Perfectly crispy roasted pork belly

Pork belly is showing up in the supermarkets now! Cooked like this is is a luscious meal!

The less common parts of the beast

As you’ve seen in my posts on offal before, there are edible parts of the animal that you won’t find in the supermarket–Americans seem to focus on only the really choice (not referring to USDA grading here) parts of the animal–like steaks and roasts.  We relegate  some really tasty parts to pet food (not that I don’t love the cat–I’ll share).

If you want to sample some of these tasty bits,  you’ll  need a local supplier who butchers their own animals or you can likely find some of these other edible parts in an Hispanic or Asian market, though I’ve noticed that pork belly has been showing up in the meat case at my local Harris Teeter recently.

For cooking instruction for the odd bits, some of my favorite cookbooks for this “nose-to-tail” or “everything but the oink” eating are by Fergus Henderson and Jennifer McLagen. See Bibliography page.

This really isn’t offal–it’s not an internal organ, but it is part of the beast that we don’t usually cook (except as bacon), kind of like jowels or cheeks.  For some really luscious pork, you should try pork belly.  This is going to be more like what you’d get if you attend a “pig pickin'”, rather than the usual pork roast that shows up on the dinner table.  If these pictures from Eat the Earth don’t have you drooling on your keyboard, I can’t imagine what will.

The method used there was from Jamie Oliver.com; here is a recipe for roast pork belly.  This is serious comfort food–and it’s good to be able to get this without having to wait for an occasion where the whole pig has been cooked. Now that you’re acquainted with “less common” parts of the beast you should check out true offal: heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and even the stomach and intestines. (Frankly, I have cooked and eaten tripe (stomach) and chitterlings (intestines), and probably will not ever cook those two bit of offal again–unless it’s the intestines as the casing of sausages.  That’s a whole different thing.  I’ll happily have a go at most of the other organs.

Since I’ve an easy supply of offal from Rose’s Meat and Sweet Market and a large Li Ming’s Global Mart (Asian) I’ve no problem getting the odd bits–like duck gizzards–so there will be more about offal as we go along.

More pork and cabbage

prok butt country ribs IMG_6075

country-style ribs

Yes, more pork and cabbage.

I think pork is a really versatile meat, and cabbage an under-utilized vegetable.  So, more!

My local Harris Teeter had a special on pork country-style ribs recently–about half the usual price. (Not the price in that picture–less.)  Needless to say,  a big package of country-style ribs came home with me.  The weather has still been cool enough to have braises and stews–cool-weather dishes, so I though I would make braised pork and cabbage since that reheats well, and freezes well.

I was planning to do the Caribbean spiced one from Jacques Pepin’s book, but my plans were altered by the arrival of a manuscript for indexing. After looking at the manuscript, I decided that I needed to get started on that right away to be sure I could meet the deadlines–it’s very dense and intense, and brings out my OCD tendencies–so I opted for a braised pork that I could put together really quickly–in other words, improvisation.

one-pot meal in the making

potatoes and cabbage

I wanted to turn this into a one-pot, one-plate meal, so I put potatoes right in with the pork and cabbage.  I looked at the amount of pork and decided that it needed a whole large head of cabbage. I eye-balled what I thought would be a serving of potatoes with each serving of pork and cabbage, and popped those right in with the cabbage–scrubbed, unpeeled, and cut only if they were large. In this case I used “regular” green cabbage, instead of savoy. I sprinkled some salt over the layers of cabbage and potatoes.

I could have used a Dutch oven, but using a clay cooker let me take a few shortcuts to speed this up–including cooking a bit faster in the oven than had I used the Dutch oven and making it unnecessary to brown the ribs as a separate process before putting them into the pot. The meat will brown on the exposes surfaces while it cooks in the Römertopf since this is more roasting than braising, at least of the meat.

pork added to cabbage and potatoes

ready for seasoning

The Römertopf that I used (pre-soaked) for this was sized for 14 pounds (not that I had THAT much pork), but the quart sizing on these is misleading since it’s the capacity of the bottom (rather shallow).  I had a lot of pork, so I needed the head room here for all that meat. I put the pork over the cabbage and potatoes and seasoned it.

