If I had to narrow my choice of meats down to one for the rest of my life, I am quite certain that meat would be pork.
~ James Beard

Pork (n.)circa 1300 (early 13th century in the surname Porkuiller) “flesh of a pig as food,” from the Old French porc “pig, swine, boar,” and directly from the Latin porcus “pig, tame swine,” from the Proto-Indo-European porko- “young swine.”

Homespun charcuterie that warms the cockles.

Akin to more cultured pâtés, rillettes are often made with pork, goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbit and even some species of fish such as anchovies, tuna, trout and salmon. Throughout France, there are some slightly varying regional renditions with some suave, silky and smooth while others are more rustic, coarse and textual each with differing spice and herb blends. Originally a peasant dish, rillettes are essentially a potted meat either braised or cooked as confit, that is poached slowly in fat and seasonings and morphed into a more or less lisse end product. If this helps at all, confiture de cochon (“pig jam”) is what the French have affectionately dubbed rillettes de porc. Literally translated into English, rillettes means “planks,” and these unctuous delights tend to keep well chilled in the fridge well before they walk one.

Although I hesitated to mention that rillettes make exquisite holiday gifts, wedding finger fare for non-vegans and the religiously lenient or as amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule — Martha would no doubt be pleased.

PORK RILLETTES

1 t allspice berries
1 t coriander seeds
1/2 t mustard seeds

1 lb. freshly cut pork belly, skin discarded
1 lb. freshly cut boneless pork shoulder, skin discarded

1/2 t ground black pepper
2 t sea salt
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 dried bay leaves
3 thyme and 3 parsley sprigs, tied into a bundle
1 C dry white wine

1/2 C cold water
1/2 C chicken stock

2 T pork or duck fat, to top

Heat the allspice berries, coriander and mustard seeds in a medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside.

Coarsely dice both the pork belly and shoulder and place in a heavy pot, making sure the mix reaches room temperature. Add allspice, coriander, mustard, pepper, salt, garlic, thyme and parsley bundle, and the bay leaves. Mix well and pour in the wine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a very slow simmer and cook, skimming any foam, for 30 minutes. Add the water and stock, return to a slow simmer, cover and cook for 3-4 hours, stirring only a few times, until the meat is fall-apart tender.

Uncover and increase heat to medium. Cook 20-30 minutes more until any liquid is pure fat, not water. Look at a spoonful of the liquid, making sure that the little water bubbles have evaporated. Taste the fat and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Set aside to cool some, then remove and discard thyme, parsley and bay leaves.

Mash and shred the mixture, using your fingers and/or forks. Alternatively, add the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed until smooth. Transfer to a ceramic crock, terrine, or glass jar with a lid that clamps tight, pressing down so there are no air bubbles. Put the rillettes into the container of choice and press down with the back of a spoon to remove any air pockets.

Melt the pork or duck fat in a small pan and pour a slight amount (about 1/4″ thick) over the tamped down rillettes. The fat should be set before serving. Gently place sheets of plastic wrap against the surface of the meat to remove any air.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight. Remove from refrigerator some 20 minutes before slathering on toast points or crusty baguette slices with cornichons, pickled red onions, and champagne or a Loire Valley white wine as sides.

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Sandwiches, Anew

April 2, 2010

Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
~James Beard

Stated otherwise, Mom always reminded us that “a sandwich is always much better if someone else makes it for you.” Something about inspired, yet minimal, textural play, fine bread, and a good schmear with no shortcuts. A gift of sorts — a labor of love, knowledge, devotion and that pampered touch, I suppose. Mom always seemed to choose her aphorisms judiciously so they tended to ring true. They have born repetition more than I could count.

These may not be the precise lobster rolls she so coveted during trips to coastal Maine, but hopefully they assimilate distant cousins. Probably just some no frills freshly trapped boiled or grilled lobster, mayonnaise, simple seasonings and a toasted bun would even suffice.

Mom was an almost unparalleled tomato zealot and egg sandwiches were a house staple, so the BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce & tomato) is simply a natural. The basics to create an incandescent BELT are: fresh eggs, ripe heirloom tomatoes, slab artisanal bacon preferably from heritage pork (The Berkshire, The Tamworth, The Duroc, et al.).

As for the last sandwich, tins of sardines and kipper snacks commonly adorned our pantry. Maybe they were period pieces—food stashed for that ominous Cold War nuclear armaggedon we ever awaited, cowering under our school desks. Now, beyond their gentle sea flavors, canned sardines are known for their nutritional omnipotence. One nutritionist dubbed sardines “health food in a can.” Health food advocates assert that they do nothing less than:

• Prevent heart attacks and strokes
• Build healthy cell walls
• Improve cholesterol levels and help to lower triglycerides
• Lower blood pressure
• Protect brain development and improve cognition and mood
• Improve memory problems associated with aging
• Alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis
• Provide essential support for joint and skin health
• Slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Maintain blood sugar balance, thus reducing risk of diabetes

Both impressive yet sadly ironic given that the Stinson plant in Maine, the last sardine cannery in the United States, is shutting down this month. For those who may wish to extend life expectancy or slightly slow the aging process, buy a case of these wunderkind. That even goes for those who think enhanced health care coverage is “armaggedon” too. More sardines and less orange skin dye may help you in the long run, Rep. Boehner. A nearly comical faux terror alert carrot facial hue. Is that cream applied head to toe or just above the collar? ~Sincerely, I am Curious Yellow

For the aioli recipes, chose from any of those in the Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli (and Rouille), 01.25.09 post.

