Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

DSCN4332I have been obsessed with frying things ever since I read’s tutorial on Korean Fried Chicken.  The technique they describe worked with chicken wings perfectly, so I wondered if I could do the same thing with other fryables.  It worked very nicely with shrimp – creating something of a tempura-type crackling coating – but how about something really substantial?  I mean, chicken wings are pretty small, and shrimp only get so big, too (to wit, at 4’10” am I perpetually addressed as ‘shrimp’ or ‘shortie’, neither of which makes me particularly happy).  How’s about a meaty pork chop?  My days in the south exposed me to the wonders of a perfectly fried chop, coated with a buttermilk batter and pan fried, served usually with a white gravy and some collards.  I decided to work up my own version of a fried pork chop, using a simple flour/vodka slurry as the breading, some sweet potatoes and mushrooms as the complements, and my favorite soy sauce cream gravy (click here to see a variation on the theme).  The results were fantastic!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

2 thick, center-cut pork chops
3/4 cups corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup gin or vodka
vegetable oil for frying
8-10 button mushrooms
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
snipped scallions/chives for garnish

DSCN4305I love pork chops, especially when they look like little T-bone steaks, like these.  This cut includes both a little of the tenderloin as well as the regular rib meat, which provides some textural variety on the plate.

DSCN4307I start by mixing my cornstarch, baking powder, and some spices in a large ziplock bag.

DSCN4308In go my chops, and I shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the cornstarch mixture.

DSCN4310I place the chops uncovered in my fridge on a rack so they can dry out a bit — about 30 minutes.

DSCN4311Meanwhile, I remove the stems from my mushrooms, reserving them to use later.

DSCN4312I get 2 tbs of butter and a glug of EVOO nice and hot in my large fry-pan…

DSCN4314… and I layer my mushrooms in the hot fat, sprinkling them with a little salt and pepper.

DSCN4315I make sure they cook fully on top…

DSCN4317… and on bottom.

DSCN4319While these are simmering, I pull out my chops, on which the cornstarch/baking powder has gummed up a bit – just the way I want it.

DSCN4321In a large bowl, I’ve whisked my flour, water, and gin together to make a very thin batter.

DSCN4323Holding the chops with tongs by clipping it on the T-bone allows for me to dunk all the meaty bits into the slurry to thoroughly coat each piece.

DSCN4323aI add enough vegetable oil to a deep-sided pan to just cover the chops, and I bring this to a medium high temperature – about 350°F.  Of course, I don’t have a thermometer to help me gauge this, so I just drip a little flour batter into the pan periodically until the drop immediately sizzles and starts to brown upon hitting the surface of the oil.  It’s ready for my chops at that point.

DSCN4325I slide both chops carefully into the oil, making sure not to splatter myself like I usually do.  (Thank God for OxyClean, or just about all my clothes would have constellations of oil drips on them.)  Since these chops are thick, I let them fry for about 10 minutes on each side.

DSCN4329While this happens, I add my soy sauce and heavy cream to the mushrooms in the pan, which I bring to simmer on low heat, stirring regularly so the flavors can blend.

DSCN4325aWhen the chops are a nice golden brown on the bottom, it’s time to flip them carefully to the other side. Another 10 minutes or so will do it.

DSCN4326I’ve been baking my sweet potatoes all along, by the way.  After an hour on 350°, I can easily squeeze them with my oven-mitted fingers, so I pull them out…

DSCN4328… remove their bright orange insides to a bowl, where I mash them with my remaining butter.

DSCN4331These savory pork chops have a cracking, super-crunchy, egg-shell thin coating are super-tender and juicy.  The simple sweet mash is offset by a rich, dark, silky and fragrant soy cream gravy, and each button of mushroom bursts with flavor on the tongue.  Not only is this a very easy recipe, but it presents itself elegantly on the plate, and can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  Now, what else can I fry?