I used by “stand-by, go-to” when lazy seasoning–herbes de Provence because it’s such a great blend of flavors. (I really should have put some caraway seeds in with the Herbes De Provencecabbage, under the pork–that would have blended nicely with the herbes de Provence on the pork). I sprinkled the meat with kosher salt, herbes de Provence, and added some red pepper flakes (hot) for a little extra spice; my supper was now oven-ready.

So there’s not really a recipe here, but to summarize:

Ingredients

  • country-style pork ribs (each strip makes one very good serving)–this was about 6 servings based on the amount of meat
  • one large head of cabbage, depending on what you want the ratio of meat to vegetables (this was about 1:2 meat to cabbage since I wanted large serving of cabbage with the meat).

    IMG_7990

    oven ready Römertopf

  • Yukon Gold potatoes (4 small per serving) but adjust as desired
  • salt (about 1 tablespoon for the entire dish) \*
  • herbes de Provence  or other herbs, about 2 generous teaspoons
  • red pepper flakes, about 1 generous teaspoon, adjust as desired

Preparation

If you’re using a clay baker like the Römertopf or Schlemmertopf, you will need to soak in water for 15 to 30 before putting into the oven. DO NOT preheat oven–clay pots must go into a cold oven.

ready to eat!

ready to eat!

  • Chop cabbage into about 1/2 inch (3.5-4cm) pieces
  • Layer potatoes and cabbage into three layers; sprinkle salt over each layer)
  • Place country-style ribs on top of the cabbage and potatoes and sprinkle with salt and herbes de Provence
  • Cover with the pre-soaked top
  • Do not add liquid–there will be enough released during cooking
  • Place in cold oven, and set to 400°F (200°C)
  • Check after two hours–it’s likely ready to eat.

ÒνÓ

If you don’t have Römertopf or Schlemmertopf, you can do this in a Dutch oven. The recipe for braised pork and cabbage should give you the cooking times, liquid, and oven settings.  Just adjust the size of the pot to be appropriate for the amount of meat and cabbage. (It would have been just as tasty but more colorful had I used Red Bliss potatoes–but Yukon Golds where what was present in the kitchen!

IMG_8002

* A note on salting: I keep kosher salt in a salt pig by the stove so that I can just pinch-and-sprinkle. I estimate that I used about 1 tablespoon for this entire preparation. Just sprinkle salt evenly and lightly and you’ll be fine.

Pork butt steaks

One of the frustrations of cooking just for me is that some of the cuts of meat that I like best are typically way too big!  For example, one of my favorites is pork butt (also known as Boston butt).  Note that this does not refer to the location of the cut on the hog–but to the way it was processed and cut in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times in New England–it’s shoulder that was salted and packed in barrels (called butts).  History aside, it’s good eating no matter what you call it. Enough fat to be succulent, and great for BBQ–friends are always willing to help eat it, but that takes a long time to cook and it’s a LOT of meat, so I generally turn to other cuts.

I use  chops (both loin and shoulder) often. I mean, chops are wonderful–quick, tasty, good size for one, but they are not the only good part of the hog!  I’d rather have cuts other than the ubiquitous loin chops with so little fat that they can be dry if not cooked carefully–such as, a pork neck steak is great (even if hard to find).

Country Spare Ribs

country-style spare ribs

Most often I use country-style spare ribs (from the rib end of the loin), since these can be had in quantities suitable for one person–single-serving plus one for the freezer.  These work well for braised pork and cabbage, and in chilli con carne.

pork butt steak

pork butt steak

While skulking through the supermarket just the other day is was quite surprised to find a package of pork butt steaks lying there in the meat case. No hesitation on my part, they went right into my basket, and home with me, especially since they were on “manager’s special”, but not a problem since I was planning to cook them right away: maybe griddle one, and pop the others into the Romertopf after salting and seasoning with a little chilli powder and coriander.  No water needed to roast these in the Romertopf–but good broth when they come out.   I had one hot meal when they came out of the oven,  packed two more servings with broth for the freezer, and had some for the hot and sour soup.

