Pork and apple...you knew it was coming-- didn't you?
I've been playing with this classic pairing for awhile now, but none of the permutations have inspired me to post on it. In fact, I recently paired pork belly with apple pie. I was actually quite excited about it because I knew the flavors would work if I kept the sugar in check and it would further break down the wall of what we perceive as a savory and a dessert. And even though I made the crust with lard (which, by the way, makes the flakiest pastry), it didn't come together for me. I think that the problem was the crust itself; the texture distracted from the creamy/crispy pork belly. I haven't completely abandoned it, though...just filed it away for another time.
In the meantime, the apple caramel gel entered the picture with its butterscotchy mouthfeel, caramelized apple flavor, and balance of sweet with tart. It was the perfect element to unite the spiced apple balls--three types of apples sous vide with spiced butter (honeycrisp-nutmeg, gala-cinnamon, roma-clove)--with the cedar-scented pork. The scent of the spiced apples, when warmed on a vanilla bean, alongside the cedar pork, is intoxicating and stirs up all kinds of memories of hearth and home. The crisp element--a cylinder of whipped granny smith apple gel--reminded me of an apple core, which inspired this presentation. Finally, the baby leeks that I started from seeds in October, introduced notes of umami.
I hope this was worth the wait...I know it was for me.
Y'all must be tired of this croquant thing by now. I've had fun exploring the versatility of crispy ground fat melded with isomalt. And I haven't even delved into pork crackling territory, but with the changing season comes a new palette of flavors and inspiration. It's time to move on...
I thought that I would be moving on after the last post, but as I worked with the hot, pliable croquant, I realized it's structural potential. There was that, and the unfullfillment of the obvious bacon and eggs.
frozen egg custard
hollow sea salt
Years ago, I made miniature ice cream cones for a catered event. En route to the venue, I realized that I had not anticipated a way to pass or present them. A detour to Home depot provided a solution. As the first guests were arriving, I was on a stoop outside of the kitchen drilling holes into a sheet of plexiglass. The lesson learned: always be prepared, and when you're not--improvise.
That's exactly what I did when I found myself holding this cone and facing the same problem. The ice cream was melting and there was no plexiglass in sight. In the time that it took to bake a new cone, I had fashioned a stand out of 12 gauge wire.
I doubt that it would meet Grant Achatz's standards for service ware, but I think that Martha would approve.
Breakfast has found a place on dinner tasting menus--and with good reason. They appeal to us on an emotional level, evoking feelings of nostalgia, comfort and familiarity. This is true of, and perhaps even more profound when experienced within the context of a modern menu consisting of otherwise unfamiliar flavors and textures.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone who dined at The Fat Duck earlier this year. He waxed rhapsodic about the scrambled egg and bacon ice cream on the tasting menu and stated that, hands down, it was the best breakfast he'd ever eaten. I could say the same about the eggs benedict at WD-50. Sous-vide egg yolks had an unforgettable texture of fudge. Deep fried cubes spilled hot, liquid hollandaise into the mouth when bitten. These, despite learning that they contained gellan, Ultrasperse and Hexaphosphate, tasted pure and familiar, and were deeply satisfying.
bacon-crusted french toast
maple ice cream
Here, a cube of brioche is injected with a cinnamon-laced
custard appareil in order to soak it through to the core.(This technique may look familiar if you've ever refilled your own ink cartridge). After being baked in a moderate oven, the sides are brushed with melted butter and coated with powdered bacon croquant. A quick sear on all sides in a dry, non-stick pan produces a crisp, bruleed bacon crust. Ice cream, flavored with maple sugar and syrup, deliciously contrasts creamy with crisp and cold with hot.
This adaptation of a breakfast classic contains all of the familiar flavors that press the comfort buttons, with a bit of decadence thrown in for indulgence.
My husband's baked beans are legendary. The recipe has been handed down through the generations of Canadian men in his family like an heirloom. They are not the stuff that you find in cans--they are the real deal. And they are made in a pressure cooker.
When he first told me of his cooking method, I scoffed, believing that beans should be baked long and slow. A challenge ensued. After an overnight soak, the beans were divided. His went into a pressure cooker, mine went into the oven. Thirty minutes later, his were ready to eat--soft, but firm enough that each bean kept it's integrity and the sweet, tart, and peppery syrup had penetrated them to the core. Five hours later, mine were still hard and inedible, the sauce had all but dried up. I had to concede.
