Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Brassicas: Cauliflower, Aligot, Kohlarbi, Leaves

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A couple of months ago all kinds of local cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli were available. The different colors of cauliflower alone was very impressive from white to green to orange and purple. I started thinking about one dish that can combine lots of these varieties in various preparation. This delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish is the result of about 2 weeks worth of research, prep, cutting and dicing, pureeing, roasting and sous vide-ing. With all the various cabbages in here what else to call it but Brassicas.

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Brassicas refers to the genus to which cabbage belongs and that includes plants like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and mustard. They are hearty veggies that stand up to various cooking methods and robust flavors. Here we have a base of cauliflower aligot, cauliflower florets with vadouvan, seared Romanesco, kohlarbi cones filled with cauliflower puree and the plate is topped with a crispy crunchy dose of onion and breadcrumb “soil”.

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Aligot is a French potato preparation from L’Aubrac region made by mashing potatoes and blending them with copious amounts of cheese. How could that be bad. Right? This dish is over all very light and I wanted the base to be substantial enough to make it more than a fancy salad. It’s a dinner plate after all. For this version, I blended 400 gr each of sous vide cooked cauliflower (bagged with butter) and boiled potatoes that were cooked with garlic cloves. I added cream to loosen it up a bit and the cheese. Certainly not traditional but I opted for a nice smoked Swiss cheese to give the mixture more of an edge that can stand up to the strong flavors of the the vegetables. It was so delicious that I could eat it all on its own with a spoon!

In the Eleven Madison Park cookbook there is a recipe that is just cauliflower in many variations and it is definitely an inspiration for this dish. I borrowed a couple of ideas from that recipe including the puree and the sous vide cauliflower florets. I cooked the cauliflower sous vide with butter and vadouvan spice until very tender. I used mostly broken up florets and stem pieces for this saving the neater florets for another part of the recipe. To finish the puree I blended the cauliflower with whole milk and very little potato to hold it together. I put that in a squeeze bottle and kept it warm.

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For the cauliflower florets, both white and orange, I left some whole and the others (an idea from EMP again) I cut into neat disks. These also were cooked sous vide with some butter and salt.  For the crunch element I cooked onions down in oil, similar to what i did for this Alinea recipe, until deep brown and almost burnt. I tossed these with salt and darkly toasted sourdough bread crumbs. This made for a fantastic sharp and crunchy element.

When I added a couple heads of cauliflower to my order from Yonder Way Farm I was thinking I’d get a purple one maybe…or one of those green ones. Instead what I got was some very cool Romanesco. These are like broccoli crossed with cauliflower and then shot through with some alien DNA. Very neat looking. I cut those into wedges, rubbed them with oil and seared them very well to get a good caramelized flavor. I roasted them until they were cooked through but retained some crunch.

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Kohlrabi is another of those weird looking plants that we usually just pass by at the store and just barely give a second thought. These guys are delicious with a texture like jicama crossed with a turnip. Sliced paper thin on a madoline they can be salted and marinated with lemon juice or vinegar. They make for an awesome quick salad like that. They also become very flexible and can be used as a cool “wrapper” of sorts. It made perfect sense to make little cones out of them and fill that with the puree.

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After all the chopping and trimming I had a decent bit of cauliflower in random pieces. To use them up I borrowed another idea from EMP and made cauliflower couscous. Cauliflower is a very sturdy vegetable that can be easily pulsed in a processor until it’s the texture of bread crumbs or…couscous. I did not season these at all for this dish or cook them, but I can see how quickly sauteing them with butter, seasoning them with a bit of vinegar and topping them with a few scallops or shrimp would make for a delicious light dinner.

Not to waste anything I wanted to use the cauliflower leaves too. These local heads of cauliflower and the Romanesco came cocooned in thick deep green leaves. I blanched those and shocked them in ice water. To serve them I warmed them in a mixture of butter and water and then seasoned them with walnut oil, salt and homemade beer vinegar.

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Salmon, Collard Greens, Roasted Beets and Smokey Orange Dressing

Dish 2 of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners features salmon.

