Alinea: Pork Belly, Pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, Grits

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How does barbecue done in a three star restaurant look like? Like this dish that I made using the last third of pork belly I had. It’s a one bite of porky smoky spicy and pickle-y goodness! In more detailed terms we have a cube of cured and spiced pork belly, topped with pickled vegetables and encased in a crunchy glaze of barbecue flavor.

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The trickiest component of this entire dish is that crunchy glaze that coats each bite. It requires some practice and a light touch to get it thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables with a translucent film. Make it too thick and you’ll be fighting to bite through it and picking candy out of your teeth. If it is too thin it will slough off the pickled vegetables and not cover the whole bite. The glaze starts off with isomalt, a product that is not as sweet as sugar but behaves very much like sugar so it is very good for savory applications. I mixed the isomalt with fondant and brought up to about 325 F (NOT the 160 F the book specifies which I am sure they intended it to be 160 C).

Tuile

I poured it on a Silpat and allowed the mixture to harden. The isomalt-fondant mixture hardened into very clean and clear glass. I broke it into shards and pulverized it in a food processor with a smoked paprika and cayenne. This mixture is what gives the pork bites the “barbecue” smoke and spice flavor. but we are not there quiet yet…

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The Isomalt mixture is made into thin wafers or tuiles. To do that I sifted the powdered mixture into a Silpat using stencils to get even 2 inch squares that are about 1/8 inch thick.We need to work fast here because the powedered mixture sucks up the humidity very fast from the room and gets difficult to work with.  After a few minutes in a hot oven the powdered spiced sugar squares melted but kept their shape. When fully cooled they were nice thin crunchy squares. I stored them in a box with a pack of silica to wick away humidity and keep them crispy. These can easily last a week or more like that if needed.

Carrot Pickle

Like any good barbecue plate this one needs a tart crunchy element, like pickles and fresh veggies. The pickles here are tiny spheres of carrots made with a parisienne scoop, the tiniest melon baller you can imagine. Just like any other vinegar pickle the vegetables are soaked in a hot mixture of vinegar, water and sugar and allowed to cool and chill for a couple of days. The other vegetable topping are also tiny cucumber balls and small cubes of red bell pepper.

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Pork Belly-Pickles

Corn and barbecue is a delicious combo, maybe on the cob, creamed or corn bread. Here we have creamy rich grits that combines almost all three. Maybe a few charred corn kernels would have been nice too. Chef Achatz actually uses yellow polenta but I had some good South Carolina stone-ground grits. So I cooked those in water and stirred in butter and mascarpone.

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For the pork, I made a mixture of sugar, salt and a healthy dose of smoked paprika and chipotle powder. The paprika along with chipotle gives the meat a good smoky-spicy flavor. After several hours in the fridge I washed the meat off and then cooked it sous vide for 4 hours at 85C. To finish I cut the meat into even  2 inch squares and seared them gently . I topped them with 4 tiny balls of the vegetables and 2 squares of the bell pepper. Balancing a square of the tuile on top of the vegetables is a tricky thing but I managed to get most on there and under the broiler. The broiler quickly melts the squares of barbecue sugar and coats the meat and vegetable cubes.

Pork Belly

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To serve I put in a dollop on the grits and topped it with a cube of the glazed pork. A few leaves of fresh oregano and it is done. The flavor is rich, spicy and sweet with lots of crunch. the grits work great to tone down the sharp flavors and for that great creamy element. It is labor-intensive but it’s one hell of an impressive looking and tasting bite. It went perfectly with a home-brewed red rye ale. Cheers!

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Under Pressure: Glazed Breast of Pork with Swiss Chard, White-Wine-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Green Mustard Vinaigrette

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A bit more complicated to make than those delicious pork buns is this dish from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure using the second chunk of the pork belly I had. Pork and apples is a classic combination that always works well. On top of that we have strong sweet-tart flavors and sharp mustard with chard to round up a very unctuous and rich dish. As usual with these dishes I split the prep over a few days and it worked very well even if the plating was not quiet as ideal as the book picture.

