Tag Archives: Pork

Ah, there’s the rub…for pulled pork, that is.

A couple of my wonderful readers have recently asked me for my “recipe” for pork rub. You will find the recipe below and I want you all to know, that if ever you want a recipe from me, just write me and I will be happy to help out.

Actually, I have been meaning to have a discussion with you on the subject of recipes, so I am going to take this opportunity now.

You may have noticed that I do not generally post recipes. This is definitely NOT because I keep these things secret or because I am stingy in this way. I am more than happy to tell anyone how I prepared any particular dish, sauce, etc. and to give enough details to enable a person to duplicate my effort. The real truth about why I don’t post formal recipes is because I don’t very often use them! My cooking is an ongoing experiment and I always think it is a delightful miracle when I can duplicate a dish perfectly a multiple of times. My mom taught me how to cook early on and it was always about being there, at her side, watching. “A little bit of this and a handful of that” she would tell me. Taste and adjust, taste some more. This explains why I am not much of a baker – precision is my nemesis.

When I research how to cook something, I look at multiple sources. The internet is invaluable and I also have a sizeable cookbook collection (I can always use more). I try to find two or three recipes for something I am thinking of preparing. From these, I get ideas and guidance. I look at a recipe as a set of suggestions for seasonings, proportions, etc. Of course, I also get assistance about methodology – what is the right temperature to cook something at, should I braise or roast it, and so on. But, it is rare for me to really follow a recipe closely, unless I am baking. But, I don’t bake much! 

I do like to think of myself as a big time locavore. By limiting my cooking to mostly what is local and seasonal, often times something has to give with the ingredients, right? Ok, I admit, that is a bit of a cop-out. With many recipes, you can at least figure out what to substitute for what is not available. Certainly in this case a recipe can provide good guidance.

Ok, ok, no more chatter. Here is the pulled pork Rub:

  • 1 part ordinary chile powder
  • .5 part each of Ground cumin, good fresh smoked paprika
  • .25 parts each ground coriander, granulated onion powder
  • .12 parts each granulated garlic, white pepper, a combo of dried herbs including parsley, rubbed sage, cilantro, basil and oregano
  • Kosher salt, cayenne to taste – a little of each though be careful with the heat.
  • A teaspoon or two of dehydrated/granulated lemon zest – entirely optional

Mix or shake up these ingredients and give the mix a smell. Adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the spice mixture generously on and rub into any kind of pork  for barbeque, crock pot or of course, sous vide cooking.

A couple of final notes: the smoked paprika I bought lately has a whole lot of heat so I left out the cayenne in my recent batch. But I have used some weaker stuff in the past so I pick it up with the cayenne. The rub mixture will keep for a year – I make it in batches of about 4-6 oz.

Someday I will realize my dream of having a bona fide recipe section on this blog. Until then, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you want any other recipes.

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Filed under Baking, Cooking, Education, Pork, Recipes, Seasoning

Pork Belly Divine

Every once in a while I am able to get my hands on a whole pork belly from my local pig farmer, without having purchased the whole animal. This may seem like a simple matter, but it is not. Our local restaurant chefs and artisanal (local/retail) charcutiers always get first dibs. The short supply for us ordinary folks is also due to the fact that pork belly has become one of those “it” foods I have talked about before (here). The stuff is being roasted, braised, and sautéed. I’ve even seen it make an appearance  breaded and deep fried. On many of the more modern or experimental restaurant menus, said pork belly is showing up increasingly more often and it is being used in a greater variety of ways: it’s not just your mother’s bacon anymore. 

In the summertime, when the tomatoes are at their best, we can go through a whole mess of bacon here. So, for my family, it takes a lot of fortitude to resist curing every last drop of fresh pork belly I am able to get my hands on. A fresh whole belly weighs about 17-20 pounds with the skin on. When all is said and done, you will probably yield about 65-70% of that weight as  home cured, smoked bacon – maybe 12 pounds in all. Bacon is easy to make, too – have a look here.

