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.