Friday, April 30, 2010

Pork on a Stick: Satay!

Foods on a stick is a summer thing. You'll find them at state fairs, and at Wisconsin State Fair, you can get pretty much anything on a stick. It's all good fun but it comes down to taste of course.

Skewering meats or veggies on a stick and grilling them is the way to go. Simple preparation and simple grilling yet the end result is very satisfying.

Satay basically means sliced meats: pork, chicken, beef, or fish woven onto bamboo skewers. Satay is a popular dish in southeast asian counties such as Singapore and Malaysia. The main ingredient in satay is turmeric. It gives the dish a yellowish color. It is usually served with a sauce such as a peanut or pineapple.

Pork Satay

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 stalk lemongrass ( I used grated lemon.)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed, toasted and then ground
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and then ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoon vegatable oil
  • 3 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • wooden skewers
Combine all the marinade ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Slice the tenderloin into strips. Transfer the pork into a resealable plastic bag and add the marinade. Massage the pork to distribute marinade on the pork. Refridgerate up to 8 hours.
Soak the wooden skewers in a bowl of water for at least 30 minutes to prevent burning on the grill.
Take pork out of the bag and thread the slices onto each skewer to cover about half of the skewer.

Prepare a three-zone fire. Set coals on each end of the grill leaving the center open. Lay down some heavy duty foil in the middle of the grill. Place the pork over direct, medium heat. The end of the skewer will be over the foil. Grill until the pork is firm, about 10-12 minutes total. Turn frequently to char pork on all sides.

Serve with a sauce of choice.

Pork Satay with Grilled Baby Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms

The satay had a wild flavor. The turmeric really made its presense known, as well as the chopped peanuts. It had somewhat of a tangy flavor but not too overwhelming. The char gave it a nice texture while the pork was grilled well having a nice, tender inside.

The grilled bok choy and mushrooms were a perfect accompaniment to the pork. The shiitakes were very tender and meaty while the bok choy added the crunchy component to the dish.

Of course I couldn't contain myself. I couldn't leave anything behind.

A nice, cold Samuel Adams Boston Lager helped me wash it all down!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Home-Cured Smoked Bacon

I'm taking soft steps into the world of charcuterie. I have been enjoying the processes of brining and curing and smoking. I recognize that is does take some practice to get it to the right point and it takes time to perfect the art of charcuterie.

I had to try to making some homemade bacon. There was a slab of pork belly in the fridge and I had all the fixings so I took the challenge.  The idea of making my own bacon was non-existent when I began this blog but I'm excited I've moved on to more challenging tasks of the pig. I think any home cook should try this process. Ok, lets go!

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. Of course, you need a slab of pork belly.

This is a 4 lb. belly that I split in half so I started with a 2 lb pork belly. I love bacon but I didn't need 4 lbs of it.  The cure is what helps to create the magic.

  • 2 teaspoons pink salt
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Combine the cure ingredients together in a bowl and mix thoroughly to evenly distribute them.

Rub the cure mixture over the entire pork belly. Get it all over and don't be shy.

Place skin-side down in in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag. Refridgerate it for 7 days. Turn the belly and redistribute the cure every other day. The pork will release water into the cure, creating a brine. It is important to keep it in contact with the liquid throughout the curing process.

The pork belly should be firm to the touch after curing for 7 days. Remove the belly from the cure, rinse it thoroughly, and pat it dry. Place on a rack over a baking tray and dry it in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

Once it has dried, it is time to hot-smoke it in the grill. But first, lets take a look at this guy after 7 days of curing.

The colors have darkened. It looks good to eat at this point but the smoking process adds a lot of flavor and is a must step.  I love the layers of fat and meat. It is starting to look like bacon!

Hot-smoke the pork belly in the grill until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Since mine was only 2 lbs and my grill was a little too hot, the bacon was done in 1.5 hours. I think you want your grill around 200 degrees temp. I use a charcoal grill for smoking and I am still learning that trick. The temp was definitely over 200 degrees but I was carefully watching the belly so I didn't over shoot my internal temp.

