Posts Tagged ‘pork’

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Big pig. (PULLED PORK SHOULDER)

November 2, 2009

pork_pulled

Making pulled pork is an undertaking of time and faith but, really, not all that much work. It starts with the shoulder cut of pork, which may need a minute of explanation. The shoulder is the front leg of the pig and it consists of two halves; the butt or Boston butt, which is the upper section and the lower called picnic shoulder or, worse yet, the picnic ham, though it is not really a ham*, just as the top half is not really a butt. Shoulder (which is the important word to remember when the desire to pull pork arises) can be purchased whole, with these two cuts attached to each other, or separately. On average, the cuts weigh between 6 and 10 pounds each, but in the photos you see here, we are working with 19 pounds of butt and a 16 pound picnic shoulder. The butcher at Dickson’s Farmstand had these enormous and subsequently delicious Berkshire pigs and I did purchase a whole shoulder but asked that he divide it for me since my home oven is only a standard size. Nonetheless, the two pieces were crammed in, touching the top of the oven, almost the bottom and each other in the middle while stacked on the two shelves. This caused no harm/problems when cooking but it was certainly the first leap of faith.

The second leap was trusting my oven to maintain the temperature of 325 degrees for almost 10 hours. I checked in on it every few hours and in the beginning made sure that the meat had enough liquid in the roasting dish so it would not burn. I used two cups of water per pan and then covered each with foil for the duration. I took some advice to use a bit of cider vinegar which was admittedly delicious but made the house smell like hot vinegar for so many hours that I would not like to repeat that experience. Anyway, pretty soon after the cooking starts, the meat releases its own (fat) juices and keeps itself safe and basted and delicious and fantastic.

pork_shoulder

Once you have figured what kind of seasonings you want to put on your shoulder and how long you’ll need to cook it, it is as good as done. For ‘marinating’ I put 1/2 of my spice rub on the pork the day before, and another coat just before cooking. If there is any to spare I either dump it in the barbecue sauce that accompanies the finished pork, or save it to dump into some other dish. A spice rub is a flexible ingredient and hard to get wrong. For starters, try a tablespoon each of brown sugar, mustard powder, ancho powder, garlic powder, onion powder mixed with two tablespoons each of kosher salt, pepper and paprika. There is no exact formula really, I just add and taste and add and taste. (I would even triple or quadruple this formula so as not to run short.) We have accumulated a great collection of dried spice powders, many from Kalustyan’s, so it is a great opportunity to use them for extra flare. It could be anything from dried Greek oregano to chipotle powder, Creole seasoning or a badass dash of jalapeno powder.

pork_spices

Once dusted up, it really helps to take the meat from the fridge at least 1/2 hour before placing it in the oven for even and accurate cooking. This also gives you a good head start to preheat and make sure your oven will keep a steady temperature. I am a huge fan of an oven thermometer, I keep it in there all the time, just to be sure. An easy formula for timing the pork is approximately 40 minutes per pound at 300 F. I have had success with it, though I am not afraid to creep the oven up to 325 and shave a few hours off of the process, especially when undertaking those giant pieces. In this case I have no neat formula but it is pretty easy to eyeball when the bones pull easily away from meat, perfectly clean, it is ready. If I had to guess I would say something like 30 minutes per pound @ 325 F. The internal temperature (of the meat) will be somewhere between 185 and 195 F but to know that exact info necessitates another type of thermometer, one may or may not have stocked in the kitchen. After removing the entirely cooked meat from the oven, just let it sit there (covered) for an hour or so before pulling it.

pork_bigpig

The next step is to hand-shred the pork into a clean container (it will fall apart so easily, it practically pulls itself) and then strain a quart or two of the juices to pour over for keeping the meat moist. The liquid is pretty fatty so you may want to cool the strained portions and scoop the fat off of the top before mixing it with the pork. Barbecue sauce would be my next suggestion. It is a subject of controversy with barbecue people all over the country. Everyone has their preferred style whether jarred or home made, sweet or spicy, vinegary or ketchup-based. No need to get pushy here, save it for the ball game and just use your favorite. I go for a spicy, vinegary sauce with a little touch of sweet but either way, it is a good idea to put a light coat over the pork now and drown it later on your plate or sandwich or whatever.

pork_plate

*A ham as we know it is the back leg, by the way.

