Posts Tagged ‘pork’

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared. Guanciale is one of those meats, and it’s a key ingredient to a classic Italian dish: pasta carbonara.

 

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required cutting and weighing to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, many said the same thing: “Though a genuine carbonara uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find. So use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are delicious (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl…and that’s what guanciale is made from.
Many years ago, my search for guanciale started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner (and bribing him with alcohol), I asked if he’d order me some jowls. He did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering him every time I wanted more, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each, as in the photo above. They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from a heritage breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s delicious with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in smaller, 2-pound packs.

Berkshire pork jowls with fresh thyme from the garden and the dry cure mix.

 

My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. They still need to cook, but they’re ready to use for carbonara, ragu bolognese, topping a pizza, or any other delicious recipe that comes my way…and they freeze really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!
2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry cure mix (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the basic dry cure mix, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl. We’ll call this the cure.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the cure onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the cure. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the cure and the thyme.

I place the cure and sprigs of thyme on a long sheet of plastic wrap.

 

The pork jowls go on top.

Then top the jowls with the rest of the cure, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.

Press down on the jowls to really get the cure to stick.

 

Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the cure into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten it up. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process.

Into a container with a lid and into the fridge.

 

Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Then return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it gets kind of gooey, but it will help the curing process.

3 weeks later, it has transformed…

In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

They’re perfect…they just need a rinse.

 

Cured, rinsed and patted dry. Cut the guanciale into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

 

At this point, cut the guanciale into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it at room temperature, which I don’t.

Always slice off a little to fry up a test batch! It’s all about quality control!

 

The Basic Dry Cure Mix
This basic dry cure mix is extremely simple, and you can cure many meats with it. But it does require a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. (You can easily find it online.) It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat. If you don’t use it, the meat will turn a bit gray–nothing wrong with it, just not an appealing color.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store the basic dry cure mix in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
An important note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, weighs more and will throw off the recipe.

 

Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that can dry out easily when roasted. It’s usually just a couple of inches around, and over a foot long…a shape that can easily go from juicy to overdone in just a few minutes if you’re not watching it carefully.

This recipe really is based on what I had in the fridge and pantry at the time, and it just rocked!

I chose chickpeas as my starch. I don’t worry too much about carbs, as long as they’re good ones and in moderation.

I always use organic kale. Kale is one of the most heavily sprayed veggies out there. You don’t need pesticides in your soup!

The soup is gluten-free if you use gluten-free flour instead of regular all purpose flour.

 

soup1

 

1 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4″ thick medallions, then cut in half
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pint veal stock or chicken stock (homemade is best)
1/2 cup white wine (I like an un-oaked Australian chardonnay)
1 pint water
large pinch of bouquet garni
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 head organic kale, cleaned, stems removed, and chopped

 

 

Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/4″ medallions, then cut each medallion in half. Set aside.

In a bowl, add the flour (unseasoned). Set it next to the pork.

Heat a heavy skillet big enough to hold all the pork. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil or pork lard. Drop the pork pieces in the flour, coating them well, then shaking off the excess. (No egg wash needed.) Place them carefully in the pan and brown them on both sides. They don’t need to cook all the way through.

Leaving the pork in the pan, add the onions and stir, cooking for a couple of minutes. Then add the carrot and celery slices, stirring again. Sprinkle in the garlic salt and pepper, stirring again.

Add the stock, the wine, and the pint of water. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring gently.

Add the chick peas. Then add the kale, a handful at a time, waiting for the greens to wilt into the soup before adding another handful. Do this until all the kale is in the pan. Add the pinch of bouquet garni. Bring the soup to a boil again, then reduce it to a medium-low simmer, uncovered.

The soup is ready when the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the liquid has evaporated and it looks too thick, add more water, bringing to a boil with each addition, then reducing the heat.

Taste for seasoning before serving.

 

soup2

 

 

I love these ribs. They’re one of the the first recipes I ever tried, and still one of my favorites. I’ll be making them again this weekend!
 
I like making these because you don’t need a grill or a smoker. They’re gooey, sweet and absolutely delicious!
 
 
 image
 
¾ cup soy sauce
 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork ribs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
 
Mix the soy sauce and the hoisin in a bowl, and set it aside. These are the marinade ingredients.
 
If the ribs are large, cut them into individual pieces. If smaller, cluster 2 or 3 ribs together. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
 
Place the ribs on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil or with a rack and coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
 
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the ribs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.
 
While the ribs are baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot that will hold all the ribs: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
 
When the ribs have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until the rib meat is tender.
 
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Be sure to reduce the heat as the sauce thickens or the sugars in the honey will burn! When the ribs are sticky and gooey, they’re ready.
 
Substituting grapefruit for the lemon works really well. And I like to switch the honey for maple syrup! Yum!
 

