Originally—back when I gathered these chestnuts in October—this was going to be the sort of spot-on, autumnal af post that you’ve come to expect from this establishment. But the thing about fermentation is that it proceeds at its own pace. We can goose it by raising the ambient temperature (within reason) but any food that relies on the metabolic processes of a complex microbial ecosystem AND concurrent enzymatic chemical reactions is going to need some time to achieve the magical flavors we expect it to deliver. This is more true of miso than just about anything else.
Category: Always use a condiment
Quite a long time ago, I read a post by Aki and Alex about making gochujang with their sourdough starter. Since at the time I didn’t have any experience with koji, it seemed like a great way to get some of the umami-dense, viscous, funky heat that gochujang is justly renowned for. But I forgot about it, because I am old and forget things, until I remembered it last year.
When I lived in Chicago, during my brief stint as an art handler one of my colleagues hipped me to Bari Italian Subs west of downtown. It’s an unassuming deli, with the usual assortment of Italian groceries and a deli in back. The thing that makes it so special, and the reason we would often drive many miles out of our way (on the clock, of course) was their hot giardiniera.
We had some friends over last night, and I made a pork shoulder according to my standard method when there’s not enough time to slow-smoke it to a giving succulence: a couple hours in the smoker and then a couple more braising in various liquids until it attains a passable tenderness. While the spice rub (coriander, fennel, cumin, garlic, black pepper, fermented chili powder, salt) contributed significant flavor to the meat, it’s the components of the sauce—those various things that made up the braising liquid—that I want to write about.
The beauty of having both a garden and way too much visual art training manifests itself in many subtle ways, most of them involving dinner. This iteration of inspiration began with the radicchio, arrayed as plump and shiny purple heads in the chicory bed. After a busy day loading frost-leveled detritus into the wheelbarrow for trips to the compost pile, I took stock of what remained: a lot.
It’s been cold for so long that I forgot what an astonishing difference good weather can make to my level of inspiration. Tuesday was glorious: warm, sunny, smelling of spring—everything I needed to get my own sap flowing. Also, the happy arrival of some new vessels for eating and drinking helped thaw my previously frozen kitchen mojo; besides the box of my grandfather’s glasses that I finally unpacked, I brought a few pieces home from the pottery studio. I make ceramics to inspire me to cook better, and they do, and this batch worked perfectly.
I had a request for fish and chips, which I make occasionally, and since the day was dreary and cold fried food seemed a fitting repast. I don’t do this sort of thing often, since frying is a pain in my ass and makes a big mess (in addition to being unhealthy). On the plus side, it tastes good and best of all it allows me to pour oil all over my table when I take pictures of the finished dinner. You know, for ambiance.
Well, that felt good. I was overdue for a tirade, I guess. If I had any savvy I’d rave like that all the time, since those posts (see the “best of” page for all you newcomers) always get mad traffic.
I forgot to mention that a contributing factor to the blogstipation around here has been a matter of simple laziness; since I’m out at least once a week shooting pictures, my tripod, light stand, and other gear tend to stay in the car. So when dinner time rolls around, the prospect of going out to get them and set them up in time to shoot a plate of food seems like too much work. Come summer, this will all be moot in the abundant natural light, but for now it represents an obstacle, if a silly one. I did, however, want to show off this new bowl—part of my first ever firing in a wood kiln.
Going back to 2008, I have made 10-course extravaganzas for Thanksgiving: balls-out, unfettered freestyling wherein my imagination runs wild and my skills try their best to realize the perfervid visions and tie it all together. They’re all documented here on the blog, including the one that won me a trip to France. I have enjoyed cooking every one of them. But this year I wasn’t feeling it, so I took it easy. No manic list-making, no frantic days of prep beforehand, no careful curation of the trajectory from course to course. I bought a goose, and I used the homegrown produce on hand to round it out into a meal.