Pork with cardamom apricot sauce.

We bought a sixty dollar boston butt for the holiday weekend, for the two of us, without so much as a blink.  It’s not that Jim and I have enough to spend money willy-nilly (not even close); but we’ve changed our lifestyles in the past few years to accommodate eating ethically raised meats and buying from respectable fish mongers and local farms.  You remember, Michael Pollen urged us all to do so a few years back, asking  us to change our lives and spend a bigger portion of our incomes on food.  Well, we took that advice and ran with it and I think we now must spend near half of our combined monthly income on food.  It’s pretty delicious.

Once you get over the sticker shock from buying naturally-raised meats, you realize it’s not such a bad price after all.  Like buying a 4 dollar dozen of local farm-raised chicken eggs is really only about 33¢ an egg, our sixty dollar boston butt has already provided us with two dinners, three lunches, and we still have enough for another dinner and at least one more lunch to go; and considering we would’ve resorted to going out to eat on the night we had the first helping of leftovers, we probably saved some money.  And the pig that provided our pork was raised in a bonafide pig paradise (woods, little lake, lots of room).  And he was happy, and healthy, and not overly stressed, and that makes me the same.

What makes me even happier, though, is the cardamom apricot sauce that dressed the meat.  It’s luxurious and creamy because of the pork fat but piercing in flavor, with cardamom, ginger, brandy, orange, and cayenne.  The recipe is Molly Stevens’ with a few tweaks I made on a last minute whim; I ran the sauce through a food mill and then picked out the apricots and blended them into the thick liquid.  You could leave out that part, you’d end up with a stew of vegetables, strewn with silken, tender apricots.

Either way, make sure not to skip the step of hulling the cardamom, and crushing the seeds a bit; it’s an easy task and well worth the pay-off of not having shards of cardamom pods in your sauce.  We had this with white rice the first night, and brown rice for the leftovers, and I was partial to the brown—it’s nuttiness complemented the sweet sauce well.  A crisp white wine went fabulously too; a great Memorial weekend meal, even if there were no hot dogs involved.

Pork with Cardamom Apricot Sauce

adapted from All About Braising, Molly Stevens

1 (7-pound) bone-in pork shoulder roast, preferably Boston butt, preferably naturally raised
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, white and pale green part only, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces) coarsely chopped
6 cardamom pods, husks split, seeds lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 strips orange zest, about 3 by 3/4 inches
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons apricot brandy or Cognac
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried apricots
scallions and cilantro, for garnish
brown rice (to serve)

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat surface of pork with a paper towel to dry. Score the fat in a cross-hatch pattern.  Season generously with salt and pepper, rubbing seasoning into the fat.  In a large dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat, add oil.  Place pork in fat-side down and brown, then turn pork to brown deeply on all sides, about 15-20 minutes in all. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat and return the pot to medium heat. Add leek, carrots and onions. Stir in cardamom, turmeric and cayenne. Stir to mix everything up.  Add ginger, garlic, zest and bay leaf. Cook for 2 minutes until spices are fragrant.

Pour brandy into the pot. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any caramelized bits, until reduced in half. Add wine and boil for 4 minutes, scraping sides and bottom with the spoon. Pour in stock, bring to a boil. Add apricots and mix everything up.

Set the pork on top of vegetables in pot. Pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Bring liquid to an easy simmer and spoon some over the pork. Cover the meat with parchment paper, using enough paper that it extends over the sides of the pot.

Set the lid in place and slide the pot onto a shelf in the lower third of the oven to braise. Every 30 minutes, lift the lid to check that the liquid is simmering gently. Turn pork. If the liquid is simmering too aggressively, lower the oven heat 10 or 15 degrees. Braise until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Remove meat from pot and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes.

Using a ladel, transfer vegetables to a food mill set with medium-hold disc over a medium bowl.  Turn crane vigoriously, so that the vegetables mash and strain into the liquid to create a thick sauce.  Pick out any apricots from the solids and add to sauce.  Discard other solids.  Blend sauce with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Carve pork into thick slices and serve with sauce, scallions, and cilantro.

Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.

Birthday belly.

Jim turned 25 last Monday.  His birthday request was short and specific: cook him the pork belly we ate at Resto.  He didn’t care what else was served, or even who was there; he just wanted that belly—in all it’s maple-and-lime, turnips on the side, decadently sauced goodness.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a recipe.  It wasn’t on the restaurant’s website.  Nothing came back when I searched “maple and lime pork belly”.  The only thing I was sure of was the kimchi soubise—pretty self-explanatory: soubise is a bechamel with pureed onions in it, so kimchi soubise would substitute kimchi for the onions.  I also knew there were turnips and green onions involved.  But nada on the cooking methods, well, other than the fact that the waiter said the belly was glazed.