Some good eating with very little effort on my part–and all very inexpensively!

Posole

There is one good thing about having to hike out to the dumpster with the trash, especially when you’re cooking something.  If you stay in the kitchen too long you olfactory sense habituates to the aromas.  Take out the trash and you get a great new olfactory preview when you get walk back into the kitchen–especially if you spend a bit of time chatting with the neighbor who is also taking out the trash.

This cold weather has me cooking stew-y sorts of things.  A friend sent me a care package from New Mexico recently: blue and white corn with a recipe for making posole (or pozole, if you’d rather). Today was the day, since I was organized enough to remember to soak the dried corn overnight.  By the time I had sauteed everything, browned the pork, onions, garlic, added the oregano (had to do Turkish rather than Mexican until I do another Penzeys order), and the chilli pods I wasn’t fully appreciating the aroma of the cooking. I popped the covered dutch oven into the oven and took– out the trash.

When I opened the door and walked into the living room, I was definitely getting a fresh sensation: the browned pork, the oregano, the chillis–this smells like warmth and comfort on a cold day!

White Corn Posole

This is the recipe that came with the package of Los Chileros de Neuva Mexico package of white corn posole. I more or less followed the recipe–

Ingredients

  • 6-8 chile pods
  • 2 pounds cubed pork (or beef)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of salt.

Preparation & assembly

  • Soak the posole (12 ounces) in water to cover overnight.
  • Boil the posole in salted water for about 2 hours.
  • Add meat, chilli pods, oregano and garlic.
  • Cover and simmer for another hour or until the posole is tender, stirring occasionally.

<>\/<>

My first deviation from the recipe was to brown the pork (in a little bacon fat) before adding the liquid and the other ingredients. My second deviation was to use 4 chilli pods (ancho and guajillo) and then about 2 teaspoons of Hatch chilli powder.  I had tasted before adding the chilli powder–and it’s wasn’t spicy enough. I’ll see what it’s like when I reheat it. My other deviation was to add way more garlic.

I’d looked at other recipes for posole online, and found lots of recipes calling for other ingredients–cumin, coriander, and even tomatoes. I decided to start with this simple, rather a straightforward one for my first try at posole.

I really think that Mexican oregano is a must–the Turkish just isn’t quite right here–it’s sweeter than the Mexican to my taste and would fit better with the corn flavor. I’m likely to add some cumin and coriander next time around as well. I may add onions (caramelized) as well. It’s a recipe in evolution now. I think a little more “brown” in the flavor would be good, as well as some smoke from either chipotle peppers or from pimentón–but definitely Mexican oregano next time. I used water here and not pork stock, but I think that pork stock would be tastier–especially if the bones/meat were browned before making the stock.

Even though this is a simple soup/stew, a bowl of this is very satisfying on a cold day when you need warmth and a full tummy!

My friend also sent blue corn–which I’ve only had in tortilla chips, so it will be interesting to see how that compares to the white. I do suppose you could make this with canned hominy, but this seems to have more corn flavor that I remember from canned hominy. I’m going to enjoy trying out different seasonings here.

For real pork lovers

Sometimes I’m a little slow on finding out about new food things in Durham–e.g. Rose’s Meat and Sweet Shop. They’ve been open for about six months and I just recently got there.  I guess I was so slow to find this because I’ve been buried in end-of-term grading, and a couple different indexes, but I’ll certainly be back frequently.

If you’re one of those people who think that pork can’t be eaten if it’s still pink, and if you’re one of those people who carefully cut every last itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny, tiny bit of fat off you meat, then you might as well stop reading right here because from here on you only comments and thoughts will probably be icky, yuck, and things of that nature; but before you leave, you should certainly check out Rose’s website if you’re in Durham.They have sausages, bacon (dry cured), stock, lard, and offal at various times, depending on when they’ve just  butchered.  (You should definitely peruse the sweets and menu items while you’re there, too–not just the meats.)

