steam injuries found their way to cooks’ ears. The construction of early pressure cookers was to blame – although most never failed, they did rely on a single valve and a metal weight – usually called the rocker or jiggler – to relieve excess steam pressure, and lacked redundant safety features like locking lids and additional valves. Even when used correctly, they tended to be noisy – the steam whistled through the valve as the rocker’s weight clanked against the cooker lid.

Pressure cooking is back, though, and manufacturers have improved the safety features, significantly reducing the likelihood of an explosion. My pressure cooker, manufactured by All American, features two vents, as well as a lid that clamps shut at six points, and also locks by twisting. The pressure and temperature indicator permits relatively accurate pressure monitoring. How does it work? Water vapor pressure buildup. With the lid firmly clamped in place and sealed with a gasket or other mechanism, the vessel – filled with the food to be cooked and a sufficient quantity of liquid – is heated. Because the lid is clamped shut and sealed with a gasket against the vessel, steam cannot escape through the margin between the lid and the vessel, and builds up inside as the liquid boils. As the pressure increases within the vessel, so does the boiling point (the temperature at which water passes from the liquid to the gaseous phase). At sea level, at the maximum recommended safe pressure for most pressure cookers – 15 psi – water boils at 122C (252F). Collagen breakdown for tough cuts of meat takes place quickly at this temperature, as does carbohydrate and fiber breakdown for hard items such as beans.

The time savings?About 70% from conventional cooking times. Pressure cooking makes weekday braised possible. The braised pork shank with buttery celeriac purée below took an hour and fifteen minutes, including prep time; a stew would have taken about 30-45.

While pressure cooking the shanks, make the purée. Then quick pickle some red onions to add crunch and bite to the dish. Using a vacuum sealer, you can pickle the onions in minutes. The vacuum process removes air from the onion cells – when the vacuum is released, the brine rushes in to fill those spaces.

Braised shanks

2 pork shanks or lower arm cuts from just above the joint
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal (1/2″)
2 celery stalks, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced (1/2″)
Bay leaf
Several sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 c dry white wine
4 c chicken stock (unsalted broth is ok)
olive oil
salt

Place pressure cooker over medium heat; when hot, add olive oil to film pan. Season shanks on meaty ends with salt and brown on both meaty sides. Remove and hold; add mirepoix to the pan and sauté until vegetables take on a little golden brown color; season with salt and add wine. Reduce by 2/3 and add stock and herbs.

Place rack in pressure cooker and set shanks on top. Secure the lid, bring to 15 psi, and cook 45 minutes. Turn off heat and when fully depressurized, remove lid. Remove shanks and set aside. Strain braising liquid through chinois into a smaller pan and defat. Reduce to the consistency of a thin sauce.

[Note: if you are not using a pressure cooker, set the oven to 250F and use a large, deep vessel with a lid to perform all steps up to the point of placing the rack in a pressure cooker. Bring the stock/mirepoix mixture to a simmer, return the shanks to the vessel, cover with a lid or a parchment lid, and place in the oven to braise for about 4 hours. Then continue with straining and reducing the liquid.]

Meanwhile, separate meat from skin/fat (reserve for another use) and divide into large chunks.

Buttery celeriac purée

Keeping the celeriac in acidulated water as soon as you cut it keeps the purée snow white.

2 medium celeriac
1 lemon, juiced (reserve halves)
2 tsp white wine vinegar, plus more if necessary
3 oz butter or so (depending on celeriac size), divided
salt and white pepper (use both kosher salt and celery salt)

Add the lemon juice to 3 quarts of water. Peel the celeriac and rub with lemon halves – dice 1″ and immediately drop dice into acidulated water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender. Drain.

Combine the celeriac, half the butter, and the vinegar in a Vitaprep or blender. Blitz until the celeriac is smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary, and add more butter by bits to improve the texture. Pass through a tamis if necessary (although the puree should be smooth enough and very light if you use the vitaprep and this step should be unnecessary). Season with salt and blitz to combine; taste and adjust with additional vinegar if necessary.

Onion pickle

Because this is a flash pickle, I used a stronger brine than is usual, reversing the water to acid ratio. This pickle is meant to be consumed fresh, not held for storage.

Red onion, peeled and sliced thinly, pole to pole
3 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp coriander seeds, cracked

Combine salt, sugar, and coriander seeds with 1 tbsp water and heat to dissolve salt and sugar. Off heat, add to remaining vinegar. Place onions in a foodsafe plastic bag (eg as for Foodsaver) and add half the vinegar mixture and coriander.

Vacuum the onions in a chamber vacuum sealer (or using a home vacuum sealer on the “liquid” setting, if available). If you see bubbles emerging from the onions (unlikely using the home sealer), wait until the bubbles stop; otherwise, wait several minutes before cutting open the bag.

To assemble

Place a large spoonful of celeriac puree in the center of a plate or shallow bowl. Arrange several chunks of pork shank, garnish with onion pickle and some bitter greens (watercress or arugula), or celery salad.

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Latin, Leftover Recycling, Pork Products, Quick Meals

Recycling is good, part 4.

If you’ve been following the saga of the ham, you must know that, after eating the roasted fresh ham, making a quick ragù with some of the leftovers, and a pork noodle soup with some more, I still have several pounds of roast pork in the freezer. As it happens, I also have an avocado and some limes I need to use before we leave town for the New Year holiday – and that, to me, says Mexican.

“Enchilada” means “to have added chile pepper [to it]” – and enchiladas, found throughout much of Central America, generally are corn tortillas stuffed with a cooked filling, and enrobed in a chile sauce. Sometimes the chile sauce contains tomatoes; sometimes it contains tomatillos; sometimes it contains only chiles. According to Rick Bayless, in their earliest incarnation, enchiladas merely were corn tortillas, often fried in oil, dipped in the chile sauce. When you bake the rolled and filled tortillas in the chile sauce, they become soft, like filled pasta.