[And before you go gasping Bechamel! On pork belly?! let me explain. You don’t need a lot. And it was so good. It clung to the fried fat, yes, the layer of pan-fried fat on the pork belly, and made it even creamier and smoother and delicious-y-er. And it was his birthday. And we were celebrating. (Not that we won’t make it again – we will. Celebration or no. Because it was that good.)]

So, I started off with what I knew.  I put the pork belly, fat side down, in an enameled dutch oven and rendered for 25-30 minutes.  This is where, if you’ve never rendered the fat of a pork belly, you have to be brave.  You’ll be sure that the meat is burning, that you’ve got to flip it over, or that the whole thing will overcook.  It won’t (well, if it really, really, really seems to be burning, it probably is).  If you look up to my pork, you’ll see the blackness of it—and that’s the way I like it.  After it rendered I poured off the fat, sauteed an onion, and put the pork belly back in the pot, fat side up now, with a few glugs of maple, the juice of a lime, and a couple pieces of ginger.  I added water to three-quarters up the side of the belly and prayed for the best during the three hours that it braised.

Then I made the soubise, with unhomogenized grass-fed milk.  If you haven’t used this stuff for white-sauce making, please, drop  your laptop and leave the house.  Go to the nearest Whole Foods, or organic food store, no matter how far it may be, and buy some.  Then get yourself home straightaway and make a bechamel, it will be thicker, creamier, and saucier than anything you’ve made with pasteurized milk.  You don’t need to put it on anything, eat it from the spoon.  (And then please come back here because I haven’t finished yet.)

Finally, when the pork was tender and falling apart, I sliced it thickly and put it into a nonstick pan with diced turnips.  I let it fry away—rendering more fat, browning, just reaching black—until both the pork belly and the turnips were charred and fried and unimaginably good.  It was tough, but I made it all onto a plate, covered it with the soubise and green onions and ever (I don’t know where I found the willpower) took a few photos.

And we celebrated Jim’s quarter century.  It was everything he could want in a birthday dish.  And, if I do say so myself (and Jim says too!!), better than Resto’s.

Pork Belly with Turnips, Kimchi Soubise, and Green Onions

  • 1 ½ pound pork belly
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1-inch piece ginger, sliced
  • ½ cup kimchi, chopped or pureed a bit
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ¼ cups unhomogenized whole milk
  • 5-6 medium sized turnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • salt and pepper

Score the fat side of the pork belly in a crosshatch pattern.  In a hot pan, place the pork belly fat side down over medium-high heat and render the fat for 25-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove pork belly and drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the fat.  Put pan back on the heat.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes.  Add maple, lime juice (reserving zest) and ginger.  Add pork belly.  Add enough water to reach halfway to three-quarters up the side of the belly.  Cover and move to oven.  Cook for 3 and a half hours, uncovering when you have about an hour to go.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes.  Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil.  Add kimchi puree to taste and cook a bit longer.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Remove pork belly from pot.  Slice thickly.  In a nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat, add a few spoonfuls of the liquid from the pork belly’s pot.  Add the turnips, and saute for a minute or two.  Add the pork belly slices and leave in place in the pan for 5 minutes, moving the turnips around every 30 seconds or so.  Flip the pork belly slices and let the other sides brown for 5 minutes.  Remove slices to a plate, frying up the turnips in the rendered fat a but longer, until they are very brown.  Remove turnips to plate.  Drizzle warmed kimchi soubise over pork belly and sprinkle with green onions.  Serve hot with crisp, cold beers.

(Relatively) Quick Pulled Pork Wraps

Since you’ve already made the coleslaw from last post—you do cook everything I talk about? no?—now it’s time to procure a large hunk of meat.  About 4 ½ pounds of pork shoulder (or pork butt) to be exact.  Preferably from a good butcher, one who’s about 80 years old and learned the art of butchering as a young lad.  If this is not available, get organic from the supermarket.  Now for a spice rub.

It’s paprika, brown sugar, salt, cayenne, garlic, thyme, and red wine vinegar.  Buzz it all up in a food processor, stream in a bit of olive oil and it’s time to get your hands dirty.  This is the point at which you’ll get to know your meat, its every nook and cranny.  Massage it.  Get in the hard to reach spots.  Whisper a few sweet-nothings.  Then place it in a roasting pan, wrap it all up with saran wrap, and tuck it in for the night.

The next day, just pop your pork into the oven and hang around with it for a few hours.  You’ll be sniffing the air and growing hungrier and hungrier as the hours pass, but, please don’t eat anything else you’ve got in the fridge—you’ll want to save all the space in your stomach for this puppy.  It’s relatively quick as pulled porks go—about 4 hours—so you’ll survive the tempting aroma.