Let cool slightly, and when the belly is cool enough to handle, cut the skin off by sliding a knife between the fat and the skin. Don't take off too much fat though. I saved the smoky skin and fried it up in the pan and made some Crispy Pork Skins.

Crispy pork skins on the left, smoked pork belly, fresh-cut pan-friend bacon on the right. I don't know if I executed the process with success or perfection. Maybe I did overcook the belly a little, but after frying up the bacon, it was fatty, juicy, tasty, very pleasing. The crispy pork skin was also a self-indulgent treat.

I will try curing my own pork belly to make bacon again. This is a process I want to get good at and fine tune my smoking skills with the charcoal grill. But overall, I think I did ok. It looks good and tastes like bacon so I must have done something right.

Pork people, try this at home. It wasn't too difficult. The only real speciality ingredient you need is the pink salt and you need a smoker or grill. And you have to forget about it for 7 days as it cures, the patience is hard but it is important.

Awesome, I have 2 lbs of home-cured smoked bacon in the fridge, time to have some friends over to eat it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Crispy Pork Belly

I became super excited when I made my visit to Bunzel's Meat Market, 8415 W. Burleigh St, Milwaukee, WI, that the butcher had a nice piece of pork belly. Recipes started scrolling through my head and I could hardly contain myself. The butcher explained his love for crispy pork belly so I thought I would give that a good try.

Look at the layers of meat-fat-meat-skin. Oh that is beautiful!

I started out by brining the pork belly.

Twelve black peppecorns, juniper berries, cloves, three bay leaves, cup of granulated sugar and kosher salt all mixed into 2 quarts of water.

I brought the brine to a boil to dissolve the sugar and the salt. The aromas of juniper, cloves, and bay leaves were quite pleasing.

Let the brine come to room temperature to cool. It should take 4-5 hours. I placed my pork belly in a large plastic sealable bag and poured the cooled brine over it. I let it brine for three days in the refridgerator.

After the brine time, I took it out of the refridgerator and gave it a good cold water wash down and patted it dry. I left it in the fridge overnight to dry some more.

To achieve nice crispiness on the skin, you need to score the rind and place salt into the cuts and on the rind. The salt will dry out water and fat while cooking which results in more crisp and tastiness.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pork belly in the upper third of the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The skin will bubble and start to darken. After 30 minutes, lower the temperature to 375 degrees and roast for another hour to hour and a half. When cooking time is complete and the skin isn't crisp enough, you can broil it for a few minutes. Take it out of the oven and let rest 15-30 minutes.

I was happy with the crisp level of the belly. It had a good color while I'll manage not to burn it too bad. I know it is important to let the meat rest after cooking but I have little patience during this time. I wanted to cut right in and start to devour.

Crispy pork belly can go well with most dishes. You can add some Asian influence to the dish or add it to a nice salad. I wanted to feature the pork only so I just dipped them in some soy sauce (more sodium...) and enjoyed the perfect balance of fat and meat. I know it is cliche but this was one of those meals where the fatty juice literally rolled down my chin. The crisp is a great texture combined with the melting fat and meat. I over salted the pork belly just a bit before roasting. It was maybe a bit too salty for my taste.

It was an involved process that took about 4 days to finish but if you serve pork belly at a gathering that has some carnivores, it will definitely please the crowd.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Match Made in Heaven: Pork & Mustard

Tender, succulent pork and grainy mustard, oh yeah, so nice.....Add it to a slow-simmering pot of stew and yes, you have a match made in heaven.

I love cooking stews. Mostly my stews of the past have had chunks of potatoes and beef but this recipe aims higher highlighting mustard paired with pork.

All the classic ingredients are involved: carrots, celery, onions, garlic....Slowly-simmered in the oven, this stew comes together and just blasts your tastes buds. It also contains a few surprises as well.

Mustard Pork Stew

  • pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
  • kosher salt, grated black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 2 medium carrots, medium dice
  • 2 ribs celery, medium dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2-2 cups white wine, I usually use Sauvignon Blanc
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives, halved lengthwise, cut in three wedges
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Use a large, heavy-bottomed ovenproof stew pot over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons oil to pot. Brown meat on all sides. Remove meat and reserve.

