Braised pork and cabbage (Caribbean seasoning)

I’m of the opinion that cabbage is a much under-appreciated vegetable!  It’s good for so many things besides the traditional “coleslaw”.  One of my favorite things is to use it in braises.  Here is one of my favorites:  Braised pork and cabbage.  Again, it’s versatile, freezer-friendly, and the quantities are flexible.

Heads of savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage

A particular favorite is from Jacques Pepin’s Cuisine Economique.  I’ll give you the basic recipe here ingredients as given in that recipe and summary of the preparation.  If you’re interested in ways to take economical cuts of meat and make them into something really good, this is a book worth looking at (See Bibliography).  The recipe is here not to give you quantities, but to suggest seasoning.  While this recipe suggests a larger cut of pork, I usually get the boneless country ribs to use for this–they are really more like pork butt than are loin chops.

Braised Pork and Cabbage (p. 247)

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • a 4-pound pork roast (loin tip, shoulder, or pork butt)
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium-size heads Savoy cabbage (about 2-1/2 pounds), leaves cut into 2-inch pieces and core cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large onions (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
packaged pork boston butt

boston butt shoulder roast

Preparation

  • Mix the salt, oregano, cumin, allspice, cayenne, and rub the mixture all over the meat.  (See Notes.)
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.  When hot, brown the meat over medium-to-high heat for about 30 minutes (See Notes) until well browned on all sides.
  • Cover tightly and place in a preheated 325 ° F oven and cook for 45 minutes to a hour.
  • Remove the meat and transfer to a platter.
  • Combine the cabbage, onions, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in the pot.
  • Put the meat on top of the cabbage, cover, and return to the oven for about 2 hours until the roast has released juice and is fork tender.
  • Slice the meat and serve with the cabbage and juices from the pot.

Notes:

  • The cooking times will vary to some degree with the type of meat you use–shoulder, butt and ribs have enough fat and connective tissues to need long slow cooking. A supermarket loin roast, which I would not use, can easily become dry with long cooking unless brined.   I do not usually make this with a roast, but with big, meaty,  country-style spare-ribs, with about  1 to 1-1/2 pounds.  Even using about a quarter of the meat, your cooking time will still be longer than a quarter of these times–you just need to check the doneness)

    country ribs

    butt country ribs

  • You’ll probably want to use the quantities given for the rub ingredients–and I like to put these on the meat for at least several hours (if not a day before) browning it.  There is a lot of surface area to cover with the ribs.
  • This is also a freezer-friendly dish–I love to have a single-serving sized portion to pull out when I need comfort food on a cold day or I’m just in a hurry for food.
  • I like to serve steamed potatoes with it–or add one of those single servings to a  single-serving amount of rice as it cooks (in the rice cooker) for a complete meal.
  • A Riesling or Gewürztraminer wine is excellent with this dish.
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Bean and ham soup

The arrival of cooler weather means that it’s time to start restocking the freezer with hearty winter comfort foods.  Some of the mac ‘n’ beef now resides in the freezer.  Another favorite that needs to be stashed in the freezer along with the chili con carne is some ham and bean soup.

Mix of 15 kinds of beans

a 15-bean mix

For my bean soup, I start with a one-pound bag of soup mix of fifteen different beans and lentils.  The first step is to discard the seasoning packet that comes in the bag with the beans.

The dried beans need to be soaked so it does require a little planning.  Use a brine of 3 tablespoons of table salt or equivalent amount of kosher salt (see Conversions page) in one gallon of water and soak over night at room temperature.

The next important ingredient is some country ham (a hock is good or a slice will do too)–not the “city” or deli ham.  If you’re lucky you’ll find real country (dry, salt cured) ham in your supermarket (not in the refrigerated meat section, but somewhere in the meat department), or maybe even in your local hardware store (right next to the new-crop pinto beans there in the bushel basket).

American country ham is dry, salt cured–like Italian prosciutto or Spanish Serrano ham.  (Deli or “city ham” is wet cured in brine and is a different matter.  You can use it for ham soup, but it’s a different flavor and complexity when you use country ham.)

Because the country ham is SO salty, it needs to soak in water (or milk) to remove some salt.  If your ham is a thick chunk like a hock,  it  needs to soak at least 24 hours, with the water changed about every six to eight hours, to remove salt.  For a thick slice of country ham, or even “biscuit” slices, an overnight or 8-hour soak would be adequate with a couple changes of water.