Green Apple Mustard2

To start I soaked the pork belly in a spiced brine that has some cure #1 (Sodium Nitrite) overnight to give it a cured flavor and color (like bacon). I packaged the meat with chicken stock and some herbs then cooked it sous vide at 82 C until very tender, about 12 hours. Here the goal is to go for a very tender texture not something like a steak texture. When the meat was cooked I really should have figured out a way to lay it very flat and weigh it down to get a nice even flat block. Instead I just chilled it and kept it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Thomas Keller’s recipe asks for a specific kind of mustard, green apple mustard. It is something you can find online. However, I figured why not make something on my own. It is most likely not the same thing but will be delicious never the less and is all mine! I’ve made mustard condiment before and I like a simple recipe from John Currence’s book Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey. So I used that recipe as a guideline and started by poaching Granny Smith apple slices in Apfelwein (homemade apple wine) until the apples were tender and most of the wine evaporated. More apple wine (Currence’s recipe uses Guinness; also an excellent version) and apple cider vinegar are also used to soak a bunch of mustard seeds overnight.

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The next day, I simmered a mixture of mustard powder, honey, turmeric, salt and pepper in more apple wine and apple cider vinegar. I added the soaked mustard seeds and allowed them to simmer for a few minutes. To finish it up, I pureed most of the seeds along with the cooked apples and left the remainder of the seeds whole to mix in and add some texture. I ended up with a delicious mustard that is great on anything from vinaigrettes to sandwiches.

Using a melon baller, I prepared several spheres from Granny Smith apples. I packaged those along with a poaching syrup (sugar, apple wine, water…) and cooked them sous vide at 85 C for 30 minutes until tender but keeping their shape. After cooling they went in the fridge as well.

Apples

I was really hoping for three different chard colors but of course the one time I go to Whole Foods to buy some they only had red and green. So two colors it is. I separated the leaved from the stems and trimmed the stems. The leaves get coarsely chopped. I cooked the stems packaged with herbs and oil at 85 C for 1.5 hours. Then I trimmed them into 2 inch long batons. These get seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper and warmed up right before serving.

Chard

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The chard leaves get turned into an intense side for the pork. I cooked them with aromatics, butter, a chunk of bacon and vegetable stock. After the greens cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or so I cooled them a bit then finely chopped them.

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Last item to prepare is the green mustard vinaigrette. It’s just a mixture of the apple mustard, Dijon mustard, honey, olive  oil and a touch of vinegar. To serve, I reheated the pork in the pouch at 55 C, removed the meat from the bag and patted it dry. I crisped and browned the pork in a skillet but I did have a few issues keeping the pieces flat and even. Turning them frequently alleviated some of the issues. I used a mixture of the pork cooking juices from the bag along with butter, wine and some stock to make a quick pan sauce for the pork. I added the pork pieces to the pan with the sauce and got them nicely glazed.

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To serve, on a plate goes a few drizzles of the vinaigrette and the pork pan sauce. Top that with a piece of meat and line up three apple balls along the side. The marinated chard stems go on the apple and a neat Swiss chard oval goes next to the pork. It’s delicious, a refined dish with a lot of rustic flavors going on from France to the American South with all those earthy bacon-y greens.

 

Pork Belly Buns

Pork Belly-Cucumber-OnionsWhen Jason from Yonder Way Farm asked me if I want the pork belly pieces he had on hand as I was picking up some meat from him my instant response was “well, of course I do!” These are nice slabs of about 5 lbs each and around 2 inches thick. I only wish they came skin on. I cooked a few things with the first slab and the other one is still sitting in the freezer.

This first dish is the simplest and straight from Momofuku cookbook. I cured a piece of the pork in a mixture of salt and sugar overnight. Then I cooked sous vide at 75 C for about 12 hours. It got chilled and sat in the fridge until dinner time a couple of days later.

Pork Belly-Cure

I was thinking of making my own buns for this but timing just did not work out. Besides I was at the Asian grocery store that day and they had a good selection of these things in a couple of different sizes. So all I had to do was steam them and they were good to go. Last thing to prepare, while steaming the buns, is the instant “pickles”. These are really more like marinated cucumbers. Thin sliced cucumbers are tossed in some sugar and salt. They sit for 15 to 30 minutes are good to go.

Pork Belly Bun

Get the pork sliced and crisped a bit and tuck into a soft steamed bun along with hoisin sauce, sriracha (or sliced jalapenos or both!), sliced green onions and some of those marinated cucumbers.

Terrine de Tête de Cochon

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A pig’s head, or half of one as I have here, is not a pretty thing. No matter what the great Fergus Henderson says a whole roasted half of a pig head is not a romantic meal for two. Most find it unappetizing and gnarly. I get it. It is however delicious. To get to that deliciousness and remove the ugliness we make a lovely terrine with it and if I was serving this at a restaurant, I’d give it a cool French-y name like the title of this post, Terrine de Tete de Cochon as opposed to jellied pig head (or worse, Headcheese!). Everyone ate this at my house from Diana to the kids and enjoyed it.