 

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes, always Hellman’s mayo.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. However, nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. (Morton’s Kosher salt, for example, is heavier than Diamond Crystal.) I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine this dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry cure
1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a gooey brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, you’ll be able to tell the pork belly has cured because it feels firm. Wash the brine off the meat well with cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the belly in the fridge for an hour or so and it will develop a tackiness to the touch. This is a thin layer of proteins known as a pelicle, and it helps the smoke stick to the meat.

Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly (without smoking it) at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. But this isn’t bacon…it’s pancetta.

I place the pork belly in my digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips. Now it’s bacon.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Beautiful bacon!

 

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

I grill year-round. I’ll stand in 3 feet of snow to get smoked ribs just right, if I have to. Through years of tireless experimentation, I’ve come up with a barbecue sauce that I can be proud of. I prefer a slightly sweet and tangy barbecue sauce,  and it works really well with pork or chicken.

What makes this sauce special is the citrus. I originally used lemon juice for this recipe and it was good. Lime juice was better. Adding lime zest: even better than that. I tried orange juice and zest, even Meyer lemon. But the Big Daddy of ’em all was grapefruit. I was craving my barbecue sauce one day and only had a grapefruit in the fridge. I thought: how bad could this be? Turned out to be the perfect foil to the sweetness of the brown sugar and ketchup.

Try this sauce on your next batch of chicken wings or even a whole bird. Cook the bird almost all the way through, brushing the sauce on for the last 20 minutes so that the sugars don’t burn. Then just try to stop eating it!

Chix BBQ

 

GRAPEFRUIT BARBECUE SAUCE
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Juice and zest of 1 grapefruit
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Frank’s Red Hot
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
(no salt)

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes on low, until slightly thickened.

 

saucey

If you like a less sweet, more vinegary style to your barbecue sauce, this is the one. How could a sauce that’s inspired by what most people claim to be the best barbecue joint in the USA, Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas, be bad? People line up early in the morning and wait as much as four hours for a slab of brisket from this place. I’ll get there one day. In the meantime, I have the sauce…

 

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

 

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

 

 

This is a rich, delicious, and unusual surf-and-turf, using wild Texas boar (I got it as a gift!) and locally caught Rhode Island scallops. Wild boar is an ingredient usually only found online, so substituting pork belly, which you can find at your local butcher shop, is a great alternative.

 

FullSizeRender (9)

For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal it with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If you’re starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

 

FullSizeRender (8)

For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set it aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear them on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, seasoning with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top it with a scallop or two. Drizzle the glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or other finishing salt and serve it immediately.

Sometimes the happiest of cooking accidents happen with bacon. My original plan was to make Chinese-style honey ribs for dinner. But instead of pulling a nice rack of ribs out of the freezer, I accidentally took out a slab of pork belly. I only realized my mistake after I thawed it, so I decided to use it! The results were pretty damn tasty.

Maple syrup is a great substitute for the honey.

image

Marinade:
¾ cup light soy sauce
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
image
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the marinade ingredients. Set them aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 2 inches square. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring the pot to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain the water.
Place the pork belly pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Bake the pork belly pieces on the sheet pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for about 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce has reduced to a glaze that coats the meat. Reduce the heat as the sauce thickens to avoid the sugars in the honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Devour them just like that, or…
Let a piece of pork belly cool, then slice it to your desired thickness and fry it like regular bacon. It’s great with an omelet!
image

Fettucini alla Bolognese has been my daughter’s favorite Italian dish for years. And since today’s her birthday, I decided to make a large batch of it over the weekend.

The recipe isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, it depends on the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on.

I like to use a combination of ground beef, ground veal and ground pork in my Bolognese recipe. But I don’t sweat it too much if I don’t have all three, substituting a little more of one or the other, depending on what’s in my freezer at the time.

I use humanely raised grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use grass-fed beef from local farms. Guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig, is something that I prepare myself. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them at home. (That’s another blog!) If you can’t get your hands on guanciale, a nice slab of bacon will do the trick.

The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

This recipe probably feeds a dozen people. I make a lot at once because it takes time to put it together and let it cook on the stove, and it freezes really well. I place leftovers in tightly sealed single-portion containers in the freezer and then re-heat them when my daughter gets the craving, adding it to freshly cooked pasta.

How much pasta you make with this dish depends on how many people you’re going to serve.

 

 

 

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale or bacon
1 lb. ground veal, 1 lb. ground pork, 1 lb. beef (or any combination to make 3 lbs.)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, squeezed through a garlic press or thinly sliced
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
6 cups ground tomatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups white wine (I use an un-oaked Australian chardonnay, like Yellow Tail)
salt and pepper
pasta, cooked (regular or gluten-free )
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the guanciale or bacon, letting the fat render out. When it’s almost brown, add the veal, pork, and beef, stirring constantly. Make sure the meat is broken down into small pieces and completely browned.

Add the finely chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, stirring well. Sweat the veggies for a few minutes, letting them get nice and soft. (Here’s a tip: rather than wasting time chopping all the veggies finely by hand, toss large pieces into a food processor–the onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves all at the same time–and pulse until they’re finely chopped.)