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My preferred method to cook salmon fillets by far is using low temperature sous vide. It’s a process I wrote about before that includes brining the fish for a short time, bagging it with a little olive oil and cooking it at no more than 52 C for about 20 minutes. To finish I crisp the skin side in a hot pan with oil.

The salad is made from collard greens and roasted beets. It is loosely based on some ideas from Salad Samurai, a pretty useful and inspiring vegan salad-focused book. The beets are roasted wrapped in aluminum foil until fork tender. Collards are tough greens and usually are only eaten cooked. They actually work very well raw as well though. I “relaxed” the hearty greens by rubbing them with some salt, cider vinegar ad olive oil. This wilts them a bit but leaves them with plenty of snap. After that they can be left in the fridge for several days ready to toss into salads, omelettes, pastas…This works great with kale as well which is what the original recipe uses.

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The dressing is a lovely warm smokey orange vinaigrette prepared with smoked paprika and orange juice. It has a beautiful color and a robust flavor that stands up great to the strong flavors of salmon, beets and collards. It’s a great combination of flavors and textures that make for a delicious winter salad.

Chicken, Butternut Squash, Carrot and White Wine-Creme Fraiche Dressing

It’s January, the month of resolutions, especially those diet-related ones. Most want to lose weight and get fit. To that end we got a variety of diets and fads that pick up. Some want to go Paleo or low-carb. Other misguided folks are still on the low or no fat bandwagon. Really ambitious dieters try their hand at a whole new lifestyle like vegetarian or vegan! In most cases it will all fade away in a few weeks and we are back to eating a lot of all the “wrong” stuff.

Well, I have no resolutions. I think they are silly and any claims of THE ONE DIET are ultimately useless and discouraging. That being said, we tried to take it easy this January since between November and December, the holidays and trips to Maine and Boston, we had a lot of rich carb-heavy food. Several nights in this month we went with a “salad” of some sort. Some were good straight-forward ones but nothing to document. Others were delicious, beautiful, satisfying and nutritious that were worth putting up here. Here is the first of the “January Trilogy” of light dinners.

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I had a few large chicken hind quarters from Yonder Way Farm. These are delicious for braising or very slow roasting on the grill or oven. In this case though I divided the drumstick from the large thighs. For this dish I de-boned the thighs and laid them flat on a cutting board as I rummaged in my fridge (I slow baked the drumsticks and slathered them in barbecue sauce if you must know).

As is my habit most times, I ended up with an Italian flavor profile for the chicken thighs. After seasoning them with salt I rolled them with garlic, shallots, rosemary, oregano and lemon zest into neat cylinders. These chicken thighs are from free range birds and they benefit from longer cooking. So, I cooked them sous vide at 66 C for about 4 hours. They were tender and perfectly juicy.

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While the chicken cooked I roasted a cubed butternut squash along with a few cut up carrots. When the chicken was done, I patted them dry and browned the skin in the pan with olive oil till crispy. I made a nice warm sauce/dressing for the dish using reduced white wine with shallots. I added Dijon mustard and enriched it with creme fraiche and some of the reserved cooking juices from the bag.

Coming up next, Salmon, more chicken and an ancient grain…

 

Lomo al Trapo – Beef Tederloin Wrapped in Cloth, Salted Potatoes, Chimichurri

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I have cooked meat -usually fish- and vegetables in a salt crust before, but not like this. I saw this Colombian dish on Kenji’s Food Lab and it immediately caught my attention. It is too cool, too old and new at the same time and just plain wild. Christmas dinner seemed like an excellent occasion for this. It is a luxurious cut of beef but also most of the attendees -Diana’s family- would be Colombian. So curious to try it out but not wanting to screw up Christmas eve dinner I made a trial run first to make sure. It was a good idea and made the second time I cooked it for a crowd much easier. The concept is pretty simple; wrap beef tenderloin in a salt crust encased in a towel (that’s the Trapo), throw it on a pile of hot coals until done, remove, crack the crust away, slice and enjoy. A few details are important to note though.