This time, with this belly, I was ready to try making something other than bacon with at least a portion of the slab. By the time I recieved word from Colby Jones (Farrar Out Farms) that he had a whole fresh belly for me, I had chosen my strategy. I sliced off two (approximately) 1 1/2 pound chunks of meat and took off the skin with my great big chef’s knife. (I reserved and froze the skin. Eventually I will smoke it and use as seasoning for greens and other vegetables.) I made a brine using 6% salt and 3% superfine sugar. The superfine sugar dissolves very well in tepid water, as does the salt. Adding a touch of pink salt to the brine helped to maintain the pink color of the pork. To the brine I added two bay leaves, some fresh thyme, several whole garlic cloves, and some peppercorns. I made the brine directly in a jumbo zip lock bag and put the hunks of belly in the brine. This was left in the fridge for a day.

Once it was ready to be cooked, I took one chunk of the brined meat, dried it off and put it in a vacuum packing bag. I added a good half of a cup of local honey to the bag – enough to coat the meat, once the vacuum was applied. Now this is somewhat difficult to do with the Food Saver machine I have, since it is not the greatest with liquids. But there is a good trick that I use to make it work. Use a bag that is large enough so that the meat and the liquid hangs about a foot or so over the edge of your counter after it is inserted into the mouth of the machine. This means that your bag will need to be about 18-20 inches long. With the help of gravity, the Food Saver will pull out the air and seal up the bag without sucking out the liquid or creating a faulty closure.

The belly went into the Sous Vide Supreme water oven which was set at 79C/175F. I left it in the bath for 14 hours. When the time came, I took it out of the water oven and quick chilled it to stop the cooking. This is done with a large bowl filled with half ice and half water. Once the meat cooled down, I removed it from the bag, dried it off with paper towels, wrapped it tightly in plastic and popped it in the fridge. I reserved the sweet honey flavored pork juices for a sauce.

The next day I took the belly out and brought it up to room temperature.

Just before it was time to sear and serve my fatty and hopefully delicious treat, I cut the belly into two inch cubes.

Searing was no job for my good old Iwatani torch, however. Instead, I placed the meat into a very hot skillet. As each side of a cube of pork crisped and released, I turned it until all sides were very well caramelized. This took less than a minute per side and by the time all sides were crispy, the inside was nice and warm.

I was able to make a wonderful sauce out of the juice that I had reserved from the bag. I took some apple juice (pure, organic and unsweetened) and reduced it by 50%. I added a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some cloves and the stuff from the bag that was already highly concentrated with porky, honey flavor. Before thickening the mixture with a little cornstarch, I strained the liquid. My meal was now ready for plating. As sides, I served whipped parsnips and glazed sous vide carrots.

This dish is a real keeper. I would happily serve this to guests. Because of the use of a relatively high temperature in the SVS, the fatty part of the belly was rendered well enough to leave just the right balance of both meat and fat. The pan searing process gave the chunks of belly exactly the right crispness and a perfect texture. The unctiousness of each bite was beautifully counter-balanced by the  mildly sweet and sour, apple flavored sauce. No doubt, this is an incredibly rich and calorie filled meal that can’t be consumed too often without dire consequences to the waistline. However, as a special treat…well all I can say is “everything in moderation.” Actually, my husband’s enthusiastic “wow” said it all.

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Filed under Charcuterie, Comfort Food, Cooking, Farmers Market, Food Trends, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Pulled Pork Preeminent

One of the justifications I used to talk myself into buying the Sous Vide Supreme was that it would replace my crock pot. Now those who know me are aware that it is my intention, in just a little more than two years (781 days, but who’s counting), to move to New York City. So this rationale is no matter of little importance. I am going to have to fit a s#%tload of rooms worth of all my important stuff into a shoe box apartment in order to become happily ensconced in the Big Apple. Thus, until such time arrives, I have come up with a rule to live by: anything new which is brought into the house must give rise to the throwing or giving away of something of equal or greater volume. The crock pot, while being shorter than the SVS, definitely has a bigger footprint, i.e. takes up more space in a closet or cabinet.