The “hock” is the small end of the hind leg that has been cured.  It will have some skin, bone and fat on it.  Don’t remove the skin, bone or fat…it has connective tissue that will “melt” with the slow cooking and give the soup a nice silky texture.

When you’re ready to start the soup, sauté  chopped onions, celery, and carrots in a bit of olive oil until they start to brown.  This caramelization adds an extra layer of flavor to your soup.  I like to add lots of whole garlic cloves for the last few minutes of the sauté. You can slice or mince the garlic if you want, but whole cloves will give mellow background flavor after they’ve cooked with the beans and almost fall apart.

Two cautions when making this soup:

  • First, you do not want to add acid ingredients (like tomatoes) to your soup until the beans are tender.
  • Even though the ham was soaked, it’s still going to be saltier than “city” or deli ham, so don’t add salt until you’ve tasted the cooked beans.

Drain the soaking water from the beans.  Put the beans and ham hock  into a Dutch oven with the aromatics (onions, carrots, celery) and herbs (a couple large bay leaves and about a tablespoon of classic herbes de Provence) and enough liquid (water or part chicken broth) to cover the beans by a couple inches.  Bring to a simmer on the stove top.  Once simmering, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid put it on the middle rack of a 295 ° F  to 300 ° F oven.  It can simmer unattended for about an hour  to an hour and a half later when you should check to see how tender the beans are.

When the beans are almost tender, remove the pot from the oven. Take out the ham hock and remove the skin, fat and bones.  Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and return it to the pot.

Now that the beans are tender, you can add acid ingredients to your soup.  I like to add two 14.5-ounce cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes, or just diced or crushed tomatoes–what ever strikes your fancy.  Either return the soup to the oven  for another 30 to 40 minutes, or simmer on the stove top to allow flavors of the soup and the  tomatoes to meld.

You now have some serious bean soup.  Just before serving I like to add a few drops of sherry vinegar to brighten the flavor. Some minced parsley would make a great garnish, adding some bright, fresh notes to this hearty, earthy soup.

This does make a lot of soup so some is destined for the freezer for that really cold, damp winter day when you need comfort food.

A son goût! 

Pork stock

Not an instance of absolutely great planning, but here I am as the thermometer hits the 90s making pork stock.  Well…I never said that I was the greatest planner in the world–strawberry ice cream and stock-making in the kitchen all at one time.  My favorite meat supplier (Meadow Lane Farm, Louisburg NC)  had great meaty pork neck-bones at the market this past Saturday so I had to bring some home–so despite the heat it’s stock-making time.

These are very meaty bones, so I’ll have some meat to use after the stock is finished.  Since there is so much meat on these bones, and I want to use it, I’m not doing the quick stock–but rather the stove-top method (now you’re sure I’m not great at planning, right?).  But when you have the opportunity to get pork neck-bones, you take it.  Meadow Lane farms is doing more pork (as well as beef) so next time I can plan to do this is cold weather.  (I’m glad I’ll have more access to pork…love that “other white meat”.)

Basic Stove-top Pork (or Meat) Stock

Ingredients: 

  • about 4 pounds meaty pork neck bones
  • 2 medium onions, chunked up
  • 2 medium carrots, chunked
  • 3 bay leaves (dried ones)
  • about 2-3 teaspoons salt
Preparation:
  • Rinse the bones well.  If you feel that there is any old, or “off” odor, or they’re very bloody, blanch quickly in one change of water.
  • Add aromatics–onions, carrots, and bay leaves
  • Add water to cover.
  • Bring to a boil quickly, and then reduce to keep a bare simmer, and leave for about  2 or 3 hours.  Test after about 2 hours–when the meat is fork-tender and “fallin’ off the bone” (a country expression that means really tender), remove from heat.
  • Strain to remove bones/meat and aromatics.
  • Cool stock quickly in an ice bath, stirring frequently to help cool evenly;  then freeze or refrigerate. (Do not put the hot stock in the freezer or refrigerator as it will (1) warm up the refrigerator and affect everything in it, and (2) it does not cool evenly and quickly so that you could have bacterial growth.)
  • When the bones are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and save for another use.
I want a neutral white stock, so I’m not roasting bones.  The meat from making this stock may be a bit less flavorful than had it not been used to make stock, but it will still be good to use for  eating.  I don’t add celery to my stock unless I’m making stock for a specific recipe that needs it.  Carrots and onions, and bay leaves provide some sweetness and depth.  Because I may want to use the stock in a recipe calling for reducing it, I don’t add much salt; I do add a little, because I think that helps develop flavor of the stock as it cooks.   (Salt is for more than just making things taste salty!)  The meat and the stock will both likely need to have additional salt added to taste, but now I have stock that I can use in a reduction sauce if I wish. 