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The middle of the tenderloin is the best part to use here. I bought whole tenderloins and trimmed them myself. I managed to get three semi-even cylindrical pieces and the rest of the meat went in the freezer for other uses. To wrap each one, I laid a cotton kitchen towel and covered it with about 1/2 inch of kosher salt and a scattering of herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary). This carefully gets wrapped around the trimmed beef tenderloin. It’s a bit tricky to do and needs some practice to make sure the salt does not clump in one area or falls off the sides. A quick confident roll is key. I tied he rolls with twine and they were ready to go on the charcoal.

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When I say “on the charcoal” I literally mean that. Directly on hot fully ashed-up coals. It is impossible to tell how done the meat is in the salt cocoon. That salt gets hard very fast and that is what you want. It just makes it tricky to figure out when the meat is rare and to account for carry-over cooking. So, of course you need to use a thermometer. After 10 minutes on one side, I flip the meat over and started taking the temperature. I over shot a bit the first time and the meat that came up beautiful off the coals, but a little overcooked by the time it was sliced. To get the nice medium-rare final serving temperature, you need to shoot for about 92 F when you take it off the grill. Let the meat rest until it reaches 125 – 130 F and crack the salt crust open.

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By now the towel is mostly burnt away and a few taps with the back of a knife is enough to reveal the amazing burnished and very savory beef. The smell is really phenomenal at this point and the whole spectacle is too much for any of the guests not to stand, stare and “oooh”.

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I served this very simply and triditionally with boiled salted marble potatoes and a sharp chimichurri sauce (parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar). The potatoes were boiled with lots of salt until the water evaporates and the salt remains. This was another recipe from Kenji (and also a traditional Colombian preparation) but they did turn out a bit too salty so they need some work. By contrast the salt encrusted beef was delicious, perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. It really is a show-stopper of a roast.

Chicken Roulade, Tomato Gravy and Crispy Roast Potatoes

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Free range chicken like the ones I get from Yonder Way are delicious. These are birds that were never caged and are free to roam around and be as active as they like. The result is tasty chicken but not one as tender as the fryers you can get from the grocery store. These are a bit leaner too. All that means that I cannot just plonk a chicken in the oven and roast it high and fast and it’s good to go. I usually have to cook them a bit longer or use them for fricassees or stews and such. In this instance I had some time to play around a bit, so on spur of the moment while getting ready to joint the bird I ended up just deboning the whole chicken.

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I had not planned on this dish so I was not sure what the end result will look like. I figured I’ll just choose the flavor profile as I go along. Since the chicken was not going to be “stuffed” with anything like this awesome duck I needed to make sure that the final result is completely encased in skin. So I could not just roll it like a jelly-roll or else I would end up with skin rolled up with the meat where it will never crisp and render. In this case after the bones are removed we end up with more skin that we need. So, what I did was leave the skin attached to one side of the chicken after it was deboned. After seasoning the meat side I rolled it tightly with the skin and cut off the extra flaps. What I had was a nicely rolled chicken with a perfect encasement of skin.

Looking in the fridge and spice cabinet for flavors I ended up with a Spanish profile. I had chopped garlic (of course), smoked and unsmoked paprika, parsley and last but not least home-cured Spanish chorizo. I had cured the chorizo a couple months back from the book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss and still had a 4 inch piece left. I sliced the sausage thin and laid it in two rows down the length of the chicken.

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Cooking the chicken sous vide was the was to go here. It will make sure the chicken is perfectly juice all the way through. I used the Sous Vide Dash app to know for sure when the center of the chicken roll is cooked and pasteurized based on the diameter of the meat in a 150 F/65 C water bath. Before serving I patted the chicken dry very well and cooked it on all sides in a mixture of oil and butter until the skin is crisped and golden brown. This last step would be even more awesome if I had deep fried the chicken roll for a few minutes. I might try that next time around.