Add another 1 tablespoon oil to pot. Add mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes until brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove and add to reserved pork.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pot. Add onion, carrots, and celery and saute for 4 minutes until light brown. Add flour and dry mustard and stir for 30 seconds. Add red wine vinegar, wine, and bring to a boil. Whisk up the beautiful, tasty browned bits on the bottom of pot. (so lovely)

Cook 3 to 4 minutes to reduce liquid by half. Add broths and reserved pork and mushrooms and bring to a simmer.

Place pan in oven and cook for about 1.5 to 2 hours until pork is tender.

Stupid me to open the oven and uncover my pot, all the heat is escaping but the smell was fantastic!

After 1.5 to 2 hours, remove from oven. Strain the the sauce from stew, and reduce it to 2.5 to 3 cups liquid. Add olives and dijon mustard. Return meat and vegatables to sauce. Serve.

The stew is filled with vegatable and pork while oozing in mustard flavor. Look at all those stewy guts!

Served with an Amber beer, the Mustard Pork stew is a true tasy meal. The olives add a briny note while the mushrooms, mustard, and herbs add the earthy tones. The cuts of pork shoulder were stewed to fine tenderness. A lot of prep work but what do you expect from a stew? It is a total exercise in cooking incorporating the techniques of a knife, browning meats, braising, slow-cooking, and seasoning.

Mustard is a great companion to pork. I couldn't contain myself as I ate most, but not all, of the stew from my pot.

A good, tasty, hearthy beer will wash it down real well.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Four Different Pork Chop Styles

I'll admit it. Pork chops aren't my favorite cut of pork. Don't get me wrong, I like to eat them, but they just don't excite me very much. I've had poorly cooked chops in the past resulting in tough, flavorless chops. But that is the cooking challenge, to hit that right moment of internal temperature where the chop is mouth-watering.

Pork chops can be versatile as there are several ways to prepare them. I chose four ways that each bring a different element to the dish; stuffing, brining, marinating, and flattening.

Flattening - Pork Paillard

Paillard is a French technique where a piece of meat is pounded thin to tenderize before cooking. Since the meat is thin, it cooks very quickly while retaining its juiciness and tender texture.

Cut the pork chop from the fat side to about a half inch on the other side. It should open up like a butterfly. Place the pork chop between plastic wrap and flatten it to about a quarter inch. I was not sanitary in my pounding of the pork chop but I seem to feel no effects of contamination.

You can use a meat tenderizer or a wooden mallet to pound away at the meat. I have neither so I used a small yet heavy cast iron skillet. Pound the paillard to even thickness.

Thinly pounded paillards should be grilled over high heat. Grill the first side of the paillard until it achieves its grill marks, about 3 minutes. The second side will only need to be grilled about 1 minute. Be careful to not overcook the paillard as it will dry out.

Served with a side of grilled carrots, the Pork Paillard is a quick and easy meal. It takes about 4-5 minutes to grill and you're on your way.

Brining - Garlic-Sage Brined Pork Chop

A brine is a salty liquid and it works its magic by penetrating the meat, it also leaves the meat with a juicier finish. The brine gives the meat more moisture and flavor from the start. Sugar is also added to the brine to balance out the effects of salt. Brown sugar especially goes well with pork. To help round out the flavor, herbs and spices can also included in the brine.

Another recipe from Charcuterie, smashed garlic, sage leaves, cracked juniper berries, brown sugar, salt, black pepper make up the brine. It is important to heat the brine first so the flavors marry with the liquid. Allow it to cool and place in the refridgerator. Let the pork chop sit in the brine for 2 hours, then wash and pat dry and let sit in refridgerator uncovered for an hour. Pay attention to how much time you allow the chop to stay in the brine. Too much time in the brine can result in overly salty meat.

For grilling, I set up my charcoals in a two-zone system. All the coals are tightly packed on one side of the grill for direct heat. Sear the chops on both sides and then place chops on the other side over indirect heat. The internal temperature you want to reach is between 130-140 degrees. It should take about 10 minutes.

