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.
I don’t normally cook pork loin, because it has no fat and is expensive. But I had a hankering recently to make lomo/lonzino, and when I saw a nice one for not too much I bought it.
Sorry, sourced it. I forgot myself there for a minute.
Most of it sat in a cure for a few days, and I’m going to hang it tomorrow. The rest of it became dinner, and I came up with a rather neat way to avoid overcooking a lean cut such as this, which can turn to cardboard misery in a matter of minutes if you’re not careful, wasting all that money you spent.
There’s nothing more useful than stock. Apart from the fact that it makes maximally efficient use of all your leftover bones—cooked or raw, depending on what you made—and that it can be tweaked and inflected every which way based on what you want to make next, it allows for so many options come dinner time. Soup, obviously, is pretty straightforward, but risotto is also only about twenty minutes away if you have stock on hand and some rice in the pantry. Sauces, reductions, gravies, stews, braises, and deglazing all require or at least benefit greatly from the application of a little or a lot of it.
Save the week’s bones in a container in the fridge or freezer and then give them a simmer with some aromatics every Sunday afternoon. Strain and freeze the result in quart containers and you’ll be set for any weeknight culinary eventuality that presents itself. Case in point: this dinner.
Pulled pork takes time. The essence of great barbecue is a long, slow smoking that infuses the meat with deep flavors from both the smoke and the spice rub, and then sets it off with an unctuous swaddle of tangy, sweet, spicy sauce (whatever type you swear by; I’m not getting into a fight about it). But it can’t be hurried.
Except that it can. I’m not saying it’s every bit as good as the slow version, but it’s damn good nonetheless. And you can make it in two hours if you have to.
A lot of my posts are just descriptions of a single meal, which is a logical format for a blog, especially if one is diligent enough to document them regularly. Ahem. Moving on. I thought that this time around I’d show a little more about how unlike my actual approach to cooking the concept of an isolated, free-standing meal really is.
La foire nationale à la brocante et aux jambons (the antiques and ham market) takes place every spring and fall out in the Parisian suburb of Chatou. It began in the middle ages, when during holy week vendors would gather to sell their hams right in front of Notre Dame. Over the ensuing centuries, the market was subsequently moved to various other spots in the city. Over time, other flea market-type vendors joined the market, and eventually, in 1970, it ended up in Chatou, right under the RER station (which makes getting there from Paris extremely easy).
My high school French teacher left a comment on a recent post asking for a picture of a cassoulet if I happened to stumble across one in my travels. While it’s funny that she’s still giving me homework after over 25 years, it was also lucky; it gave me an excuse to ask Kate to make cassoulet so I could see the whole process up close. So she did. She has made it hundreds of times, and this version represents her easy three to four hour distillation of the essential process. You can read her complete recipe here.
Many recipes for cassoulet begin by saying that it takes three days to make properly, which Kate thinks is nonsense. Sure, if you need to begin by making duck confit, then that’s true, but the nature of the Gascon larder is that there are always various jars of confit in there for just such an occasion. So if you make confit as part of your regular or even occasional routine, save some to make cassoulet. The rest of the process is really not complicated at all.
We began our day yesterday with a visit to the Wednesday market at Laverac, where vendors, including Dominique and Christiane, have tables set up displaying the best of the region and beyond. Besides stopping by to chat with the Chapolards–and so I could say thanks and goodbye to them–we also provisioned ourselves for lunch, dinner, and a final project: cassoulet.
Yesterday I spent all day in the expert hands of the Chapolard family. The four brothers and their wives (and now a couple of kids) all work together on the farm that their father started, raising pigs and turning them into superb meat and superlative charcuterie that supports all of them with a dignified living: true sustainability. The two kids have started a dairy on the property, with about fifty head of cattle, and they produce raw milk, yogurt, and some cheese. The rest of the operation is all pork, all the time, and I was honored to don a work smock, apron, and boots and spend a day learning from their expertise, passion, and hard work.