I have one friend who has an SVS and when he heard this, he said “nooooo, the SVS will not replace the crock pot.” I took that as a challenge. Actually, my friend should have asked me just what I do with the crock pot. All I do with the crock pot is (1) make soup, and (2) make pulled pork. Try though I might, I have never found anything else to do with this appliance that can’t, just as well, be done on top of the stove.

“Slow cooker” you say? Oh no, that is just not so. The darn thing simmers the bejeebers out of everything. I can braise just fine in the oven and I can cook soup on the top of the range, thank you very much. But for pulled pork…well I bought the SVS and so it was time to put up or shut up.

Lets just say that something magical happens to a fatty chunk of pork shoulder or boston butt when it goes into the crock pot for 6 or 8 hours. Even my darling, adolescent, loving, sweet, wonderful, adorable brat of a  step-daughter asks for this dish regularly. Rubbed with a beautiful spice mix I have developed (mild chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, ground mustard seed, granulated garlic & onion, ground coriander seed, and salt) this relatively cheap cut of meat becomes an intensely flavorful pile of porky deliciousness that my family adores. Most often, we stuff it into fresh tortillas with refried beans, spanish style rice, sauteed veggies and other favorite condiments. I call it our “make your own fajitas” meal.

So I had to prove to myself that pulled pork would make the grade coming out of the SVS. For this experiment, I just happened to have a beautiful chunk of Red Wattle in my freezer, perfect for the main ingredient in our fajita fest. I thawed that chubby chunk-o-piggy out and rubbed my spice mix all over the surface of the roast with abandon before bagging it up with my Food Saver. Many sous vide recipes talk about how you have to use a little restraint with spices when cooking by this method but I have found this applies to only a limited range of items. This includes some herbs, especially bay and rosemary, and garlic (which I am, alas, unable to eat much of anyway). I was not worried about overdoing my pork rub. I set the water oven on 60C (140F) and put the sealed up meat in to cook for 48 hours!

 

The results were, if I may say, award winning. Better than out of the crock pot, by far, the pork was tender, exceptionally moist, just the right doneness and orgasmically flavorful. There was not a trace of dryness as is often the case with the slow cooker. The meat pulled away from the fat very easily so that in the end we were left with a much more low calorie version of our old crock pot standard. The spice rub gave the meat a wonderful, smokey, complex flavor that was exactly what we had come to love. One interesting thing is that we poured a couple of cups of spicy meat juice out of the cooking pouch. I froze this wonderful liquid figuring that it will make a delicious sauce for a chop or tenderloin in the future.

Say bye bye, crock pot!

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Filed under Cooking, Pork, Shoulder, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

This little piggy was eaten…

Ok, if you have not yet figured it out, I LOVE pork. What’s not to love? There is nothing dull about a good piece of pork, even if it is served sans sauce. Perfectly simple, mildly seasoned, high quality pig requires little if any fanfare, so long as it is properly cooked (and not overcooked, of course).  Sure, it is nice when encrusted, enrobed, ensauced or enstuffed (I made that up) but, my point is if it is good meat in the first place, it can stand on its own four trotters.

Thus, when I looked in my freezer and found a beautiful package of inch thick Red Wattle pig loin chops, I decided to keep it very basic. After I thawed these gorgeous ladies, I placed them in a brine of 7% kosher salt and 3% sugar. In the brining solution I placed a bay leaf and a couple of allspice berries. (If you had x-ray vision you could see these under the chops.) I covered the dish and placed the meat in the fridge for a couple of hours. The point of the brine is to cause a chemical reaction in the meat that aids in the retention of the natural juices in the muscle. If you do it right, it is not at all salty and protein that is brined stays very, very moist.