Served with starchy, oven-roasted garlic/onion potatoes, the brined pork chop was definitely tasty. The salty brine penetrated the meat while the sage and juniper berries infused its earthy flavor into it. As directed, the chop retained a lot of its juiciness. I highly recommend brining your pork chops, it will give it a huge boost.

Stuffed and Marinated Pork Chop

Similar to brining, marinating meats provides flavor and tenderizes the meat. This simple marinade consists of soy sauce, lemon juice, chili sauce, brown sugar, and minced garlic. Because of the acid in the lemon juice, I only marinated the pork chop for 3-4 hours.

I grilled the pork chop over medium direct heat for about 10 minutes. You must be careful to not overcook the pork chop. It will get dried out and tough to chew. It is also important to know and understand your grill. If it is too hot, the outside of the chop will cook a lot faster than the middle of the chop resulting in a pink center and a black, charred outside. Not good. I was not perfect in my cooking, my marinated chop was under-cooked. It happens to all of us at some point.

Stuffing pork chops adds a some excitement.  My stuffing consisted of chorizo, chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, and cilantro.  

Cut a pocket into the fat side of the chop deep enough to allow enough filling. Make sure to not cut all the way through. I pierced the chop with tooth picks to seal in the filling somewhat. Dust with salt and pepper and you are ready to grill.

The stuffed pork chop was grilled alongside the marinated chop in medium direct heat for about 10 minutes.

Both chops were pretty tasty, well, the under-cooked marinated chop was tasty after I fixed it. The chorizo-chipotle-cilantro filling added spicy notes while the soy sauce and brown sugar in the marinade gave the chop a savory sweet play to it.

After trying chops four different ways, I would say the clear winner was the brined chop and the loser was the paillard. Though it is a quickly cooked and ready to eat and serve, the paillard chop reminded me of the unexciting chops I've had in the past. Nothing jumps out at you. It is basically just a thin chop.

The brined chop was truly tasty and reinvigorated my taste buds for more chops like that one in the Pork Drunk future. Sure, it takes a long time to prepare but it is all worth the effort.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bacon: A Trio of Soups

As weather goes in April in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you can have a 70 degree one day and mid 30s with rain-snow mix the next day. Today was one of those mid 30s days. Soup came to mind.

It is a cold weather, warm meal. Rarely will I cook up a big bowl of hearty soup in the middle of summer. Soup also really challenges and test the cook. Blending together seasonings, making stocks, creating flavors, are all tough tasks to master. Even a basic tomato soup can easily result in a bland and uninspiring meal.

Bacon is one of those ingredients that can provide a big bang of flavor into a soup. Though it doesn't fit all types of soups, when it does, it raises the bar on that dish.

Here is a trio of soups that feature bacon.

Butternut Squash soup with Apple and Bacon

The smokiness of bacon, herby sage, and the sweetness of a Granny Smith apple, heighten the flavors of a squash soup. The butternut squash is diced up and cooked in the bacon fat. Diced apple and chopped sage are added to the squash until lightly browned. Chicken broth is added to scrape up the bits of flavor on the bottom of the pan and cooked in a slow simmer until the squash and apples have softened. At this point, intense cooking smells fill the kitchen.

After a cool down, half of the bacon is added to the soup and in batches, the soup is pureed. The remaining bacon is used to garnish the soup.

This is a perfect combinations of flavors. The squash soup is probably best suited for late fall and winter but it worked well on a cold April day.

Broccoli soup with Bacon

Bacon definitely adds to this vegatable-laden dish. I'm sorry Vegatarians, but bacon gives this broccoli soup its finish. Broccoli florets and stems, leeks, onion, and garlic are slowly simmered in a combination of chicken broth, dry white wine, and water. After being pureed in batches, heavy cream and lemon juice are added to the soup. Grab a mound of diced bacon and garnish it on top of the pureed broccoli.

Broccoli soup isn't my favorite bowl out there but bacon raises its value. Hey, if you or your kids aren't a fan of vegatables, bacon will probably get you or them to eat it. Its an easy soup to make but a little extra effort by frying up some bacon will make this even better.