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

After a miserably hot summer, August has proven to be quite mild this year – the other day dropping to the low 60’s.  Needless to say, I complained about the chill, which gave me a head  cold and has laid me up with the sniffles and whines.  But the cooler weather does mean I can use the kitchen more, whereas a few weeks ago even boiling water increased the ambient temperature in the apartment from unbearable to murderous.  It also means I hanker for more substantive meals – like tonight’s braised lamb leg and chevre infused mashed potatoes.  Hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this rich, glorious, tender mutton was ideally paired with fluffy potatoes flavored with goat-cheesy gameyness, all topped with cooling cucumber tzatziki.  Even if my cold has gotten worse, the ingestion of such delicious stuff did make me feel better…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

2lb boneless leg of lamb
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups small tomatoes
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves
chicken broth
1-1 1/2lbs white potatoes
1/2 cup half & half
4 oz goat cheese
3 tbs butter
8 oz Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1-2 tbs lemon zest
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 tbs chopped chives

Usually, I make a larger piece of lamb so Clayton and I can make sandwiches with the leftovers, but today I just purchased what looked more like a 3″ thick steak than anything else.  It was rolled and tied, which I ultimately could have removed (since, as you’ll see, it unraveled on its own accord later), but for now I just dusted the whole hunk with salt, pepper, and flour before dropping it into my medium roasting pan with a glug of EVOO heated to high.

I sear each side, including the 3″ wide edges, until the meat is a nice golden brown.

These are some of our little tomatoes, grown on our wee roof-deck.  We’re calling them compost tomatoes, since they sprang unbidden from the compost-mixed-dirt Clayton filled the boxes with before actually planting any seedlings.  They’re delicious — very sweet and complex — although their skins are very thick and a bit tough.  Still – we keep getting scads of these, so I decided to use most of them to make a sort of tomato sauce for the lamb.

After the mutton joint is browned all over, I add most of my chopped onion (reserving about 3 tbs for my yogurt sauce), my oregano leaves, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and my de-stemmed tomatoes to the pan.

Using the veggies as a sort of rack, I lay my lamb across them and add about an inch of chicken broth the the pan.

Even though it’s cool enough to use the oven, I decide to throw the pan, covered with foil, out into Little Red on the deck anyway.  I shut the lid, and let this braise for about an hour before checking on it.

Meanwhile, I remove the skin and seeds from my cucumber, trying to drain out as much liquid as possible.  Tzatziki shouldn’t be too wet, so I sometimes even salt the cucumber and let it drain some more if I fear it will leech too much into the yogurt.  I also mince some garlic very finely; I’ll only need a 1/4 teaspoon or so, since raw garlic is so very potent.

I mix the remainder of my onion, my chopped cucumber, and my garlic with some salt and pepper before adding my yogurt.

The final ingredient is lemon zest – which gives this sauce a bright flavor.  I put the bowl in the fridge to chill while the rest of dinner comes together.

At the hour mark, my meat is already tender, and I can almost pull it apart with two forks.  As you can see, it also wiggled its way out of the butcher’s net – so I fish that out of the pan and chuck it in the trash.  At this point, I remove the foil paper and close the lid on Little Red again, so that the meat can brown some more and most of the remaining chicken stock can boil off.

Clayton was in charge of the potatoes today, and he got them started before I could snap any pictures.  Luckily, I caught him in the act and snapped this little, relatively uninformative candid.  But basically, we peeled the potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces, and boiled them until tender in salted water.  Then he he added the half & half, butter, and goat cheese to the pan, and mashed everything up together real nice. A little salt and pepper was added, too.

After about 30 more minutes on Little Red, and the meat has nicely browned.  I remove it from the pan…

… which I put on high heat on the stovetop to reduce even further, stirring well to blend all the ingredients together.  This makes the tomatoes spill their guts into the hot oil and chicken fat, thickening the sauce to a red gravy.

The meat falls apart with nary a nasty look, and I add the chunks back into the pan and mix it well with the lovely tomato sauce, until everything is well coated.

A hearty helping of chevre mashed potatoes is layered with tender, juicy, flavorful lamb, the gameyness of which is cut by a perfect balance of tomato and creamy cucumber tzatziki.  I drizzle a little of the red oil leftover in the pan over the whole dish, and scatter some fresh chives for color and zip.  My heart is warmed through by the incredible taste, and my aching body thanks me for providing it with such sublime enrichment.  If I have more dishes like these on my winter horizon, I won’t mind it when the cold weather finally comes.