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Dear Bahn Mi Saigon Bakery,

September 9, 2009

bahnmi_bakery

138 Mott St., NYC

You have made me forget all about the tiny deli on Grand Street that had THE best Vietnamese sandwiches in the five boroughs. And this is a really good thing because I was just about to break a nervous sweat trolling up and down the street looking for that little place. Now that bahn mi joints are practically more common than pizzerias, it is imperative to not take an outstanding bahn mi for granted. And I almost did. Funny the cross streets never stuck in my head after five years, but I had never NOT found it until this day and alas, I think it is gone. We all know this town can be cruel like that.

As I was walking south in despair, fearing that the true and authentic bahn mi had been replaced by a flashy new generation of $13 and too much bread, I saw your sign. It looked and felt right. I bee-lined, barged in, swept past the jewelry counter, and without a second thought, ordered the number One. And well, after a bite or two, I was reminded; the difference between a good bahn mi and an exceptional one is both subtle and clear as day.

The bread. Not just any bread will fit the bill. The perfect bahn mi baguette has to have a certain degree of yielding softness, not like the straight up French kind that makes your teeth work hard and scrapes the roof of your mouth a little, while not a cheap roll that will fall apart either. Since it is usually a take-out item, you may be standing in front of a jewelry store/bakery eating on the street and this thing needs to be compact and sturdy but still of fresh baked quality. My sandwich was lovingly warm, which is best, but for full disclosure I only devoured one half straight away, elbowing through Chinatown, and ate the other refrigerator-cold later. Still super.

The carrot/daikon pickle mix. That punk smell of daikon is mandatory for an authentic bahn mi experience with plenty of crisp vinegar to play with the sweetness that tinges the filling which, on the Number One, is exceptional pork. The caramelized pork, in addition to great texture, adds the fat flavor needed to stand up to the other ingredients which pile on fresh, spicy, salty, pungent and bitter all at once.

There should be a good balance between all of these, not an over abundance of one or the other. It does not sound difficult, but after eating (and making) endless bahn mi I know that, like pizza, even mediocre is still good. All of the ingredients will most likely taste great together: bread, meat, pickle, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, mayo (and the sneaky slice of cold cut), but to hit on all of the points just right and to make that ultimately perfect combo is something very special and rare.

I see that I have stumbled upon a deservedly iconic place. The vegetarian summer rolls I took for later also sort of blew my mind. Not expecting much from the pale presence of cellophane noodles wrapped in rice paper with tofu, they showed off with the huge flavors of a great marinade, tons of fresh herbs and two killer dipping sauces, one salty, sweet and gingery, the other a red-hot chili sauce. Fantastic. And on the money. Your cross streets will never leave my heart.

Your fast friend,

Ori

bahnmi_bag

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A six pack and a potato. (BLACK PUDDING & HAZELNUT SALAD)

May 28, 2009

bpudd_salad1

What is an Irish seven-course meal? ….. a six pack and a potato. That joke dates back to Truly Tasteless Jokes Part 3, which my classmate stuck a Moby Dick bookcover on and frequently passed to me during class. He is an international lawyer now and I cook for a lovely group of Irish people who have helped me to dispel Irish food stereotypes. Working in their kitchen has been a real learning experience as I’ve been introduced to many incredible artisanal products from ‘back home’ such as smoked eel, trout and salmon, a barn-full of cheeses, black and white puddings and hams of many kinds, not to mention whiskey and beer and fantastic homemade brown bread. Sausages, butter and honey, fruit preserves, tea and biscuits, all fit under the belt of Irish cuisine and I am the lucky chef who gets to play in this high-quality pantry where products are obviously made with pride. I am given great freedom to interpret them in a new way, in a new setting.