PigHead-Spices

I have several recipes for a pig head terrine in my books. It also goes by Brawn in the UK and Headcheese. The process is similar no matter what the recipe is. The main variation is in the spicing and flavoring. The process involves boiling the head in flavored liquid, removing and chopping the meat/skin and packing the seasoned mixture into a loaf or terrine pan to set. I decided to follow the instructions in Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits. She includes two recipes in the book, one she calls for the uninitiated and includes carrots in it with very little “challenging bits” like skin and snout. The other is the more hardcore, or “advanced”, one with those bits and no carrots.

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The picture for the one with carrots looked very cool and I figured the vegetables will make this rich terrine even more appealing. So, I went somewhere in the middle and used a combination of both recipes. I included plenty of skin and such but also made sure to cut up the carrots from the cooking stock and include them.

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The first step here is to brine the pig’s head in a spiced brine for three of days. It is then cooked it in a big pot of water along with split pork trotters, herbs, spices, lemon, aromatics and peeled carrots. The stock is saved for the next step and the meat gets picked off the bone. I cut up all the meat, skin, ear and set it aside.

I clarified the reserved stock the traditional way following McLagan’s instructions as opposed to using Agar. It’s good to practice the classic techniques every so often and I believe the classic method reserves more of the gelatin in the stock and that’s essential to ensuring the dish sets properly. So I stirred the stock with egg whites and minced vegetables and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the protein in the egg white coagulate it glues together all the minced vegetables and forms a raft on the surface that filters any impurities from the liquid and clarifies it. The liquid is then gently strained through cheesecloth. It is pretty much crystal clear and has an awesome full flavor.

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I mixed the meat with the carrots, tarragon, chives, parsley, red wine vinegar and the clear bouillon. After adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper I packed the meat in a plastic wrap lined terrine pan.After an overnight rest in the fridge, the terrine is ready to go. It is set and very firm.

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I sliced it up and plated it with mustard, pickled okra and cornichons. The bright carrots really are a nice touch for both color and flavor. The meat was balanced and had a terrific texture. I will cut the the meat into much smaller pieces next time around to get better and more compact slices from the terrine. We snacked on this for several days and I vacuum packed and froze a piece. I’m curious how it holds up, especially if I am to bread it and pan fry it.

 

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

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Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

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I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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A Terrine of Teal

Teal Terrine5We shot a limit of teal (small ducks) this year on one of our trips. It was two of us and my buddy did not want to take his share and deal with the clean-up. I was happy to take his share of the hunt (even if I am never happy about the cleanup of about 12 ducks). In any case I had a good mess of birds in my freezer, mostly plucked clean but with several skinned and portioned out into small legs and breasts. It’s also been a while since I made a terrine of any sort and it really is the season for that kind of stuff. So a terrine of teal (and one bigger bird from last season) it was.

wild duck

I have tons of recipes for terrines and pates, but for this one I looked to a little book that I love reading and cooking from, Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. The late Olney is also the author of the many of the Good Cook series of books including one I’ve mentioned before and own called Terrines, Pates and Galantines. His writing in Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook is clear and passionate. These are really classics with no frills, no pictures, great opinionated essays and recipes that teach and work. Either one is a great addition to any foodie’s bookshelf.

Olney does not have a recipe for teal terrine in his book but he does have one that caught my eye for Terrine de Lapin, rabbit terrine. I could have used one of several other recipes from other books including Terrines, Pates and Galantines, but as I mentioned before I just love reading and cooking from Simple French Food. It’s that kind of book that makes you want to get in the kitchen and make something. I basically used the duck in place of the rabbit. Some other changes I made was to make the seasoning a bit more aggressive since duck, especially wild duck, is more gamy than rabbit. Instead of marinating and grinding all the duck, I followed Olney’s instruction to marinate the meat in a mixture of white wine and herbs but I reserved the breasts after marinating and seared them to use them an inlay in the center of the terrine. The remaining duck meat was ground up with some pork shoulder to start making the forcemeat.

Marinating duck

Terrine Meats

The terrine usually needs a small amount of a liquid-ish component. This can be composed of milk, cream, stock or even water mixed in with seasoning and bread to make a paste (known as panade). For this recipe I used the duck carcasses to make a stock in my pressure cooker. I first roasted them and then deglazed with Madeira and a bit of Sherry vinegar before cooking with mirepoix and thyme on high pressure for about an hour. This made about 4 cups of stock. I then reduced it to about half a cup of concentrated meaty goodness. This got mixed with a mashed a garlic clove and chopped up bread to make the panade.

