X Marks The Spot

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a 1968 copy of the first American edition of the Larousse Gastronomique that she found at a yard sale. It’s a mixture of fascinating information and hilariously dated pictures–the color plates are printed with ghastly separation–of the ponderous, baroque platings that were the norm before nouvelle cuisine broke free. Giant roasts, birds, or hams covered in pastry, surrounded by things stuffed with more things, arranged in concentric obedience–it looks positively medieval now, and reveals how far food culture has come since then. It’s true in music, too: the other day “Crazy Train” was on the radio, and I laughed at how the once-diabolical Ozzy now sounds like teen pop, much in the same way that the Ramones practically sound like doo-wop compared to the hardcore that followed them.

It’s not just the presentation from that time that’s anachronistic; the idea of preparing a huge hunk of animal for anything other than a big party just seems silly and wasteful. I almost never buy roasts, since it’s just so damn much meat. Last night the three of us split a beautiful ribeye. Sure, I could have eaten a bit more, but it was the right amount of meat from a health and general consumption point of view. Plate-obscuring steaks for one are an apt symbol of our national eating disorder. But something about the image of a big roast surrounded by vegetables caught in my mind, and got me thinking about a super-traditional Christmas dinner. That, and the presence of a pork shoulder in the freezer, which I had originally bought to grind into sausage.

So over the course of the afternoon–after the feverish unwrapping of lego and books and many other gifts, of course–I puttered around the kitchen assembling various components into a meal. Soothed by the calming serenade of a remote-controlled race car careening around the kitchen, I began with the shoulder. Rubbed with a paste made of garlic, salt, herbs, smoked paprika, and pepper, It went in a 450˚oven until the top got a good sizzling brown on it. Then I dropped the temp to 225˚ and let it slowly finish cooking.

While that did its thing, I made the dark chocolate mousse for which I am famous the world over, putting it in the fridge to chill. I cut turnips into small cubes and caramelized them in some olive oil until they were golden and tender. I cooked collards with bacon and stock for two hours until they were silky and unctuous. I caramelized fennel, then let it braise in white wine until it too was pure velvet. I steamed sweet potatoes and mashed them in their steaming water with a bit of salt and pepper, and I took some leftover cranberry sauce (which by itself was not enough for much) and made cranberry tapenade by blending it with kalamata olives and a little ketchup. The only untraditional thing on the menu, it nonetheless made a terrific companion to the pork.

Once the roast came out, I made a quick gravy with the drippings, apple cider, and stock. I pulled the meat out when it was 155˚ in the middle, and let it rest under foil for ten minutes; it positively gushed juice when I carved it. And dinner was served. I even put it all on a serving dish I made recently, so I could see the concept all the way through to the presentation. As good as it was, I was more excited about the prospect of leftover roast pork in Cuban sandwiches in the ensuing days. Cooking five pounds of meat for three people (one of whom is quite small) is absurd, but so is roasting a joint of meat solely for sandwiches. The decadence of this feast was going to provide days of luxe-frugal breakfasts and lunches. But that’s another post.

12 comments to X Marks The Spot

  • I love old cookbooks–mostly the abundant jello/aspic recipes. My embarassing collection includes a casserole-only book that was published by the USDA during WWII. The best way to fight Hitler is by creating nutritious meals on the cheap.

    Is there anything better than cider and pork? It just might be caramelized fennel. This is a beautiful meal.

  • We are only two but I sometimes do cook a roast anyway. If lamb, the rest goes into curry; if beef, we usually have sandwiches next; if turkey (I use a small one), again sandwiches or turkey tetrazzini or turkey soup. Roasting brings out such flavor and fills the house with scents. It’s not indulgent as long as it’s not wasted.

  • First of all, I thought you were Jewish. Christmas presents? Dinner?

    I agree that roasts are too much meat. But since we do 1/4 cow splits with friends, we usually end up with a few even though we ask the butchers to split things evenly. Most of the beef roasts we get are in the 3-4lb range, though, so that’s doable. Hams, though – those are best sawed in half and saved for later.

    And Jacquie, don’t laugh at gelatins! They are going to be the new hot Thing, mark my words.

  • Peter

    Jacquie: All I know is that if I don’t get a Cuban sandwich for lunch, the terrorists have won. I used to have an awesome vintage technicolor jello cookbook, but I’m not sure where it is.

    Zoomie: That’s true. And I’m digging the sandwiches.

    Blanche: If you begin your first sentence with “First of all,” then succeeding sentences should begin “Second” or “secondly” and so on.

  • Janet

    I can’t remember the last time I did a roast. Like Zoomie, there are only 2 of us and a roast goes a long way. We’re having a couple over for New Year’s and I’ve been trying to think what to serve. I’d like to do a lobster bisque to start with then maybe a roast…
    Thanks for the idea.

  • sohl

    Hey Peter. I stumbled onto your blog and i have a couple of questions. Im about to make some miso bacon like you successfully have. I am thinking to first do one day of regular salt sugar curing because a lot of liquid will be produced. Then on the second to fifth day cure it with miso. Is that what you would do? Also do you add more salt to the miso paste? if you can provide any other help it would be appreciated. Thanks.

  • Parenthetical

    I’m the weirdo who lives alone and still does roasts all the time. But I like the left overs, quite a bit.

  • Peter

    Janet: A smaller one should be just right.

    Sohl: How much are you making? You might want to try a couple of different mixtures and see which you prefer. Miso is plenty salty, and I find that a week or so gives a lovely cure. Too much extra salt tends to harden it, it my experience, which is why people add sugar as well. Using just miso and a little sugar (and often umeboshi paste as well) yields an amazingly tender and buttery texture. Let me know how it turns out. I also hot-smoke it to just shy of 150˚ and no more so it’s still juicy and pink inside, then freeze it in one-pound blocks.

    Parenthetical: Then good for you; what matters is that you cook for yourself. When I was a bachelor I loved to make myself dinner. And my sandwiches have been pretty great lately. I may just come around…

  • Secondly, kiss my ass.

  • This looks and sounds fantastic! I trust it tasted fantastic as well. Like Parenthetical, I think there’s something economically worthwhile in the occasional roast of well-raised meat: executed well, nothing should go to waste but rather could provide the foundation for many a future meal.

    • Peter

      There is, of course, just like roasting a whole chicken. But for a boneless roast, it’s more about sandwiches than soup (though the meat can live again in stews as well). I think a roast of some sort may become a monthly or slightly more often ritual around here.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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