LOBSTER ROLLS WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE

2-1 1/2 lb whole live lobsters
Sea salt

2 T finely chopped red onion
3/4 C tarragon mayonnaise
1 T dijon mustard
2 T coarsely chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Hot dog buns (preferably top loading) or petit pain (french roll), sliced open
Extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, softened

Prepare a large ice water bath. Immerse lobster in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Cut the lobster meat into 1/2″ pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Gently combine lobster and next seven ingredients in a large bowl.

Split the rolls and brush with olive oil or butter. Grill, open side down, until golden, around 40 seconds. Fill each roll with some of the lobster salad and serve immediately.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick and creamy enough to hold its shape.

Pourboire:  consider using marscapone and heavy whipping cream in lieu of tarragon mayonnaise…a difficult choice, but such is the kitchen.

BELT (BACON, EGG, LETTUCE & TOMATO)

4 thick slices good quality slab bacon, sliced

2 thick slices of ciabatta or other rustic white bread, toasted
1-2 T aioli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 fresh heirloom tomato slices
2 butter lettuce leaves

1 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread aioli on both slices of bread. Season with salt and pepper on the top piece.

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Assemble the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, then eggs, and close with second bread slice. Serve promptly.

SARDINE ‘WICH

2 tins boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
3 T aioli
1/4 C cornichons, drained and finely chopped
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

Ciabatta, sliced and toasted or grilled
Aioli
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 C fresh arugula
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with aioli, cornichons, and capers.

Lay out ciabatta slices and lightly paint each with aioli. Then top with sardine mixture, avocado, tomato, arugula, and egg. Salt and pepper to taste, and then finish each with an aioli painted slice of bread.

…the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily.
~Michael Pollan

A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper’s Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Last night, we attended his lecture and book signing of his biting and informative James Beard Award winner, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. He closed with these remarks (paraphrased):

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”

“Do not eat food which has been advertised on television”

“Do not eat food that your grandmother would not recognize as food”

Sage advice.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & MINT

6 local, organic lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and slightly crushed
Fresh mint leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T herbes de provence

3 T Dijon mustard
1 T soy sauce
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2 C plain organic yogurt
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped

Fresh mint leaves to garnish

Rub the lamb chops with an open garlic and mint leaves, and then season with salt and pepper and herbes de provence. In a bowl, mix together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, yogurt, garlic and chopped mint leaves. Spread the mixture over the lamb on both sides and marinate in the refrigerator for around 4 hours.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Bring the lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes, then serve garnished with mint leaves.

Scrambled Eggs — An Art?

February 14, 2009

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
~Samuel Butler

So often we see abused plates of scrambled eggs—overcooked, hard, lumpy, devoid of life. Mastering simple scrambled eggs is more difficult than it may seem. I have even heard some chefs remark that they occasionally test new cooks by watching them prepare a plate of scrambled eggs. The perfect scrambled egg is a rare dish demanding a gentle, slow and low cooking process. The end product is all about texture.

Do not overwhip, but you must impart air to the eggs so they will be fluffy. The air bubbles in the liquid become coated with protein and the molecules uncoil (denature). When whisking, tilt the bowl so the whisk moves diagonally across the plane—the eggs should be well mixed, but not overly frothy. Overwhipping can unravel the protein molecules in the eggs.

According the venerable James Beard, using liberal amounts of butter is crucial. Also lodged somewhere in the recesses of my hippocampus is a chef’s hint that a very, very small pinch of cayenne pepper can “wake up” the eggs. As with such obscured memories, I do not remember the source of that truc.

It is essential to use low, gentle heat when cooking eggs, as egg protein begins to thicken at only 144°F, which allows them to toughen rapidly.  So, create tiny curds.

When the eggs are soft and shiny, remove from heat before they are too set as they will continue cooking. Remember the adage…“when eggs are done in the pan, they are overdone on the plate.”

SCRAMBLED EGGS

3-4 T butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, organic, free range eggs, meaning the hens are raised on pastureland
1 T crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper, dried
Small pinch of white pepper, dried
Small pinches of herbes de provence and thyme, dried

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy non-stick skillet. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream in a glass bowl and whisk briskly — just until the yolks and whites are combined.

Pour into the non-stick skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture—they will continue to cook after being removed from both the stovetop and the pan.

Pourboires:
Also known as the egg white, albumen accounts for about 2/3 of an egg’s liquid weight. It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of differing consistencies. Egg white tends to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character which is why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

Scrambled eggs have many faces, allowing for a variety of permutations and combinations with other ingredients. Consider adding cooked proscuitto, serrano ham or pancetta, chives, sliced sauteed mushrooms, diced sauteed chicken livers, ricotta cheese, goat cheese, barely wilted spinach, fresh tarragon or other herbs…the possibilities seem endless.

Finally, for an even creamier version, try 5 whole eggs coupled with 2 egg yolks.