It’s not a huge quantity of meat that you’ll see  in the case, but top quality meat, and some unusual cuts that you won’t find in the supermarket.  My “find” on my first visit (in addition to the little chocolate hazelnut tarts and the chocolate wafers) was a pork neck steak–something I’d never seen offered for sale before. Needless to say, my love of pork and my curiosity got the best of me and I brought home neck steak.

When I got my pork neck steak home, I headed for the computer to do a little searching.  I don’t think I’ve seen a recipe for this cut of pork in any of the many cookbooks that I have–even the meat cookbooks.  I guess it’s not a cut that is used frequently.

The first thing I learned was that it’s also called a neck fillet as well.  One of the first places I found information was at Eat to Blog. Donny Tsang’s post on pork neck fillet referenced Jamie Oliver’s method of cooking the cut and had good comments about it. So where else would I go?   Right straight to Jamie Oliver.com for his recipe.

photograph of pork neck fillet from jamieoliver.com

I did as the post on Eat to Blog, leaving out the sage and the lemon because I just wanted to get a feel for the pork itself. It was easy to cook: very, very hot cast iron griddle (which practically lives on my stove) for two minutes on each side, and then turn at one-minute intervals until it has cooked a total of 8 minutes.

The result? Absolutely marvelous! Of course I started with top quality pasture-raised pork that had  enough fat for great flavor and juiciness. With the fat in this cut, it’s very rich.  I did use a squeeze of lemon to brighten and cut a bit of the richness.

Caveats for cooking this on a cast iron griddle or skillet: you’re going to have smoke–but it’s worth it.   I had to take the smoke/CO alarm outside while I cooked this–and I’ll take it out next time, too, because I’ll definitely be cooking this again.  Admittedly it’s not something you are going to eat every day–so I figure I can allow the fat that comes with it. Cutting fat off is not an option because the meat is well-marbled, and fat is interspersed between muscles; besides that, if you’re going to cut off all the fat, you might as well buy a loin chop! We’re after some great flavor here. I think I’ll try the sage next time, but just plain, finished with a little fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel it was wonderful.

(Ok, I’ll also confess to using lard in some things when I cook–and I so pleased that Rose’s has lard–now I don’t have to scrounge for fat back and render my own.)

NOTE: I’ve unabashedly gotten this photo from Jamie Oliver’s website (caption is a link to his website) but I’ll have to say that mine looked just as good as this one–and the flavor was right up there with the looks.

A son goût!

A pork and kale braise

It’s been chilly, cloudy, and grey–just the kind of weather for soups, stews, and braises. It’s also time to get the freezer stocked with some quick, easy food as I’ve got indexing projects coming in–some while I’m still teaching this Fall term.  With lots of grading to do as well, I wanted something that would take care of itself while I worked–so out comes the all-purpose “rice” cooker for some slow-cooked food.

I’m a great fan of pork almost any way you fix it so when I found a package of boneless pork ribs–just the ticket for the slow-cooker–while I was doing my grocery shopping on Thursday it obviously went into the cart. Big package, but on special, so it came home with me to make a lazy meal, and some to go into the freezer for quick meals when I’m really busy, or when I need comforting, peasant-style food. Can’t pass up inexpensive on something I really like.

Braised pork and kale from the slow-cooker

Ingredients

  • boneless pork spare ribs, about 2 pounds
  • 1 packaged of frozen, chopped onions
  • chopped kale, one frozen “family” pack
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of Hatch chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, adjust to taste as needed when cooking is finished

Preparation and cooking

  • cut pork into about 2-inch pieces
  • add half package of kale and onions, mixing
  • layer in pork, sprinkle with salt, chili powder
  • add remaining kale and onions
  • add fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
  • close the lid and set for 8 hours
  • shred pork using two forks (if desired)
  • check seasoning and adjust as necessary.