Feel free to vary the filling – you can use another protein (if you’re looking to use a vegetable protein, I don’t recommend tofu as it is too moist, but seitan will work and so will cooked beans), or fill the enchiladas with sautéed vegetables, such as onions, green chiles, huitlacoche, and corn. Using a variety of chiles adds complexity, but you need not use these particular chiles – even a couple of canned chipotles with a tablespoon or so of adobo sauce will add rich flavor.

Quick enchiladas

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced pole to pole
1 lb roast pork (or any other suitable protein), diced 1/4″
salt
8 corn or flour tortillas

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes
dried ancho, pasilla, guajillo, chipotle, and/or New Mexico chiles OR several fresh green chiles
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

optional – 1 c grated asadero cheese (you can substitute parmesan or another aged grating cheese)
cilantro
limes, cut into wedges
sliced avocado

Oven 375F

If using whole chiles, toast in a dry pan until just fragrant and then grind (in a spice grinder) to a powder. If using fresh chiles, hold with tongs over an open gas flame on the stovetop and blacken the skin; transfer to a paper bag to steam for several minutes before removing the stem and skin.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and add the onion; reduce the heat to medium low; sauté until the onions are translucent and begin to color. Add the diced pork and sauté until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Place a sauce pot over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and add the onion; reduce the heat to medium low; sauté the onions and garlic, and, once translucent and beginning to color, add the ground or diced fresh chiles, and sauté a minute more until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and simmer about 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth; season with salt and pepper to taste.

If using corn tortillas, brush each with vegetable oil and spread onto a sheet pan; place in the hot oven and bake until just pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven. If using flour tortillas, you may omit this step.

Spread about 1/2 c sauce in the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Spread about 1/8 of the onion-pork filling lengthwise down the center of a tortilla and roll tightly. Place in the baking dish. Repeat, placing the filled tortillas side by side. Ladle the remaining sauce over the top of the filled tortillas (or most of the sauce; you may have more than you need). Sprinkle cheese, if using it, over the top. Bake until hot through – about 20 minutes.

Serve with garnishes.

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East Asian, Leftover Recycling, Pork Products, Quick Meals

Recycling is good, part 3.

I’m not going to lie to you. I still have a lot of pork left over from hamming it up a couple weeks ago. So far, we’ve eaten it roasted, and in a quick ragù. It’s been snowing all day – I think Baltimore got over a foot and it’s still coming down – and a steaming bowl of noodle soup sounds like the perfect low-effort dinner for a cold night.

Make the soup base, and then warm the pork by poaching it in the soup. Meanwhile, cook the noodles and prep the green vegetables. Almost any greens will do – if you don’t have bok choy or yu choy handy, but you’ve got spinach, that’s just fine. And if you don’t have Chinese wheat noodles (la
mian
), which I used because that’s what I had, use a different noodle.

A word about accompaniments in Chinese cuisine – there’s a lot more to finishing noodle soups and other dishes than soy sauce and chile oil. Briny, savory, pungent flavors, especially from fermented or dried seafood, are characteristic. Condiments such as XO sauce and sa-cha sauce, based on dried scallop or shrimp, and preserved or pickled vegetables, often are added to the finished dish.

pork, la mian, shiitakes, yu choy

Noodle soup with pork and greens

1 lb leftover roast pork, from preceding recipe or any other neutrally-seasoned roast pork recipe, in a chunk
6 c Chinese chicken stock, made as specified below, or 3 c store-bought chicken broth and 3 c filtered water
1 3-inch piece of ginger, halved lengthwise (4-inches if using store-bought chicken broth)
3 cloves garlic, smashed (5 if using store-bought chicken broth)
2 scallions, cut in 2-inch lengths
1/4 c soy sauce
3 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 1-inch chunk yellow rock sugar, or 2 tbsp sugar
1 star anise

12 ounces wheat noodles (la mian)
1 lb leafy green vegetables, including without limitation bok choy, yu choy, choy sum, Chinese broccoli
4 dried shiitake mushrooms

Garniture:
2 scallions, sliced thinly into rings
Chile-garlic sauce
Toasted (black) sesame oil
Sa-cha sauce (such as Bull’s Head)

Place a deep pot over medium heat and add a small quantity of vegetable/canola oil. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and sauté until aromatic. Reduce the heat to low, and add the water or chicken stock, the Shaoxing wine and soy sauce, star anise, and the pork. Bring to a simmer and do not allow to boil.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook the greens until just crisp-tender. Remove from the pot with a skimmer or slotted spoon, return the water to the boil, and cook the noodles.

Drain the noodles, rinse, and immediately divide into a number of bowls (4-6 depending on hunger level). Just before serving, when noodles and greens are cooked, add the dried shiitakes to the broth/pork and cook until tender; remove and cut off the woody stem; slice thinly. Remove the pork and slice thinly across the grain. Add greens, sliced pork, sliced mushroms, and broth, ladled through a chinois, bouillon strainer, or a fine mesh sieve.

Garnish with scallions, red chile, sesame oil, and sa-cha sauce.

Chinese chicken stock

Do you make a lot of Chinese noodle soups? If so, consider making and freezing a Chinese chicken stock. The process is considerably less complex than classic French stockmaking.

5 lbs chicken wings, backs, necks (or other spare parts)
1 4-inch piece ginger, sliced
4 scallions, sliced into 3-inch segments
several white peppercorns
6 quarts cold filtered water

Bring the ingredients just to a boil and skim continuously. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, cover, and simmer for 3 hours. Strain through a chinois, use or chill down immediately, and store unused portion in refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for several months.

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