Years ago, a friend brought me a can of green boiled peanuts from his travels to the Low Country. He warned me that they were an acquired taste. For me, the acquisition was quick and complete. It was the one and only time that I had access to them, until recently.
When in season, Asian markets carry raw peanuts, still in the shell. I wanted to cook up a batch in heavily salted boiling water as they do in the South, but the four hour cooking time was putting me off. Then I looked at the pressure cooker. And then I looked at the individual shelled peanuts.
Making the connection to my husband's baked beans was just a logical progression.
Pork belly, when properly cooked until tender and succulent, is downright obscene. Choose a belly with a high ratio of fat. It can be cooked with the skin on, then sliced off to expose the creamy layer of fat that will be seared. For an added treat, the cooked skin can be sliced into thin strips and fried until crispy. The belly can be cooked in one piece or cut into individual portions for a shorter cooking time and thorough penetration of flavor. Cooking in a pressure cooker will cut the cooking time further. 3 lbs. pork belly
1 qt. rich chicken stock
1 cup peach juice
2 Tblsp molasses
1 Tblsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
In a heavy skillet, sear the pork belly on both sides until golden. Remove and place in a deep baking pan or a pressure cooker. Pour about 1 cup of chicken stock into the skillet and deglaze pan, then pour over the pork belly. Add the rest of the stock and the remaining ingredients.
To braise in the oven: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cover the casserole and bake for 4-5 hours or until fork tender.
To pressure cook: Cover pot, lock lid and bring up to pressure. Cook for 1- 1 1/2 hours.
When tender, remove the belly from the liquid. Remove skin, if still attached, and cut into serving pieces. Sear the fat side of the belly until crispy, then brush with glaze.
For glaze: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of peach puree with 2 Tblsps of brown sugar and 1 Tblsp lime juice. Cook over med-high heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. To make crispy thin sheets: Cut very thin slices of raw pork belly (this is easiest when partially frozen). Lay them out on a sheet pan, slightly overlapping, and lightly sprinkle with salt. Cover the slices with a smaller sheet pan and weigh it down with a heavy skillet. Place in a preheated 250F. oven until they have crisped and taken on a light golden color.
Salt pork is pork fat, usually from the back, that has been cured in salt. Fresh pork belly can be used in it's place.
4 oz. salt pork or fresh pork belly
1 lb. shelled green raw peanuts
6 Tblsps molasses
6 Tblsps brown sugar
1 Tblsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salt pork)
1 whole large onion, peeled
Cut the pork into 1/2" pieces and fry in a pressure cooker until browned and crispy. Add peanuts, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and salt (if using). Stir to combine. Place onion in center. Cover, lock lid, and bring up to pressure. Cook for 30 minutes. Release pressure and remove onion.
August is peach season here in the Northeast. My Redhaven peaches need another week or two to ripen, but there are earlier local varieties now available at the markets. The kernel of the peach pit is a good source of Benzaldehyde (the essence of bitter almonds). To extract the kernel, strike the pit with a heavy hammer or mallet until it breaks open.
3 ripe peaches
2 cups peach juice
1/2 cup Sauternes
2 Tblsps agave nectar
3 peach kernels
Wash peaches and cut each in half. Remove the pit and extract the kernel. In a pan large enough to hold the peaches in a single layer, combine the peach juice, Sauternes, and agave nectar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peaches, laying them skin-side-up, and their kernels. Poach gently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from liquid, peel off skin, and cut into 1" cubes. Serve warm.
Poblano peppers are a staple in my vegetable garden, along with the other chilis: jalapeno, serrano, thai dragon, and habanero. Poblanos are the mildest among these. Towards the end of their growing season, I allow the dark, glossy green pods to ripen on the plants until they turn a deep red. When dried, these are known as Ancho chilis. Charring the poblanos accomplishes three things: it allows the waxy skins to be easily removed, it softens the flesh to a tender-crisp texture, and it infuses them with a smoky flavor.
2 poblano peppers
1 Tblsp avocado oil
1 1/2 tsp lime juice
Char the peppers over an open flame until the skins blister and blacken. Place them in a heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid and allow them to steam in their residual heat for 10 minutes. Remove the blackened skins by rubbing them off with your fingers or a dry towel. Resist the temptation to rinse them off--you will only be diluting the flavor. When peeled, rip them open and remove the stem, membranes and seeds. Finely julienne the flesh and toss with the remaining ingredients.