One final parting shot for my dear readers: the breathtaking Cambridge sky.  If only my camera could really capture all the magnificent beauty.  Dearest Uprooted Magnolia, where are you and your camera-eye when I need you?

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

It was finally cold today.  Like 20° F.  For December in New England, this should be par for the course by now, but we’ve been having an unseasonably warm and dry winter so far.  Generally, anything in the double digits this time of year feels relatively balmy, but given the congenial temperatures up to this point, today felt particularly nippy.  And what’s to be done about a nippy day?  Why, a warm, hearty dinner, of course!  After our now-regular bi-monthly trip to Blood Farms, we were laden with protein pabulum just begging to be devoured.  I selected a nice, fresh pair of filet mignons, coupled them with an assortment of wild mushrooms, some pan-seared Vidalia onion shoots, and some confetti spuds to make a real nice meat & potatoes meal that warmed us from the insides out.

Tenderloin Steaks with Wild Mushrooms, Seared Vidalia Onions, and Smashed Potato Stacks

2 8oz tenderloin steaks
2-3 fresh sweet onion shoots and stalks (these are Vidalia salad onions)
12-16 small potatoes (I have creamer, red, and potato spuds here)
8oz wild mushrooms (these are chanterelle, shitake, and woodear)
sea salt, black pepper, oregano
sour cream
shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese

This could very well be called a weeknight wondermeal, since it doesn’t take very long and since it has so few components.  But, it made it on the weekend, and I don’t feel like misrepresenting myself to you, dear readers, so it will lack that particular distinction.  The longest cooktime is for the potatoes, which have to boil first before I can smash them into submission.  I throw them into boiling salted water for 20 minutes, or until I can pierce them easily with a fork

Sometimes I beat myself up about the simplicity of my ingredients.  I mean really — I have 4 basic items making up today’s meal – how is that masterful?  But then I think about how freshly sourced all my food is… how locally grown… organic… natural.  And I think about the taste — and just how happy my husband and I are after each and every meal I make.  Simple flavors, masterfully combined – that’s my niche.  Besides, I know where almost all my vegetables have been grown, and by whom, and how recently picked they are; all the meat I eat is from area abattoirs, and it’s all been butchered within days (if not hours) of when it finally passes my lips; even my diary products are mainly from Massachusetts, with the exception of finer imported items from Italy, Spain, and France.  I eat no processed foods, no mass-produced boxed junk, few snacks, and fewer sweets.  So even if Lolita is packing a little more chub on her these days, it’s all from food that is good, wholesome, fresh, natural, and healthy.  Like these here mushrooms: they are so newly harvested from New England forest floors that they have spring and vigor still coursing through their little fungi bodies.  All they’ll need is a quick saute over hot flavor, so I prep them now by washing, drying, and slicing them before I set them aside for later.

Back when Clayton and I still called Georgia home, we lived only a short drive up I75 from Vidalia (pronounced in redneck: vuh-DAY-lee’uh), from whence these beautiful onion shoots hail.  Of course, we now live 2000 miles away, so these veggies don’t conform to my locavore habits, however given my past proximity to the sweet onion capital of the world, I can still lay claim to a familiarity with this produce.  They were featured at Whole Foods, and they looked so sprightly and snappy that I had to have them.  I’ve washed, trimmed, and split them into halves.

I’ve heated my largest skillet to high with a few glugs of EVOO, and I force these shoots as best as I can into the pan.  They’re too large, y’see — so I have to wrastle them onto the surface, trying to coat their green shoots with hot oil so they’d wilt, which they did quite nicely.  Almost immediately, an aroma of searing sharp charring fills the kitchen, and it is good.  These cook for about 10 minutes before I add anything else to the pan.

The potatoes are perfect, so I drain them and spill them out over a couple of EVOO’d baking sheets.  Since they will each make a disc about 1 1/2 – 2″ in diameter, they need room to spread out.

See what I mean?  Using a fork, and my fingers to keep everything together, I smash each spud into a flat little patty, then douse them again with EVOO, salt, pepper, and oregano.  These pans go into a 350° oven to crisp for about 15 minutes.