Baked Potato soup with Leeks, Cheddar, and Bacon

A true Sconnie soup ( nickname for Wisconsin resident); a mixture of potato, cheese, and bacon!
A Russett potato is baked in an oven for an hour and pureed with leeks, garlic, and chicken broth.
Smoothed to a creamy texture, chopped scallion, cheddar cheese, and fried bacon are added to the base of this heavy, chunky potato soup.

Bacon and potato are pretty much meant to be together. They compliment each other so well in many different cooking methods. The bacon provides the crunch while the half-pureed potato/half thick-cut potato mixed with sour cream and milk provide the creaminess. The leeks and scallions round out the veggie, earthy flavor to the soup.

This soup is a total pleaser. It is hearty enough for a dinner and warm enough for a cold, spring day. Might not go well for a tailgate at a baseball game but certainly does well for a haphazard snow/rain mix.

Soups may taste better in colder months but it always provides a flavor challenge despite the calender year. Creating soups can only improve your skills at learning the fine intricacies and the basics of cooking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Canadian Bacon, Eh!

(Personal note: I'm sorry it has been a long time since I posted on here, I haven't cooked or cut a vegatable since February. The past month was a busy time with work resulting in long days. But I'm back and I'm ready to kick off Grilling Season!)

To continue my quest into the different worlds of bacon, I decided to try a type of bacon that may get overlooked more than other types of bacon. From our friendly neighbors to the North, I bring you homemade Canadian Bacon!

With the NHL Playoffs on the horizon and MLB Opening Day a few days past, it is time to fire up Grilling Season.

After reading much praise about Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, I purchased the book and read through it for a month. To start off easy, the cured smoked pork loin seemed like a good place to start.

Thanks to Ruhlman and Polycn's wonderful book, you'll read and see more recipes here in the future.

Canadian bacon is different from slab bacon. It is not from the belly of the pig. It is created by using a pork loin and the loin is brined with a curing salt and herbs before it is smoked. This type of pork is usually quite lean and flavorless so it was a small challenge to amp up the bite.

Here is the recipe: (quantities may differ depending on size of Pork Loin)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1.5 cups kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1.5 ounces pink salt (8 teaspoons)
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 4 lb boneless pork loin, all fat/sinew removed
  1.  Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then refridgerate until chilled.

2. Place the pork loin in the brine and weight it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Refridgerate for 48 hours. I have read that over-brining meats can cause it to be quite salty and there is nothing to do to fix it. I brined it for maybe 55 hours.

3. Remove loin from the brine and rinse it under cold water and pat dry. Place on a rack over a plate in refridgerater uncovered for a day. If you can hang it, this also helps it dry quicker allowing more air to get at the loin.

4. Hot-smoke the loin to an internal temperature or 150 degrees, 2 to 3 hours. Allow to cool and refridgerate up to ten days.

I keep adding charcoal and hickory wood chips every half hour to keep a good internal grill temp. It is helpful to have a grill grate that has side doors to add coals and chips.

This is about 1.5 hours of smoking. Keep an eye on your grill vents, the more open they are, the more air travels through creating a hotter grill. Also, avoid the temptation of peaking and lifting the cover, heat escapes!

Since it was my Opening Day of Grill Season, I was made a few errors, but after making some adjustments, I hit my internal temp of 160 degrees. After about 2.5 hours, my canadian bacon was done. I let it cool but my patience ran out, I had to thin slice up the bacon and eat!

The three pound pork loin created a lot of bacon. The smoking element is key to making a tasty homemade canadian bacon. If you don't have a smoker/grill, you can cook it in a low oven at 200 degrees until you reach your internal temperature. But the smoke really gives it a great flavor and makes it standout in my opinion.

Since this was my first try, I think I would be more careful with my amounts of salt and pink salt. I probably added to much since my pork loin was smaller than the original recipe calls for. Be careful when using pink salt. It contains nitrates and too much nitrate is not a good thing.

I don't know a lot of recipes for canadian bacon other than breakfest and pizza. I'm sure there are great ones out there but I was running out of time so a quick lunch would do. Cast-iron eggs and crispy bacon.

I'll say it was an easy step into Charcuterie. I'm sure they are tastier canadian bacons out there but it was fun to try to make my own. Give it a try.