The temperature hovers around 90 degrees on a hot and hazy afternoon in July. The oppressive humidity makes her skin feel clammy and her hair frizz. She stands over a grill, laying down pieces of halibut, their skin sizzling on contact with the hot grates. The heat from the flames rise and sting her face and hands, making her exposed flesh feel tight and sunburned. Less than 30 feet away, a group of children splash in a pool. The adults sit around a table in the shade of a pergola. Their conversation is languid, flagging in the heat. Why aren't they in the pool? If given the choice, that's where she would be. In the shallow end of the pool, the children play a raucous game of tag. Marco? Polo! She fixates on the way their hair drapes over their heads like sleek curtains. Wet. Cool. Refreshing drops fall on their shoulders and trail down their backs. In the deep end, a solitary boy lays floating on his back. His body is slack and motionless, his expression tranquil. He bobs in the wake from the game, an occasional wave laps onto his face. Unresponsive, he appears transcended, no longer earthly in his state of weightlessness. Suspended in Zero Gravity, oblivious to heat. She thinks of excuses to walk by the pool, closer than she ought to, and pretend to fall in. They would come running, concerned that she is hurt, put out at her clumsiness, worried that she may not be able to finish preparing their lunch. They would offer her a dry towel and a change of clothes. She would refuse, unwilling to part with the relief provided by her cool, wet clothing. A flare-up at the back of the grill diverts her attention to the fish. She lifts a piece to check the skin for crispness. She brushes the tops with fragrant basil oil and seasons them with garlic-infused sea salt. She flips them over, adjusts the heat, and checks her watch. In the shade of an oak tree, she reaches into a cooler and pulls out chilled soup bowls, laying them out in rows on the staging table. She lifts the lid off a cambro and is assaulted by the scent of nectar rising from the cantaloupe juice that she had extracted earlier. With a ladle, she parts the foamy raft that floats on the top and dips into the bottom for the clear juice. A full ladle is tipped into each bowl, followed by a spoonful of foam. She uncovers another cambro filled with rectangular planks of cantaloupe macerated in reduced Madeira. She wraps each piece with thin strips of Serrano ham, hiding a tender, young sage leaf within the folds. Glancing at her watch, she works quickly, moving the soup bowls onto a service tray and applies the final touches. She doesn't allow herself to be distracted by the swimming pool, but she is powerless to stop the images of a melon pool that is forming in her mind. She would build the walls out of gelled melon juice and fashion a liner from thin slices of the ham. She would fill the pool with melon juice and foam.Yes, it would work, she decides. The server appears at her side, mopping his brow with a napkin. She notices that his shirt is drenched in sweat and she can see through to the tattoo on his upper back. She asks wryly: Did you go for a dip? No, but I'm tempted. Yea, me too. She smiles and hands him the tray.
Uncle Willie's is a small restaurant in Waterbury, Connecticut that features "real down home pit bbq". It is an unassuming place, located in a strip mall and the decor is nondescript. The food is the real draw there and has garnered it many accolades; among them, Jane and Michael Stern's proclamation "one of America's top ten barbecue restaurants". Those are some big shoes to fill for a bbq joint in the Northeast, but Uncle Willie's not only fills them, but runs triathlons. In addition to their bbq, which is cooked for 12-18 hours over oak and hickory, they offer award-winning fried chicken and volcanic wings. I go there for the "like velvet" pulled pork--deeply flavored, sensual, complex with the mysteries of smoke--it is the stuff that elevates pork to mythical heights.
The pulled pork that I make at home does not even try to compete with Uncle Willie's, but it is satisfying nonetheless. I rub pork shoulder with a blend of dried herbs and spices and cook it long and slow in the oven. While it is still warm, it lends itself to compression, as I've done here. When tightly wrapped in plastic, the unctuous juices and fat will bind the shreds into a compact shape, which then releases with the pull of a fork.
The sauce is made from a butterscotch and vinegar base, to which I added pomegranate molasses and ground ancho chilies that were reconstituted in OJ. The balance of flavors hit the right notes: caramelized sweetness up front, fruit and acid roll over the tongue, grand finale of heat and spice kick in at the back. I had intended to turn this into a fluid gel, so I added agar, but then decided to present it as a sheet. The agar allows it to be heated.
The fried coleslaw brought in the elements of my favorite way to enjoy pulled pork at Uncle Willie's--the Carolina pork on a bun. Can you guess what makes it work? I'll be glad to dish if anyone can answer this riddle:
What can you add to something to make it lighter in weight and lesser in mass?