After 4 hours pass, take out your pork to check for doneness.  You want a fork to shred the meat easily, in biggish pieces, and the meat should be seriously moist and unctuous.  If you feel your head might explode before you shred and can finally chow down, it’s done.

Shred the pork into a mix of big, small, and medium pieces, breaking up the crispy bits and incorporating them into the bowl.  Try not to take too many tastes—it’s a give-in that you’ll sneak a few bites but you really need to save room for the completed wrap(s).  Tell your dog (or your boyfriend) to stop whining—good pulled pork is a labor of love. It’s time now to salt your coleslaw, heat your tortillas, pour your beer, and take out the extra large roll of paper towels.

Set everything out on the table.  Make yourself a wrap before letting anyone else know dinner’s ready, you don’t want to wait in line for this.  Eat and ohh and ahh.  Toss away the paper towels and forget about wiping your hands—this is fingerlickin’ stuff.

Pulled Pork Wraps

adapted from Tyler Florence’s Tyler’s Ultimate

These wraps are addictive so, if you can, save for a lot of leftovers or midnight snacks.

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder (about 4 to 41/2 pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 to 3 sprigs thyme, leaves only
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Scant 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • coleslaw
  • 1 pack of fajita-sized flour tortillas

Place the pork, fat side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack insert. Place the salt, pepper, brown sugar, paprika, thyme leaves, garlic, vinegar, and cayenne in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Add extra-virgin olive oil until you have a nice paste.

Rub all over the pork, being sure to get into the nooks so the salt can penetrate the meat and pull out the moisture – this will help form a crust on the outside when cooked.

With a sharp knife, score the fat with in a cross-hatch pattern. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Roast the pork for 4 hours, uncovered, until the outside is crispy-brown (it should look like mahogany). Let the meat rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing.

Warm tortillas in  oven for a few minutes.  Eat pork wrapped in tortilla with coleslaw.

Warm, comforting, sloppy, and ugly.

Hi guys! I’ve been missing you all but since I’m back at work even though my back is hurting as much as ever, I’ve spent most my afternoons konked out on the couch.  But I’ve managed, with the help of some peppery friends, to keep things colorful in my kitchen.

This pepper stew is exactly what home cooking should be—warm, comforting, sloppy, ugly, and something you’d never get in a restaurant.  It’s a barrage of peppers—fresh ones, roasted ones, spicy ones, and smoky ground ones.  If you can get your hands on any fresh ones still (I was surprised to find my local farm was still selling theirs) please make this stew.

Now that the weather’s gone cold, I think we may all need a little pep-me-up.  This is it.  I can’t promise it will cure a bad back, but it sure made me forget about my pains—for the length of dinnertime, at least.

Pepper Stew

adapted from Jamie Oliver

  • 3 pound pork shoulder
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 fresh small red chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 generously heaped tablespoons Spanish smoked paprika, plus a little extra for serving
  • a small bunch of fresh thyme
  • 5 fresh peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded, and sliced
  • 1 30 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Score the fat of the pork shoulder in a cross-hatch pattern.  In a large dutch oven add some olive oil and, when hot, the pork fat side down.  Let the fat of the pork render for 15 minutes, until browned.  Remove pork to a plate.

Add chiles, paprika, thyme, and fresh peppers to the dutch oven.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add roasted peppers, tomatoes, vinegar.  Bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat and add pork back to the dutch oven, pushing it towards the bottom, so that it’s partially covered.  Cover and put in oven.

Cook for about 3 hours, or until the pork is very easily pulled apart with a fork.  Serve with rice or noodles and a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Belly up.

I live in a country—in a culture—where pork belly is sorrowfully misunderstood.  Things are changing for the better, I’ll admit, but most people still think of pork belly as sinful, fatty, an easily avoidable indulgence.  Too often, I talk to people—people who would eat a rib-eye steak when they feel like indulging but would never go so far as to eat fresh, uncured bacon (which is what pork belly is)—who are shocked to hear that I eat it, on weeknights no less. But to me, the thought that you could live your life (assuming you are an omnivore) without knowing the luxury of pork belly… well, that thought leads me to believe the whole country’s gone belly up.

Let me make my case:  Ethical meat-eating is becoming quite a hot trend—and the excuse for guiltlessness—with gluttons.  I say gluttons without any ill-feeling.  I am a glutton.  And proud of it.  The word glutton is a crucial distinction here, I think, because omnivorous, gourmet-minded gluttons are the people who desperately need to eat meat ethically.  If you are say, simply a greedy-eater—one who cares little for taste and greatly for quantity, you may do just fine with the state of the American meat industry as it is: lots of lean meat, homogeneous flavors, cheap prices.  If you are simply a gourmet, or a good eater with money, you may be able to satisfy yourself on caviar, Brie, and pomme puree.  You may not need to eat meat much, so when you do, you buy the best filet mignon or foie gras, without a thought to the cost since it is an occasion.  And if you are simply an ethical eater (as compared to an ethical meat-eater) you may not need meat at all.  You can happily live a life of smoked tofu and artisanal breads, with a clear conscience and an ample purse.

