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Cooking with Pork

UPDATE (4 Jan 2010): Wow, color me embarrassed!

Yeah, so… I actually wrote this on the afternoon of the 1st, and then schedule it for posting on the 2nd. Little did I know I would be food poisoned by the evening of the 1st, and spend the day of the 2nd in bed, with a fever, pain, and the worst digestive issues this side of hell.

Ironically, it’s not any of the pork that made me sick, as far as I can tell, but some yogurt. That said, the chops (which never got marinated) have been put off till I can digest something more substantial than white bread with butter or jam on it. I’m almost there, but… well, the pictures below still give me shivers.

ORIGINAL POST: Lately, I’ve been booking with pork, trying to get a handle on how to do it right.

The first thing I made was banh mi; I made some following this recipe (but without the paté) and it was badass wonderful, very rich and flavorful:

Though not pictured, we paired it with a wheat beer, the Maisel Weiss that Rob noted is on the market here now. It’s an alright beer, but a bit sweetish (even for a weisse) for my taste. The things I’d like to improve on next time (which won’t be for a while: the pork belly was insanely rich) are:

  1. the bottoms of the pork belly blackened just a bit too much. I have the temperature a little higher than in the recipe, though, so I imagine that’s avoidable.
  2. the baguette was a day old–we picked it up the day before making the baguette. Indeed, it ended up being too much bread, and I think I’ll revisit a recipe I used a while back (making white buns for burgers, that turned out great) so we can have banh mi on smaller homemade baguettes. The bread was too thick and the filler should have been free to go a little more vertical. Still tasted pretty good, but with very fresh, fluffy bread? Oh, man!
  3. the brine for the pork belly needs to have a little something else in it. I’m thinking maybe fish sauce, but I’m going to look at a bunch of recipes and see if I can figure it out.

The second thing I made was a kind of pan-simmered pork roast with gravy. I actually improvised the recipe, making a marinade out of something vaguely like the banh mi pork brine, but with all kinds of other stuff thrown in — a ton more garlic, some chopped garlic stem, some tomato paste I had on hand, some soy sauce, honey, lemon juice, some rice vinegar… all kinds of stuff.

I marinated the pork in this stuff for a while, but since I didn’t have long to let it sit, I finally ended up cooking the pork in the marinade for a while, letting it boil at low heat. After forty minutes or so, I brought the pork pieces and some of the marinade to a pan and simmered it till it was fall-apart good, adding some onion, long green pepper (light green but looks like banana peppers, and usually unavailable at my local grocery, and quartered tomatoes).

(I served it for New Year’s Eve dinner alongside a tomato/cucumber/feta salad, and a quick mushroom aglio olio variation on this recipe; I’d intended to make a pasta with yogurt and zucchini to balance it better, but realized too late I’d forgotten to get zucchini.)

It turned out deliciuous, except of course for one problem: the marinade was too salty, and thus the gravy that caramelized out of it was also quite salty. Still, we’ll be saving the marinade that’s left over, in small portions, for making gravy later. It’s got a lot of nice pork (and other) flavor, and it’s sanitary since it was boiled, and if it’s thinned out with water or stock, it will be less salty.

We had this with a wine, a Chilean merlot called Undurraga, which was pretty good and matched the food quite well.

Finally, I’m on my third pork recipe of the week, and it’s pork chops, Vietnamese style. I added the pork to the marinade Saturday afternoon, but we’ll be eating it for lunch on Monday, so, yeah, a nice long brining period, and I’m curious to see whether more of the fish-sauce and other flavors of the marinade penetrate deeper into the meat this way. I’ll be reporting back soon!

So far, what I’ve learned is:

  1. Pork is a very forgiving meat. Boiling it in a marinade for twenty minutes or half an hour left it tender and juicy, not tough like beer might have ended up.
  2. When you roast pork, you do something wonderful. Do it fat side up, and do it slow, to let all that fat ooze down through the meat, imbuing it with insane goodness. Don’t eat too damned often, though. It’s insanely rich, too.
  3. Marinating is a wonderful process, the magic of which reminds me of mashing grains. All kinds of goodness can happen at temperatures other than cooking temperatures.

I think those are all the lessons I want to report; any more, and this will look like a message from some hog farmer’s association.

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