Just enough time for me to finish my steaks and veggies.  I shove all my searing onions to one side of my hot pan, then move that part of the pan sort of off the heat, leaving the electric eye underneath only about 1/2 the pan – where I place my salted and peppered tenderloin steaks.  Using the flip once a minute technique, I cook these steaks for about 5 minutes on each side until they are perfectly medium rare.

When the steaks are ready, I plate them on top of my onions on warmed plates and set aside.  A few more glugs of EVOO gets added to the pan, and in go the mushrooms, where I saute them over high heat until they are wilted and a little caramelized on their best bits (about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, my spuds are crispy edged and creamy inn’ed  and I remove them, one by one…

…and stack them with shavings of parmigiano reggiano cheese in between each disc.  These potato towers get topped with a dollop of sour cream and my minced onion greens.

Like so!

Juicy, tender, tenderloin steaks with charred onions and seared mushrooms, served with crispy crunchy creamy potatoes.  Using pure flavors, simple but sophisticated ingredients, and straightforward cooking techniques, I’ve assembled a supper that would be at home at the finest white-tablecloth bistrots as easily as it would be served off of a rustic hearth in a woodsy cabin during a winter white out.  Earth and turf extraordinaire!

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesco Mornay and Greens

Steak.  Potatoes. Cauliflower.  Three basic ingredients – but tonight’s purchases are superlative ingredients: super fresh, totally unmitigated by pesticides or hormones, and completely locally sourced.  Melt-in-your-mouth fresh filet mignons, simply spiced and pan-seared, over silky truffled potato puree with buttery Veronica mornay, snappy greens two ways, and a rich demi-glace.  Simply delectable.

Our day started early on the Concord Farm.  The sun rose over just-still-green, autumn-crop filled fields, where flocks of geese pecked through the brush looking for their breakfast.

After stocking the farm stand with fresh picked veggies, I zoomed in on these fascinating and beautiful veronica romanesco cauliflower.   Geometry never looked so delicious.

After we finished at the farm stand, Clayton and I headed northwest, driving about 20 miles to the very wealthy country town of West Groton, where the provocatively named Blood Farm has been doing business for over 100 years. One wonders which came first: the family name, or the family business: butchery.

A lovely farm on one side…

… and an unassuming side building…

… inside of which bustle workers in white coats busily butchering beef, pork, lamb, goat, and veal into every cut imaginable.

They have several freezers laden with their wares, but if you don’t want frozen you can get anything cut fresh that you want.  Anything.  The place is kind of a disorganized mess, with very little logical business flow.  The white-coated lady in front of my smiling husband is weighing that dude’s meat cuts – stuff he’d pulled out of the freezer.  She writes the weights on a slip of paper, then walks around to a tiny office, pushing through the people fishing through the freezers, where there is a calculator, and she adds up the total.  No register.  No counter. The place looks more like a storeroom where regular folks really don’t belong than a storefront – but man o’ man are the prices amazing.  More on that later — let’s get to the recipe.

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesque Alfredo and Greens

2 8oz tenderloin steaks (filet mignon cut)
2 russet potatoes
2 small veronica romanesco heads of cauliflower (these are about 6oz each)
2 large shitake mushrooms
1 bunch watercress several leaves of kale
black truffle oil
1 stick butter
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
sea salt, black pepper
1/2 cup concentrated beef stock
1/2 tsp flour

I met a young mathematician the other day; I’d love to serve her these.  We don’t see naturally occurring fractals often — unless we look at frost formations regularly — but these members of the Brassica oleracea species give us the opportunity to EAT MATH.  I mean, look at them!  Technically, all broccolis and cauliflowers are fractals, but these are so regularly shaped in such reducing dimensions…

 … see what I mean?  This little nub is about 1/20th the size of the head, but it is truly an exact replica of the whole, as is each of its nipples, and its nipples nipples. Fascinating.  I trim the outer leaves away from the base, and cut as much of the stem off as I can so that each head will sit upright, but flat.

Then, since I’m steaming these, I cut a cylindrical core out of each head, too — thinking that might help the steam permeate the whole thing more evenly.  I dunno — maybe it was unnecessary, but it did ultimately steam perfectly.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

 I set my heads into my bamboo steamer, and get it going.  15 minutes into steaming, I add my two mushrooms to the rack, then cover and steam for another 15 minutes – until the cauliflower is tender.