The idea is to showcase these items in an assortment of interesting dishes that fit each event. Sometimes I am inclined to call on another country’s culinary traditions to help set the stage for some of this good stuff. For example, a few delicate pieces of smoked Irish eel go perfectly with a smooth puree of potato and garlic skordalia, borrowed from Greek cooking. Beautiful Cashel Blue Cheese and Irish blackberry preserves stuffed into a French gougere makes a sweet, salty, puffy hors d’oeuvre that begs the other hand to hold a glass of wine. Sous chef J9 and I have been at the stove for a few years inventing a whole string of canapes for these countless cocktail parties… but there are also many multi-course meals celebrated, with the silver brightly polished and the Waterford clinking merrily.

Most recently my J9 wasn’t there to help out at a ten person affair. So this post, in addition to telling a nice story about Irish specialty products and the kindly people who eat them, is for J9 who didn’t get to witness this particular three-course dinner. Alone in the kitchen, the evening’s menu was straightforward and seasonal. For starters there was a black pudding salad; crispy-topped, pan-seared blood sausage over whiskey-glazed apples, mixed baby greens and a hazelnut vinaigrette. The idea of blood sausage scares lots of folks but fear not get with it! Some form of blood sausage appears in almost every national cuisine. It is even tasty! I was skeptical at first too. See the recipe below for more details and get ten gold stars for trying it out. Second course was a take on well-loved Irish stew. Traditionally these stews are thick and dark, sticky with stout and laden with root vegetables. Since a meaty, heavy stew did not seem appropriate with spring hovering around, we went with a lighter version featuring healthy chunks of halibut and a sprinkle of spring vegetables. The broth was made velvety by pureeing some simmered veggies with wine, stock and aromatics and oven-roasted halibut, potatoes and fennel were set to float on top. A few green peas were added for color and pop and a knob of herbed butter was dotted on the fish for extra richness and flavor.

In case there was any room left at all, dessert featured a mixed berry trifle. Cubes of honey infused cake were layered with freshly whipped cream and all kinds of berries with their subsequent juice. Dairy plays a big part in Irish cooking, I guess for all of those big hungry cows, sheep, goats, etc. eating all of that lush green grass. The meal nodded reverently to Irish food but remained rooted in what this locale has to offer right now. Everyone wins, no joke.

BLACK PUDDING SALAD WITH HAZELNUTS
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 apple, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil
4 slices black pudding (about 3 ounces each)
4 cups mixed salad greens
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Hazelnut vinaigrette: (there will be extra)
1/2 cup hazelnut oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • For the dressing, simply drop the ingredients into a lidded jar or container and shake vigorously to combine.
  • For the salad, gently saute the apple slices in butter in a medium skillet until lightly browned.
  • Sprinkle whiskey and sugar over apples and cook until evaporated. Set aside on a plate and wipe out skillet.
  • Add oil to the skillet and when hot, place black pudding pieces in the skillet.
  • Cook until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes and flip. Fry on the other side until heated through, another 3-5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel before adding to salad.
  • Assemble salad: Dress greens with vinaigrette and divide among 4 plates. Top with apple slices and pudding. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.

bpudd_salad

bpudd_main

bpudd_trifle

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Dear Dokebi,

May 12, 2009

 

dokebi

199 Grand St • Williamsburg, Brooklyn (front door/restaurant + back door/bar)

One can say I’m on the rebound after leaving my last steady Korean restaurant back in Queens. Now that I am a Brooklyn resident, all is well! Yet I search for a meal to fill the void where Tofu and Noodles once was, a cozy neighborhood place I can turn to when the need to eat Korean food arises, which is often. I am always saying that if I feel a little ‘off’ or sort of run down spicy, effervescing Korean food without fail cures what ails. And anyway I crave it voraciously every couple of weeks. That is why I keep coming back, that is why I can’t stay away.

