It’s A Dry Heat

I’ve done it with two different kinds of meat from two different animals, and I’m telling you that I’m sold.  This is how I will do it from now on.

For years I would prepare large, tough cuts that require a long cooking time in one way only—I’d braise them.  The meat is cooked through, and usually quite tasty.  But there was a lacking dimension I didn’t even realize what was absent.  The missing element was texture.

The Japanese are all about the texture.  They will eat something which tastes so-so just because it is a celebration of an unusual mouth feel.  They even enjoy textures that most Americans might find off-putting, such as sticky, spongy, or slimy.  But slow roasted meat has a whole variety of textures that are nothing but welcome to a dedicated carnivore.

We’ll start with the gorgeous, golden crust.  The fat cap has rendered slowly, leaving it crispy and caramelized.  The rest of the crust has become slightly crispy-edged and golden brown.

When sliced, the meat is falling apart tender and juicy.  When you bite into it, it has a richness that coats your mouth (and probably your chin) in the best possible way.  Braised meats just never really achieve this sensation.

I was in Food Lion the other day and in the meat case was a small, boneless piece of pork butt. So I took it home, planning on braising it in a day or so.  I unwrapped it, and rubbed it with a mixture garlic powder, thyme, salt, pepper, and ground caraway seed.

Then I remembered how good a brisket had been that I had roasted a while back.  A pork shoulder has tons of fat and connective tissue, so I decided to break out my roasting pan, and go for it.

The day of cooking, I started it around 10:00 in the morning, with a goal of eating dinner at 8PM.  I set the oven for 225 degrees.  I heated my large Dutch oven, poured in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil, and when it was really hot, I seared the meat to golden brown on every side.  Then I placed it on the rack in my roasting pan, poured some water in the bottom to eliminate any smoking.

All the sinew and connective tissue, which make it such misery when undercooked, is what makes the eating of the same meat when well-cooked such joy.

Every serious cook needs one.  This is the type America’s Test Kitchen reccomends.

The melting point for connective tissue is 210 degrees.  And ask any pit master; get there slowly.  Think of it like cooking bacon.  If you put it a very hot skillet, the bacon will burn before the fat has had a chance to render.  So you end up with charcoal-flavored limp and floppy sadness.

I inserted my probe thermometer and popped the roasting pan in the oven.  I checked it every couple hours and watched it slowly turn golden.  It took about 8 hours, but I cooked it really slowly.  If you had a bigger piece you could turn the oven up to 275 without any real detriment to flavor and texture.When the breathtaking pork came out of the oven, the liquid in the bottom of the pan had cooked off, so I poured in 1 ½ cups of water and used a silicone spatula to get all the bits off the pan.  This made clean-up a breeze.

But it got better.  I poured the resulting liquid into a jar and stuck it in the fridge.  When it got cold, a miraculous transformation took place.  The fat rose to the top and solidified.  This got discarded.

When all that melted connective tissue was chilled it thickened a bit.  What was left in the jar was basically roasted pork jelly.  While it wouldn’t be my first choice for a PBJ, this intensely flavored piggy jam is pretty much straight umami, that fifth taste discovered by the Japanese.  It’s savory-ness, the taste that makes you want to go back for another bite.The pork jelly (or demi glace, its technical name) is so potent it should only be used in small doses, and under close supervision.  With a bucket of this stuff you could take over the world.

Thanks for your time.

Cook Today, Chili Tamale

Originally published in the Herald Sun 1/4/2012

I’m not a chili fan. Never sat in front of a bowl of red with anticipation. Wendy’s chili moves me not. Keep that mess away from my dog, I’m a sauerkraut girl. The Kid feels pretty much the same way, except for the sauerkraut (loathes it).
But, we love, adore, and relish a big bowl of a homemade favorite; green pork chili.
It is a pot of many wonders. It’s cheap. It’s easy (not quick-but easy). It can be made on a Saturday afternoon, and will taste even better heated up on a busy Wednesday night. It freezes like a dream, so you can make gallons at a time. If you play your cards right, you can get an extra hunk of slow-cooked pork to use for another meal.
And it’s so very yummy. It’s rich and hearty, without being heavy or greasy. It is jammed full of fresh, healthy veggies, that have cooked down into a rich, roasted nirvana. It’s mellow and comforting, but has a little zip from fresh chiles, lime and cilantro.
It all starts with my old friend, a pork shoulder, or Boston butt (tee hee). Look for it on sale, and buy as big a piece as you have a pot for. You’ll need at least 2-3 pounds for a nice big batch of green. The amounts of the vegetables can also vary, according to taste.