These steaks are easily an inch thick, and together they weigh in at a little more than a pound.  At an amazing $16.09/lb, and freshly cut from the beast just hours earlier, this may be the best steak I’ve ever purchased.

But the proof will be in the final product, and I don’t want to adulterate my meat with anything too strong, so I very simply salt and pepper the steaks before putting them on my hot non-stick skillet to sear.

For pan-seared steaks, I prefer the flip-once-a-minute technique – as those of you who read my blog know from previous posts (like this and this and this).  For steaks this thick, I lower the heat to medium high, so that they’ll cook more slowly, but still thoroughly, holding in the juices as they redistribute each time I flip the meat.

I watch the progress of the heat by keeping an eye on the cut edge; the redness through the middle thins towards the center as the cooking cooks closer to well.  But we like it medium rare – so I flip these babies about 10 times total (that’s about 5 minutes on each side), until they’ve surrendered the upper and lower outer thirds of their pink.

Using tongs, I sear the remaining cut sides of my two perfect pieces of beef.  Another 3 or 4 minutes total, then I remove them from the pan, tent them with foil, and let them rest.

I neglected to take pictures of me peeling, chopping, boiling in salted water, draining and mashing my potatoes, or mixing that mash with black truffle oil for savor.  I also neglected to take pictures of me roasting off a few kale chips, and adding some concentrated beef stock and some softened butter mashed with flour to the steak pan to make a rich beef sauce. Oh, and I neglected to take pictures of adding some more softened butter mashed with flour to my small skillet, adding half and half, and simmering with parmesan cheese to make a mornay sauce for the cauliflower.  Sorry. I was hungry.

What I didn’t neglect, dear reader, was to dive into this amazing platter of New England’s best farm fresh beef and produce with gusto and abandon.  Using our daintiest knives, we easily shave tender slivers of steak off our loins, sandwiching them between bi-layers of umame flavor – the shitake from above, and the truffled mash below.  Each wee cone of cauliflower bursts with nutty vegetal flavor, and the blanket of salty creamed cheese sauce is the perfect compliment.  A rich, glassy puddle of savory silken beef gravy, some snappy fresh cress and crispy roasted kale add the finishing touches.  The steak is so juicy, so meaty, so fresh and delicious – I’m convinced.  It IS the best steak I’ve ever purchased, and the best steak I’ve ever eaten.  Blood Farm – you’ve made a believer out of me.  See you soon!

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Bloomsday: a celebration of all things James Joyce – and, more specifically, everything Leopold Bloom.  June 16 is the day James Joyce first enjoyed a date with Nora Barnacle, who would become the love of his life, and in tribute, June 16, 1904 is the day during which all of the story in Ulysses  takes place.  I read Joyce at Harvard Extension several years ago, to fulfill one of my ALM elective credits, and I fell in love with his voice almost immediately.  Ulysses is a masterwork of English Literature – a simple day-in-the-life-of story, but a complex tapestry of passion, imagination, symbolism, patriotism, spirituality, and erudition.  Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, is a lusty, vigorous man fraught with insecurities and obligations — far too human for me to sum up in a few words.  But I can say this – Bloom ate with gusto:

 “He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes.  Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

For breakfast, 107 years ago yesterday morning, Bloom enjoyed a pan-seared pork kidney:

“…[he] crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt.  … [H]e unwrapped … and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce.  Pepper.  He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup…. He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over…  [later]… pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from the side of the pan.  By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back.  Only a little burnt.  He tossed it off the pan onto a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it… He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat.  Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat.”

My apologies to James for my clumsy editing, yet this is a food blog – not a literature blog – and it’s Bloom’s breakfast at the onset of Calypso (and not Molly’s awakening, or Milly’s remembrances) I’m mulling over today.