 Once that time had passed, I took the chops and dried them off real well with paper towels. Then, into the sous vide bag they went. Not wanting the chops to be lonely, I added about a teaspoon of bacon grease per chop. Yum, yum, yum, I love pig fat with my pig!

I heated the SVS up to 59C (138.2F) and sent those beauties swimming for 45 minutes. In the meantime, my husband cooked up a mess of what we call “home fries.” These are diced, par-cooked waxy potatoes that are fried up in a little lard with some onions and herbs. Home fries are pretty much his specialty (i.e. the only thing he knows how to cook) and he makes them as good as any I have ever eaten.

I tossed together some watercress and arugula with a tiny bit of olive oil and apple cider vinegar to add some tang to the plate. I also put a bowl of chunky organic apple sauce on the table cause where I come from, a pork chop without apple sauce is just plain wrong.

When I took the chops out of the bag I torched the surface to give them that pretty look and to crisp up the fat. I probably should have trimmed the fat better before they went into the brine. I am still learning and fat and sous vide – it does not cook the same way in there because the low temperature cannot get it to render or crisp up. I also could have been a little more aggressive with the torch but I am new to this trick – next time!

It was a fabulous albeit very simple meal but I really didn’t want it to be different. The meat was slightly pink throughout the entire chop. Only the outside edge had that white port color as the result of the torching it took. This Red Wattle pork is more naturally flavorful than any other I have ever had. Not gamey or at all strange tasting as some pork can be. Rather it is intensely “porky” and delicious.

The brining process causes the meat to become even more tender than it already is and it also helps the natural juices to stay in the protein. The sous vide, slow and low cooking process prevents any part of the pork from becoming overcooked. All of this translates to exceptionally moist, evenly cooked, dense meat that is tender and incredibly flavorful. Given that it is so perfect in these ways, I just was not in the mood to go saucing it up or adding any other flavors to distract from the rich porky taste it already had.

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Filed under Cooking, Pork, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme

Prosciutto, Parma, Serrano, Iberico, Bayonne: A dry cured ham by any other name hopefully tastes as sweet.

Last fall, along with three other people, I bought a Red Wattle pig. I was actually part of a larger group of 12 people who bought three little piggies. We bought them when they were not yet ready for market and still happily being fattened by the farmer. Of course, when we took delivery, our pig came to us all nicely packaged according to our specifications and ready for eating. This was the second time we did this and we learned a great deal our first time. Namely, we learned that 4 people is just the right number for pig sharing. We also learned something about each other.

First time around, Our Fearless Leader  and organizer broke us up into teams based on our preference regarding the form in which we wanted to receive our pig. To figure this out he asked us to answer these questions:

(A) Am I a “Just gimme my Pork” type of person? 
 
OR
 
(B) Am I a “Just gimme my Pig” type of person?
 
Brilliant! And, obviously, NO, I am not a wuss. The “just gimme my pork” folks had their bacon cured, their hams cured and their sausage made for them by the processor which the farmer hired. They were not interested in offal, either. Me, on the other hand, I definitely want my pig unground, uncured and butchered in a way that leaves me plenty of options.

From those first pigs, I cured a whole mess of bacon and guanciale (pork jowl) for my team and a few other folks. It came out fabulous and we ate gourmet BLT’s with micro greens and homegrown tomatoes all the late summer long. We were blown away by how good bacon could be.

Wanting to learn about charcuterie, I took the liver and I made homemade braunschweiger. The first batch ended up in Sadie’s dish but the second batch came out really good – we ate it all up. Then I tried my hand making boudin blanc – a wonderful, mild white sausage made from a mix of chicken, pork and cream. What could be bad. My family at that up in a hurry! After we got the Red Wattle, I invited a group of guys from the buying group over to my house and we had a sausage making party. You can read all about it here. We made all sorts of wonderful things including two kinds of salami, chorizo and bratwurst. Even after that, I still had a little sausage meat left so I combined it with some humanely raised, pastured veal to make bockwurst. We have been dining on that for a while and it is delicious!