But if you are a glutton, if you desire-no-need the unctuous, savory taste of full-flavored fatty meat more often than you would like to admit (and if your wallet is, like most Americans’, a bit slimmer now than it was a few months ago), then you simply must eat meat ethically. Remember, not all ethical meat-eating is expensive.  It can actually can be quite the opposite.  Think short ribs, think offal, think… pork belly.  These uber-flavorful cuts of meat are not often found in the supermarket but are easily bought from good, ethical butchers or small markets, producers, and farmers (people who care for the animal that provided the meat and make sure that all of it will be sold and enjoyed).  Fresh pork belly, even from the most organic, most natural, most hoighty-toighty farmer would never run over $6 per pound.  And usually it is about $3.  A pound of pork belly served over rice or noodles can easily feed a family; three pounds will provide a week’s worth of dinner and lunches for the most greedily gluttonous couple (I’m speaking from experience).

It doesn’t even have to be bad for you—an average serving (3-4 ounces) of pork belly has fewer calories than a Big Mac (and will satisfy you longer.)  Yes, it’s fat, it’s cholesterol.  But, yess, it’s fat. Slippery, greasy, cover-your-rice-in-the-best-sauce-that-you’ve-ever-tasted fat. It’s certainly not rabbit food, and don’t put it on your menu for crash-dieting, but it’s food that will leave you satisfied.  Not just satisfied with dinner, but satisfied with life.  I challenge anyone not to fall in love with the person who cooks you braised pork belly.  It’s impossible.  Case closed.

I hope I don’t sound like a food snob here—trust me, I have very little patience for them.  I’ll take the black-top BBQ over a stuffy restaurant any day and I don’t think that everyone needs to learn French to know food.  But I do think that a lot of Americans have lost the fundamentals of eating meat.  If I do anything in my life, I hope it’s convincing people that while a quick-seared filet is mouth-watering and delicious, it’s not the only game in town.  You may have to go outside of the supermarket, and you may need to have three hours to kill at home while your dinner simmers away in a pot, but you will be rewarded for trying your hand at the “lowlier” cuts of meat.  Rewarded with a few extra dollars in your pocket and a full, blissfully happy belly.

Pork Belly Hot Pot

Serves 6//adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book

  • 3 pounds pork belly, rind on
  • 6 cups pork or chicken stock, or water
  • 12 green onions
  • 7 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons mirin (sweet Chinese wine)
  • 3 star anise pods
  • 4 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Bring the stock to a boil. Remove the bones from the pork belly and cut into chunks, about 1 by 2 inches.  Put them in a large pot, pour over boiling stock to cover and then bring back to a boil on the stovetop.  Simmer for 5 minutes, skimming off the scum that accumulates on the surface.  Drain.

Rinse out the pot and return the pork to it. Pour enough of the boiling stock to cover the pork again.  Cut 5 of the green onions in hald and add to the pan with the soy sauce, mirin, star anise, ginger, and red pepper flakes.  Stir well and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer very slowly for 2 hours, turning the meat occasionally, until the pork belly is very tender.

Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Stain the cooking liquid through a colander lined with cheesecloth, skimming off as much fat as you can.  Wipe out the pot and return the liquid to it.  Bring to a boil and boil hard for a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and add the pork belly back to the pot to rewarm.

Meanwhile, slice the remaining green onions.  To serve, center a scoop of cooked white rice in a bowl, ladle broth into bowl, and top with pork belly and onions.

There Will Be Blood Oranges

I like to keep this food blog about food and just that. I don’t like to bring too much of my other interests into it—I don’t talk *much* about my favorite TV shows, authors, or political candidates. You came to see what’s cooking and I respect that. But, sometimes I experience something that’s just too good to not talk about. That happened this weekend—and since I also experienced some food that is certainly worth mentioning—I figure there’s no harm done in a movie-plug.

There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day Lewis, is in my opinion, the best movie in years. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Reviewers have been raving, and the movie sales are going swimmingly despite it being in limited release. The movie is a spectacle to watch and the acting is untouchably superior. I could watch Daniel Day Lewis all day long, whenever he’s on screen it’s impossible not to be in awe. And the story, though grim, is exciting and eye-opening. There Will Be Blood is an American epic of an oil-man and of the ill-effects, and the nation-building, of capitalism and greed at the turn of the century.

Continue reading “There Will Be Blood Oranges”