Add the tomato paste, the ground tomatoes, milk and wine, stirring well. Allowing the sauce ito come to a boil will activate the tomato paste’s thickening power. Let it boil for a minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for at least a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

 

Add the ingredients one step at a time until the sauce comes together: 1) guanciale, 2) meat, 3) veggies), 4) tomatoes.

 

You don’t want the sauce to be runny, and you definitely want to give it enough time on the stove top for the flavors to blend and for the alcohol in the wine to evaporate.

Carefully give the sauce a taste, and season it with salt and pepper.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a part of the cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

Top it with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

 

 

 

My Mom’s birthday was a couple of days ago, and even though she’s not with us anymore, I think a lot about the family favorites she used to cook. If there’s one dish that my Mom made all the time but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorites. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty good. I think she would’ve been proud.

image

2 full strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken, beef or veal stock
750 g diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon and rendered fat in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place it in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. (I use two sets of tongs to handle the cabbage.)

Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them, setting them aside to cool. Continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom. If you need more to line the pan, use the smaller or torn pieces of cabbage.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture (about 1/4 cup, depending on the size of the cabbage leaf) inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, food processor, or whisked in a bowl, combine the stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

image

Really delicious and an instant flashback to great memories of dinner at home….thanks to Mom.

I’ve got to post this before October ends, since it’s #NationalPorkMonth! Time to get piggish!

Few slabs of meat are as amazing as a pork butt or shoulder, rubbed with a special dry rub, then slow-smoked for 8 hours (or more), pulled and slathered with amazing barbecue sauce. It takes time, but it’s not really that hard to do.

My electric smoker allows me to set the time and temp and walk away.

Here’s how I do it…

First, I get a hunka pork. The kind of pig I get matters to me, so I buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta), from a farm that raises them humanely. I’m willing to pay the extra bucks.

But going to a supermarket or butcher shop for pork is what most people do. The names of the cuts of meat can be a bit confusing. Despite its name, pork butt is not from the back-end of the pig.  (The term “butt” referred to the barrel the meat was stored in when the only method of preservation was salting the meat and storing it in barrels.)

The pork butt is actually the shoulder of the pig. The pork shoulder picnic is a lower cut of the same area. These cuts can also go by the names: Boston shoulder roast, Boston butt, Boston roast, shoulder butt, pork shoulder picnic, and shoulder-blade roast. Whatever the name, these are all nicely marbled hunks of meat that usually weigh in anywhere from 6 to 8 lbs, are easy to find, and are rather inexpensive. Barbecue fanatics claim the bone-in pork butt is more flavorful, but boneless is all you can find, that’ll work, too.

Once I’ve got my slab of pork, I remove the skin if it has any. I want my pork rub to make contact directly with the meat, so I always remove the tough skin. No skin? No problem. But leave the fat on!

Now I need to season it. I’ve found that a simple rub is the best way to go for the sauce I’m going to use later.

After 8 hours in the smoker, the rub makes a crust on the meat that is just fantastic!

BASIC DRY RUB

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper (freshly ground is best)
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion

Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up to blend.

Once I’ve made the rub, I generously sprinkle it all over the pork, and rub it in really well. Ideally, I let the pork shoulder sit in the fridge for 24 hours before smoking, bringing it out an hour beforehand to have it come up to room temperature.

I have a digital smoker at home, which allows me to set the temperature to cook and smoke my pork butt. I place the pork butt on a rack, put a drip pan with water underneath it to catch the grease, and set the smoker for 250 degrees. I cook the pork at 250 for 8 to 10 hours, depending on the size of the meat, adding hickory chips to the smoker every few hours. The marbled fat in the pork butt slowly melts over time and the pork becomes incredibly tender and flavorful.

I remove the pork butt from the smoker and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes before pulling it apart with a couple of forks, or chopping it up with a cleaver.

While the pork is cooking and smoking, there’s plenty of time to make two other very important parts of this recipe: a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, and the cole slaw.

Slaw on the side or on the sandwich…up to you!

BARBECUE SAUCE

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool it to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for several weeks.

COLE SLAW

My unusual cole slaw recipe uses an interesting ingredient: pickle juice! Just a splash of juice from your favorite jar of pickles is all you need.

1 package of cole slaw veggies
splash of pickle juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
salt and pepper

There are no real specific measurements for cole slaw, because I’ve found that some people like it dry, others wet…some peppery, some not. Play around with it and make it your own. I prefer a more mayonnaise-y cole slaw, and usually err on the wet side.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, re-mix it, and taste for seasoning before using. Letting it sit overnight before serving is best.

OK…time to make that sandwich!

You can either go Carolina style and place the cole slaw right on top of the pulled pork in the bun, or simply serve the slaw on the side. No rules!

Whether you go through all these steps yourself or not, it’s nice to appreciate a labor of love that is worth every bit of time and trouble invested in it.