No, no pictures as  this is NOT a photogenic dish, but it sure is tasty! And there’s certainly nothing like complicated technique involved here.

Great served with a side of spicy black beans, or garbanzo beans, or just a big bowl on its own. This particular time I had a roasted winter squash as a side with it. (Now, to turn the rest of the winter squash into another meal–maybe stuffed with some Sicilian sausage that also went into the grocery cart.)

There was more liquid than I had anticipated when this was finished cooking, so after packing some in zipper-lock bags to go into the freezer (with SOME juice), the extra juice with some kale and some shredded pork is going to turn into soup–details will evolve when it’s used–but that’s an additional meal out of that pack of spare ribs!

Cucumber mango salad

Photograph of 7 mangoes in case with PLU stickers

mangoes

Yesterday I had a minor food crisis–fruit overload.  I went to Costco (for cat food and laundry detergent) but while walking past the huge stacks of produce I smelled first peaches, and then pears–and then there were the mangoes. The difficult decision was pears or peaches, and/or mangoes.  The pears won over peaches though the peaches smelled as good as the pears, but the price was such that I brought both mangoes and pears home with me. Both were much more reasonably priced than in the supermarket. So it was a no-brainer–I eat all the pears and mangoes that I want and share some with friends and I’m still ahead on the cost. (The pears were absolutely luscious–every bit as good as they actually smelled!)

bartlett pears in case (from costco)

Bartlett pears

That quantity of fruit does have you looking for some things to do other than just eat it out-of-hand.  I had some mangoes that needed to be used; I had eaten lots and shared some, but I needed to eat some more! (Not that eating big, juicy, ripe mangoes is really any hardship.) Saved by inspiration that struck when I started smelling my supper cooking.

I was roasting some pork (on which I’d used a dry adobo seasoning rub given to me by a friend as a birthday present)–just a single big meaty spare rib for supper. This was one that was extra from making the chili con carne--simply would not fit in the pot so it became a small pork roast for one with just a tad left over.

I couldn’t think what to have with it until I smelled the roasting pork with the spicy adobo seasoning, something said “sweet and cool”–I thought of mangoes and cucumbers (which were sitting right there in the refrigerator just waiting to be used).

Not being particularly inspired about what to do with these two things, I headed for my laptop and Google!  As I was entering the “cucumber and ma….” the instant search which I’ve enabled popped up “cucumber and mango salad”.  That sounded just right with spicy roast pork.

I perused a number of recipe sites and blogs and found several interesting ones for cucumber and mango salads (and somehow I thought I was being very original when I visualized that combination):

  • from Daily Bites blog mango and cucumber, lime, ginger, honey (or coconut nectar–something new to explore), and optional cilantro.
  • from Eating Well which added avocado, brown sugar, rice vinegar, canola oil, and fish sauce as well as red pepper flakes.
  • from Herbivoracious  using Thai sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, mint and cilantro leaves, and toasted sesame seeds.
  • from My Recipes  the simplest of all–cucumber, mango, lime juice and ground red pepper.
  • from Rookie Cookie with the addition of jacima, red bell pepper, honey, rice vinegar, and chile powder.
  • from The Full Plate Blog those basics but with champagne vinegar in the dressing, and suggestions for optional pea shoots (yum!), and slivered almonds, with romaine lettuce.

Those certainly gave a place to start for concocting for what I needed that night’s supper.  Then I found recipes with suggestions for adding grilled shrimp…seems like these need to be explored  much more carefully next time I’m that flush with mangoes.

rosy-cheeked bartlet pear and mango on blue/purple print towel.

pear and mango

Since my adobo rub had given me quite a spicy seasoning for the pork, I decided that I did not want to add chile powder, or even ginger–anything at all spicy to the salad–I wanted something cool and contrasting with the spicy meat.

I opted for the bare basics: cucumbers (the little baby ones), mango, shallot (no red onion in the house),  and since I didn’t have fresh mint (I’ve now killed my second plant), I used frozen cilantro (from Dorot) in the dressing which was just a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil and sherry vinegar (drat–no lime or champagne vinegar) and I didn’t think that rice wine vinegar would stand up to the adobo seasoning of the pork).