With that first pig, even though we were the only group who said “gimme my pig” it was decided (not by me) that the hams would be cured at the processor. I didn’t really care because I don’t eat ham…unless it is dry cured, prosciutto type ham. The other ham is just yucky to me. I find it to be watery, salty, squishy and generally unappealing. Even our super pure, all natural, ham that came from our happy pig was not something I wanted to eat. I ended up trading mine to another team member for some other pig parts.  I must admit, I regretted not having been able to convince my teammates to let me make the ham into prosciutto.

With my Red Wattle team, however, it was different. Folks were happy to let me take control of one entire leg for dry curing. How exciting to me that I was going to be able to push my charcuterie skills further. I did my reading and my studying and I contacted my friend Josh Galliano, an incredibly talented, generous, kind and very cute local chef. Josh agreed that he would show me the ropes with the ham. Being the really lucky one, I got to spend an afternoon in the kitchen at Monarch restaurant, an experience that energizes and inspires me. While I was waiting for instruction and because I am not one who can hack standing around doing nothing, Josh willingly set me to work cleaning and chopping vegetables for a broth that he was going to use in one of the evening’s offerings. In between doing the myriad of things an executive chef has to do, he showed me how to remove the aitch bone from the meat without destroying the whole joint. Josh coached me in the proper way to trim up the meat and skin to make it ready to look like a prociutto.  Finally, he gave me lessons on how to apply the cure to the meat to make the ham ready to be transformed into a dry cured delicacy. This is a process that will, when all is said and done, take at least 9 months.

The first stage of the process is one in which the meat, coated with a cure made of kosher salt and a little bit of a chemical called instacure #2, is weighted and refrigerated. The length of the refrigeration is based on the weight of the fresh ham. Our 20 pound clod calculated out to 40 days during which time I drained the box in which the weighted ham sat of all liquid that appeared over the 40 days.  This amounted to quite a bit! I also continually moved things around to make sure that the weights I had place on the ham (6 saran wrapped bricks) were evenly doing their work. The purpose of this is to compress the flesh so as to help the liquid to leave the meat and, in the meantime, to achieve that nice square, compact prociutto-like shape. When I took the meat out of the fridge at last, it had lost nearly 2 pounds.

After that 40 days, the second stage began. For this stage, I had been monitoring the temperature of a closet that is located just inside of my garage where there is no heat. I ascertained that the temperature ranged between 45F and 55 F. This I learned was an excellent environment for the drying of a ham. So, I took the ham and hung it up in that very cold closet. I checked on the ham regularly just to make sure nothing bad was happening. I photographed the ham and sent the photo to Josh to get his reassurance. Everything was going well. The ham needed to stay there for three months. Here is what the ham looks like right now.

Pretty gross looking, eh? On the other hand, it smells really nice and I have a really good feeling about the quality of dry cured meat we are going to be eating in a few months. For now, the second stage is over (i.e. three months have now elapsed) and the ham must go into its third and final stage of curing.

Here is how it works. A towel moistened with salt water is used to rub the ham down and to take off the stuff that has accumulated on the outside of the meat. A mixture of lard and rice flour is prepared. This “sugna,” as it is called, is rubbed on the exposed part of the meat – that part not covered with skin. Some people recommend putting cracked peppercorns on the outside of the lard, believing that this keeps away bugs. My mentor Josh has not recommended this. The whole thing is then wrapped with cheese cloth (to keep the lard in place, more or less. Then, the ham is again going to be hung to age further – but this time, due to the change of seasons, the temperature will be rising as high as 55-65F in the closet.

Here are a few photos of me getting ready to hang the ham up for its third and final stage:

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Filed under Cooking, Dry Cured Ham, Lard, Pork, Preserving, Prociutto