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While the chicken was happily cooking I had to think about what to serve it with. Recently I have been very interested in the new Southern cuisine of chefs like Sean Brock and John Currence. Their focus on ingredients, tradition and flavors that pop has been an eye-opener as to how amazing this type of cooking can be beyond fried chicken and okra (although these are awesome too!). Sean Brock’s episodes on Mind of A Chef  are some of the best food television I had ever seen and learned from. In his book (one with the most striking cover BTW), Heritage, Brock has a recipe for tomato gravy that is served with roasted pork, creamed corn and roasted onions. I love that sauce and have made it several times already. So, that’s what went with my chicken.

Roast Onions Roulade-Tomato Gravy

The tomato gravy starts like all gravies, with a starch cooked in a fat – a.k.a roux. In this case cornmeal cooked in bacon fat. Then good quality canned tomatoes are added and the mixture simmers and thickens. The only seasoning here is the bacon fat and some salt and pepper  but the gravy gains a lot from the cooking of the cornmeal and the excellent acidic San Marzano tomatoes. It is so good I could really eat it by itself with a spoon or on some rice. I also made the onions from the same recipe. I prefer to use smaller spring onions for these but I had none on hand. I quartered yellow onions and baked them in foil along with butter and thyme until tender. Before serving I charred the onions in a very hot pan to add some color and caramelized flavor.

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Potatoes would go good with this dish, specifically Heston Blumenthal’s amazing crispy fluffy roast potatoes. The trick here is to boil the potato chunks till they are almost falling apart. This obviously cooks them but also creates a lot of crevices, nooks and crannies that will get very crispy later on. After a cooling period, the potatoes are cooked in a baking pan with a good bit of oil in a hot oven. The process results in amazing crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside golden brown potatoes and they worked great with the lovely chicken and robust tomato gravy.

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Steak and Guinness Pie

Beef and Guinness Pie-VegBritish food is good. It could be great. To me, it is comforting, historic, classic and kind of cool in a way. Thankfully over the last few years chefs like Fergus Henderson, Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver and many others are making it a point to celebrate the classic food of Britain. In some cases chefs like Blumenthal are digging very deep (I have a post about that coming up soon) into the roots of historic English foods and modernizing them. That’s exactly what Chef Blumenthal is doing at his restaurant Dinner in London.

This post is not about modernist takes on British food though. When I think of British food something like this delicious comforting beef and Guinness pie come to mind. There’s a whole slew of meat-in-pastry type pies in this cuisine that range anywhere from crayfish to steak and kidney. This particular recipe is from Jaime Oliver’s Great British Food. Oliver actually calls it “Will and Kate’s Steak and Guinness Pie” in honor of the royal wedding a few years back. He puts a few twists on the recipe like including barley and cheddar cheese in the filling. That was part of the reason why chose to give his version a shot.

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The beef shanks from Yonder Way Farms are one fantastic cut of beef. I use them for everything from beef stew to beans and even Osso Buco. They are rich with a lot of flavor and lots of collagen that makes great braising liquids. More often than not, as I did here, I slip the marrow out of the bones and save it for another use. The filling of the pie is a stew with the beef, lots of red onions and some barley cooked in Guinness and beef stock.

Beef and Red Onions

When the stew is done I added in shredded sharp cheddar cheese. This touch is very nice. It makes a savory stew even more so, adds creaminess and substance. While the stew cooked and cooled I made the pastry.

The pastry is made very much like a pie or tart dough but instead of butter it uses suet. Suet is beef fat from around the kidneys. It is very firm and can actually be grated like butter or cheese. No one really sells suet in Houston and I did not want to pay for it online from some source (I might give that a shot at some point to see how different it is). What I do have is plenty of pork lard. So, the suet pastry became a rich pork lard short pastry. It was easy to work with and had a great flaky texture with a deep savory taste.

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To serve it, what better and more British side to go with this pie than steamed veg? The key here is to put the vegetables in the steamer based on how fast or slow they cook. I steamed carrots with some peas and some Romain lettuce at the end. These got tossed with a bit of butter, a drizzle of vinegar and salt. They were perfectly cooked with great texture and flavor, a perfect accompaniment to the rich beef and ale pie.

Cheers!

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