There was a bit of cursing in the kitchen as I removed the meat from the bones because I tried to do it before they had cooled quite enough, but for my efforts (sweaty through they were) I have bit over a gallon of pork stock that is cooling in the refrigerator to be de-fatted.

I have about a pound of very tender, succulent pork to use for another purpose, maybe a chili verde since the garden is rife with green chili peppers.  The meat recovered after making stock is not as flavorful as it would be had I cooked it primarily to use  just the meat, but it’s certainly great for a dish that is supplemented with herbs and spices like that.  I could also use it in hot and sour soup, or posole.

My active cooking time was about 45 minutes from setting the stockpot on the stove to washing the stock pot.  That includes the time to remove the meat from the neck bones!  Although not the ideal time of the year to make stock–it’s well worth the effort.  (Have to have some priorities–right?)  In the winter, I’d have put the pot in the oven for the cooking time, but I thought that, perhaps, the stove-top (very low simmer) would be a bit cooler way to do this. (No, I’m NOT planning to check that out any time soon!)

Chilli con carne

I love weather where I can get up want to put on clothes and  warm food like oatmeal for breakfast!  This morning I turned on the space heater in the office for a bit.  This means it’s time to cook things that will give me quick comfort food during the colder weather.

One of my favorites  for winter is chilli con carne–a version that I learned from a cook who spoke no English,  by watching it being made.  I’ve only made one modification to that original “recipe”–and that has been to add some sun-dried tomatoes; otherwise, it’s as I saw it made originally.

This is not a recipe that has fixed amounts–you’re going to have to taste and season it to suit yourself.  It’s a bit time consuming, but since it’s a large quantity and freezes well, it’s well worth the time and effort.

You can manipulate the “heat” by leaving in some seeds from the chile peppers, or by adding cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes to achieve the desired hotness.  I usually leave the seeds in about half the chile peppers–I’d consider it mild to moderate in heat, depending on the particular batch of chile peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 4 slices bacon or fatback minced, browned and reserved
  • 6 to 8 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 3 pounds beef, diced or coarsely ground
  • 3 pounds pork, diced or coarsely ground (shoulder preferred to loin)
  • 4-5 chipotle peppers in adobo (1 small can)
  • 2-3 dried ancho chilli peppers, toasted and crumbled (seeds removed)
  • 2-3 dried guajillo or pasilla  negro chilli peppers, toasted and crumbled (seeds removed)
  • 1/2 cup minced garlic
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup masa harina, toasted; cornmeal can be substituted if you don’t have masa harina)
  • 32 ounces of beef broth/stock
  • kosher salt to taste (approximately 3 teaspoons)

Assembling the chili:

  1. In a large dutch oven, sauté bacon until brown and crisp; remove and reserve.
  2. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of fat, reserving excess, and add the chopped onions; cooking slowly until caramelized.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the dried chilli peppers by holding in the flame of a burner until aromatic.  Remove seeds and crumble.
  4. Toast the masa harina in a small skillet and set aside.
  5. Add cumin and coriander to the onions and sauté until aromatic.
  6. Add garlic and sauté for about 1 minute.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  7. Add additional bacon fat if needed, and brown meats in small batches, transferring to the bowl with other ingredients.
  8. Remove excess fat from dutch oven, and deglaze by adding beef stock.
  9. Transfer meats and other ingredients from the bowl to dutch oven, add chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt.  Stir in the toasted masa harina.
  10. Cover tightly and place the dutch oven in a very low (275 ° to 295 ° F) oven and allow to cook for approximately 4-6 hours, tasting and adjusting seasoning as needed.  Add water or more stock if it becomes too dry, but I prefer this to be a thick chili.

I’ve tried this once in a crock-pot or slow cooker, and just not been happy with the final result.  I think that the oven cooking allows just enough evaporation and concentration to do good things with the flavor that just cannot be gotten with a crock-pot.  It was certainly edible when done in the crock-pot, but just lacked a little something.  Were I doing this in hot weather, I’d certainly use the crock-pot, but since the weather is cooler now, the oven heat is not a problem, and I get to savor the aroma as it cooks.