Even one mango and cucumber gave me some extra, so I dressed only what I was going to eat right then.  (What was left became another salad, with very thinly sliced pork right in with the fruit, and I added some of those luscious Bartlett pears to it as well–threw that over some mixed greens and it made an awesome lunch. I dressed with a fig-infused white balsamic vinaigrette since I added the pear.

The combination of mango, or other sweet fruit, and cucumber is definitely one that I’ll be playing with in the future–probably with chicken, shrimp  or maybe even crab, or scallops to “bulk it up” a bit for a complete meal.

(I know, it’s not a beautiful plate, but I was too hungry to go outside in the dark to find garnish–I almost didn’t even take a picture.)

A son goût!

pork, cucumber-mango salad

supper

Chilli con carne redux update

I’ve finished the “fast” version of the chilli con carne that I posted about in Chilli Con Carne Redux!  I’ll concede that it’s only sort of faster in terms of the active prep time–it still needs to cook long and slowly, but it is a success.  I don’t think that I can tell the difference (tasted side-by-side with the more laborious version from the freezer) and friends have given it the nod of approval.  So here are the changes and additions to the original chilli con carne that I posted.

  • After the bacon browned, 3 tablespoons of tomato paste was added while the onions were sautéed, and this was browned–again to enhance the umami, not to add tomato flavor.
  •  None of the meat (pork or beef) was browned before adding liquids.
  •  Added bay leaves to increase the earthiness (used five large for this 6 pounds of meat).
  •  Added Mexican oregano–about 2 rounded teaspoons. (You really do want Mexican oregano for this–much different flavor than Turkish or Greek (Mediterranean) oregano–after all it is an unrelated plant, but worth having in the kitchen if you like chili.)
  •  Sun-dried tomatoes (about 1/2 cup chopped) were added for more umami even though this was NOT made in a slow cooker, I was not aiming for tomato-flavored chili.
  • During the cooking time I tasted some in a bowl with a little fish sauce added (yep, I did get up the nerve to try this) and it tasted wonderful; so I added about 4 or 5 tablespoons of fish sauce.  (I suspect that if you don’t have fish sauce a couple of anchovy filets thrown in would have the same effect.)
  • The final thickening was one with a brown roux made with masa harina.  For the fat in this roux I reserved about 1/4 cup of the fat from the de-fatting step.  I heated this and made sure that all liquid was evaporate, then added about 6 tablespoons of masa harina and cooked it until it was a medium brown and toasty smelling.
  • Because of my work schedule, this was cooked in a lower oven (about 195° F) for about 10 hours.

After another run on this I’ll have to post a revised recipe for the “fast” and easier version, but if you feel so inclined you can work with these changes–after all chili con carne is one of those things that really doesn’t need a recipe to be followed strictly.

Chilli con carne redux….

I love my chilli con carne–but it’s very a very time-consuming kitchen project so after considering umami in the slow cooker I though I’d try a few shortcuts, with some umami boosts.

I usually buy a big chuck roast and cut it up myself, but I found that my local Harris Teeter had stew mean which was chuck roast already cut up, so I bought a big package of that.  Some time saved there.  I did have to cut the pork, but I bought  spare ribs so that all I had to do was cut them into chunks–another bit of time saved.

One thing that takes a lot of time is browning that much meat, so I thought I try bypassing that step since I still plan to cook it in the conventional oven very slooooowly, letting evaporation and concentration happen so there should get a little browning as the liquid reduces.

I toasted all the spices (cumin and coriander) and the chilli peppers that went into the pot and added a little tomato paste that had been browned.  I know that fish sauce (nam pla) and soy sauce are supposed to boost umami, but I just couldn’t put either of them into the pot.  If this doesn’t work, I guess I’ll try that next time.

The pot of chilli con carne is ready to go into the oven as soon as the oat bread comes out.  So some hours from how, I’ll know if this worked or not….