I feel lucky just having you close by! You too have excellent banchan, some items very reminiscent of the ex- and some brand new ones to enjoy. Those little blocks of egg you serve, more like a custard than the usual omelette-like manifestation, are so light and silky they almost disappear upon the palate. And what was in that spinach? Garlic and miso? Also delicious. Yes, and thank you for your fabulous kimchi, fish cake and sprouts, too. They help me long for my former go-to place a little less with every bite.

Since your menu is much bigger, it is difficult to know you intimately (as of yet), but I plan on getting to know you better. It seems that one of your specialties is Korean BBQ, which I have not tried, but I do spy on others boisterously digging in on any given visit. So far, I concentrate on the stews and I am a big fan of the whole grain rice you offer alongside. The tiny cubes of sweet potato hidden in there are a nice textural change to all that bitey rice. I am also really into the bibimbap. I don’t mind paying the extra $2 for the stone bowl, though I don’t see how it could be eaten from any other vessel. But I know that I have had to accept the higher price point of the neighborhood in general and especially in my frequent Korean food fests. I do appreciate the saving grace… with $8 lunch specials I make my way through the menu without feeling too jaded.

Dear sweet Dokebi, you are a great bar + grill with a great happy hour and alot of heartfelt food to give. After a 5-year relationship with the last place, please forgive me, it is a little hard to get over the super-low prices, the strictly authentic, hearty fare, the unassuming atmosphere I found there… But our relationship is new and exiting and I trust that it will grow.
Yours truly,
Ori

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Dear Tofu and Noodles,

February 4, 2009

tofu+noodles

40-06 Queens Blvd • Sunnyside, Queens

I know that’s not your real name, but can I call you that? Book Chang Dong sounds so formal. To me you are ‘Tofu and Noodles’, my special friend and neighbor, and that is how I have come to love you. There, I’ve said it finally. I love you! And now I am going to take my sweet time telling you all of the reasons why.

You have the best banchan in the whole city and you hand it over quickly and generously. I usually show up ravenous. As soon as the order is placed (which I sometimes do before even taking my jacket off), the banchan arrives without a moment’s delay. Little round bowls are heaped with hot, sweet, salty, briny bites of seaweed salad, fish cake, marinated cucumbers or bean sprouts, potato salad, shredded daikon, those little crunchy fish with the heads on and/or, of course, the housemade kimchi, which is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. All of these things are ingeniously designed to make you want more food as you eat them and they are always fresh and super-delicious. I usually clear my little plates systematically, leaving the chilled spicy garlic soup banchan for last. That one gets eaten when the main course is served in a feeble attempt buy some valuable cooling time, since most dishes arrive on sizzling platters or in hot stone bowls. I have suffered many burned tongues and would suffer many more.

You take good care of me! I don’t think I’ve had a single cold or flu since making your acquaintance! If ever I feel a little vulnerable to catching something, I march immediately to your door to have a meal that arms me to fight it off. I think Korean cuisine in general has these special powers but you are like a secret weapon. It is the perfect combination of intense spice which is very cleansing, the fermented items (like kimchi) which help balance out the system and fresh veggies, sprouts and seaweed that are packed with nutrients. It seems to kick start the immune system and knocks out any trace of a bug. Every dish comes with soft, shiny rice which is soothing to the insides and the hearty warmth of the meal certainly helps to restore a person back to optimum health.

And while I am here counting the ways, I have to praise your soon dubu chigae*, a dish that you make so well, I crave it in my sleep. I will not eat it in Flushing and have no use for it in K-town. It is the specialty which takes up one-half of your menu with its varieties (most of which I have sampled) and it always impresses Korean friends I have brought in who grew up eating the stuff. It also turns people who have never even thought of eating bubbling, boiling soft tofu stew into chigae-junkies. It is mandatory to eat it slowly. It makes a person sweat and sniffle with joy. I have noticed that as it cools, its flavor gets better and better and by the end of the bowl I am completely stuffed and completely happy, which is not only good for the body but also the soul.

I just thought you should know how wonderful you are.
Sincerely,
Ori

tofu+dubu

*Soon dubu chigae = Soft tofu stew.

tofu+banchan

Banchan are like snowflakes, no two are alike.