Forcemeat

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I ground up the mixture into both fine and coarse portions that got mixed together along with pork fat, pate spices, panade and pistachios. I used the KitchenAid mixer to get the forcemeat really emulsified and bound together well. Half of that went in a plastic wrap-lined terrine pan and then in went the seared duck breasts and then the remaining forcemeat mixture.

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Traditionally a terrine is cooked in a bain marie (basically a water bath in the oven). The idea, just like cooking a flan or custard, is to gently heat the mixture and not allow it to break with all the fat and juices running all over the place. Well that is really sous vide cooking old-style. So for the past couple of years I’ve been using my immersion circulator for that. I wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap and then vacuum packed the whole thing using a FoodSaver. The package cooked at 63.5 degrees C for about 3.5 hours. The other plus with this method is that the finished terrine is already wrapped and pasteurized. It can be cooled in an ice bath and go into the fridge. It also needs no pressing with a weight to compress the meat and remove any air bubbles.

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We ate this over a period of a week or so with good bread and various accompaniments like mustard, ale chutney and cornichons. I also loved it served up with pickled prunes, homemade coarse mustard and fermented pickled okra. The strong pickle flavors worked very well with the mildly gamy meat. I do want to add some curing salt (Sodium Nitrite, Cure 1,…) next time around to give it a more attractive pinkish hue and cured flavor. I forgot to do that this time around.

 

Coppa

Coppa

The process to make a Coppa is very easy with the biggest challenge being actually locating a Coppa. The way meat is cut and butchered in the US pretty much ensures that this cut is never left whole. It gets sliced through with the rest of the shoulder-Boston butt of the pig. This means that your best best is to procure a large whole chunk of bone-in pork shoulder and then do the butchering yourself to harvest the Coppa. The last couple of times I’ve done this the pork shoulders from the butcher counter at the Whole Foods store had been perfect. There are several online videos and pictorials showing the location and method of removing the Coppa like this clear video or check out Jason Molinari’s pictures here. It’s a thick cylindrical muscle that is relatively easy to see when you have a whole shoulder piece from the butt end (i:e the end closer to the loin not the end closer to the leg) of the shoulder.Coppa-Potatoes2

To remove the muscle in one piece just follow the seam, that’s why this style of butchering meat is called seam butchery and trim it a bit to get a semi even shape. I used the process and recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to salt and cure the meat. They recommend the “salt box” method. I put a generous amount of kosher salt in a dish and rolled the meat thoroughly in the salt. Then the meat went into a FoodSaver bag along with thyme, bay, peppercorns and juniper. I vacuum sealed it and let it cure for a couple of days in the fridge. I then removed the meat, rinsed it off and dried it well before rolling it in a bit of spice (fennel and black pepper coarsely ground). Now the waiting starts. I tied the meat and hung it in my little wine cooler (That’s my makeshift curing “chamber”) until it lost 30% of it’s weight. That took exactly two months.

By then it was firm throughout and covered with a thin layer of good powdery white mold. The mold is something I sprayed the meat with when I hung it to dry. It is not strictly required but I like to use it when I have it. It is very similar to the stuff you see on the outside of a Brie cheese. The mold helps keep any undesirable bacteria away (just in case) and helps keep the meat from losing too much humidity.

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I could’ve sliced the meat right then, but since controlling the humidity in the wine cooler is a bit tricky the meat had a little bit of surface dryness. Meaning the outside is a bit too hard and would be drier than the interior. To balance the moisture in the meat, I vacuum sealed it and allowed it to sit in the fridge for about 9 days. This helps the humidity to equalize in the meat and softens the surface. Now it was perfectly ready.

How to serve it? That is not a problem. We’ve been enjoying it mostly as is, thinly sliced with good bread and little else. It does go good with a few shards of medium sharp cheese like Manchego. Sometimes I do like something a bit more…composed like these two examples.

Coppa with Warm Potato Salad and Olives

Coppa-Potatoes

This one is straight from the Zuni Cookbook. Warm potato salad with plenty of olive oil, parsley and olives. It matters a lot that the potato be warm here since just slightly softens the Coppa giving it a lovely texture.

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Coppa with a salad of Nectarines, Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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The salad of mozzarella, nectarines, tomatoes and basil from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite was the kids favorite salad this summer. It’s  just a rif on a Caprese salad of course but the addition of juice nectarines just elevates it. Adding salty savory Coppa was a natural fit here.

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