Chili For Folks Who Don’t Like Chili
2-3 pound pork butt (or larger)
1/2-3/4 pounds fresh poblano peppers (for more heat, swap in hotter varieties as desired)
1/2-3/4 pound fresh tomatillos
1 very large white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup white wine or pale beer
6 cups chicken stock
1 large can hominy or posole
2 fresh limes
1 bunch cilantro
Goya Adobo powder with bitter orange (the one with the orange lid)
1/4-1/2 cup white masa (fine corn meal)
*Corn meal can go rancid, quickly. I keep mine indefinitely, in a labled zip-lock bag in the freezer.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

The makings of a kick-ass bowl of green chili.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Liberally coat and massage adobo into pig. Salt, pepper, dry thyme, cumin, and a dash of dry oregano will make a barely passable substitute for the powder, but the adobo is so much more flavorful and complex. In your biggest, heaviest, lidded pot, sear the meat on all sides in a tablespoon of olive oil. Start with the fat side down, which will add to, and flavor the fat already in the pot. Done right, this will take a good twenty to thirty minutes, so meanwhile, prep your veg.

Slice off the tops of the poblanos, and cut lengthwise in half (If you aren’t an experienced chili head, wearing rubber gloves now will make your life much easier later. The relatively mild poblano’s oils can stay on your skin, even after washing, and burn any tender body parts subsequently touched; yours or anyone else’s). Remove any ribs and all the seeds. Peel off the papery outer skin and rinse the tomatillos (take care: their sap is the stickiest substance known to man). If they’re small (plum-size) halve them, if they are the size of tomatoes, quarter them. Peel onion and roughly cut into five or six big hunks. Peel garlic, and cut off dried ends. Grab a handful of cilantro tops, to taste (I’m not a fan, so I don’t use much, maybe four tablespoons here, with another couple of chopped tablespoons at the end). Slice first lime in half and juice.

When the pork is browned all over, remove and add in the wine or beer. When it has almost all reduced, turn off the stove top, it’s veggie time (not unlike Hammer or Miller). Put about one-quarter of the veg on the bottom of the pot, set in the piggy, fat side up, and put in the rest of the prepped green stuff. Just tuck everything in; around and on top of the meat. Pour in about 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock and the juice of the first lime. Cover and place in oven.
Check after two hours and then every thirty minutes until the meat is literally falling apart tender. This will probably take at least three hours, please don’t try to rush it, disaster will ensue.
When it’s done, remove the meat to cool some, and put the pot of roasted veg on the stove. Puree vegetables; you can either use a regular blender or an immersion blender (the wand type). Add a few cups of chicken stock, and then with the chili at a low simmer, sprinkle in the masa, a tablespoon at a time until it has tightened up to your taste. Add in drained, rinsed hominy.
Chop or shred three or four cups of the pork, discarding any pieces of fat, and stir it back into the pot with the lime juice from the second lime, and chopped cilantro.
Green Chili!

We serve this over rice. We spoon on some Mexican crema (like sour cream, which can be substituted), and sprinkle on cotija or queso fresco (both are white, salty, crumbly, Latin cheeses).
Rice, such a simple food, can cause acute stress when cooked at home. I promise, my method will eliminate the drama and produce evenly cooked, fluffy separate grains every time. And once you get this method down, you can flavor it to your liking, or even make pilaf this way. The secret is–don’t mess around with it, and it just about takes care of itself.

Basic White Rice
2 cups regular white rice (long grain, jasmine, basmati, all will work, but not the arborio type)
2 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Stir rice, salt, and water into a heavy pot with a lid (this is the last time you will stir the rice). Heat on medium-high, and let come to a boil. The second it starts to boil, reduce to medium-low, cover, and set timer for thirteen minutes.
When the time is up, carefully lift the lid, and peek; mindfully–there’s steam. If the water is all gone (you’ll hear hissing, but no bubbling sounds), replace the lid, and take it off the heat. If not, put it back and check every couple of minutes until it is gone.
Leave covered and unmolested for twenty full minutes. At 20, remove the lid, and with a big fork, fluff, don’t stir the rice, to separate the grains. Transfer to a serving dish and serve.
Makes about four cups.

If you have more pork than you need for the chili, bag and freeze. Last time I pulled out a bag, I served it on grilled Texas toast with mashed potatoes and German-scented mushroom gravy. The only limit to what you can do with the bonus meat is the potency of your spirit of adventure.
There’s tons of great things about green pork chili. But one of the best things is the way it makes your house smell all day while it’s cooking. And the way it makes your insides feel when you’re eating it.
Thanks for your time.