Yet, dear readers, surely you can see that my picture above is not one of pork kidneys!  Alas, neither Whole Foods nor Savenor’s had the requisite innards on hand – nor, to be quite honest, do I relish said innards as much as Bloom does. (Clayton – even less so.)  But I had to honor the Irish muse and his Bloom and Dedalus and Molly and Dublin somehow – so I took to the internet to find a recipe for an appropriately themed Irish dinner by which to pay homage to Joyce and his creations.  Thank you, Tara, at Smells Like Home for your excellent rendition of bangers and colcannon: your recipe’s beguiling picture (as displayed on the third page of’s search engine return for “irish”) simply called out to me, arresting me in my tracks, compelling me to make her — as Joyce’s faux-chapter-heading’s namesake did to her Odysseus.  On the plate, Ogygia is represented by a mountainous island of craggy white mashed potatoes, stubbled throughout with bacon and cabbage and spring onion, surrounded by a chocolate stout and brown sugar sea.  Like the lotus-eating sailors lounging with lassitude on the water’s edge, seared brown in the sun, my tender pork and garlic sausages lay tanned and glistening on the spud surface, sweating savory juices, just begging to be eaten.

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

1lb yukon gold potatoes
4 oz bacon
1 head cabbage
3-4 spring onions
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
brown sugar
salt and pepper
sour cream

My basics tonight were thick cut bacon, sausages, potatoes, and cabbage.  Almost everything else I had on hand, so on top of being a celebration of a literary masterpiece, this was cheap enough a meal for even Stephen Dedalus to afford (in today’s economy – relatively speaking, that is).  Whole Foods used to carry bangers, but when I asked the butcher why I didn’t see them in the window, he said no one had ever purchased them or even showed any interest — until they no longer had them.  But they did have a non-Italian styled “garlic and pork” sausage, which was mild enough to stand-in for the traditional banger, even if they were larger.  I purchased 3, knowing I’d split them later.

I start with my potatoes, which I peel, cut into 8ths, dump into salted water, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, or until I can easily pierce them with a fork.  Meanwhile…

… I dice my bacon…

… and very thinly slice my cabbage.

The bacon goes into a hot pan, along with a generous helping of fresh cracked black pepper, to render all the fat and crisp.

But oh – there’s not enough fat yet!  I add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan, and let it melt and foam…

…before I add the cabbage shreds.  I toss this very well, coating all the greens with slick bacon fat, then I set the heat to medium and let this sizzle and sautee for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is just tendercrisp.

This bundle of spring onions wasn’t the greenest — they felt more like small leeks — but the flavor was fine.  I chop them roughly, reserving and inch or so of each of the ends to julienne for a final plate garnish.

The chopped onions go into the cabbage pan, where they get tossed in well, too.   After about 5 more minutes, salt and pepper to taste, mix one or two more times, then remove the cabbage mix from the pan and set aside.

Now these are some beautiful sausage.  They are a bit understuffed (read: limp) actually, which works rather well in the long run,  since they have some steaming room inside the casing, resulting in more tender meat.  It also keeps them from splitting open during the cooking process, even after you pierce the membrane to release some of the inner juices.

I’ve got my large skillet set over medium high heat, and I’ve got a few glugs of EVOO shimmering hot on the surface.  In go my links, which I let sear on each side until they’re each striped with brown.


When my links are nice and browned, I add my bottle of beer, set the heat to medium, and let my links steam the rest of the way to cooked-fully-through.  My Guinness will reduce and condense, concentrating all its malty chocolate Irish flavor as it goes, getting ready to become gravy.

Meanwhile, I’ve drained, then mashed my potatoes with a fork, and it’s time to cream them up.  I add a couple tablespoons each of butter and sour cream…

… and about a cup of milk.  I return the pan to low heat, and whisk this well into a nice, creamy whipped potato – adding milk as needed until it is just the right consistency.

It’s time to make colcannon out of mashed potatoes.  I add my reserved bacon and cabbage and onion and black pepper and butter mix to my spuds, and stir well, fully blending the two delicious side dishes into one.

My beer has reduced by 2/3rds, and my sausages are perfectly cooked.  I remove them from the pan, and set them aside, leaving the beer boiling over the heat.

I take about a tablespoon of softened butter, and a tablespoon of flour, and I mash it together to form a paste.

I also have about 2 tablespoons of rich, sticky brown sugar ready.  I whisk the butterflour and brown sweetness into my boiling, thickened Guinness, lowering the heat to medium, and I let this ambrosia simmer down to a glossy syrupy glaze.

Clayton O’Fountain and I dig into our bangers and mash with much boisterous toasting and smashing together of our Guinness-filled mugs; we sop our sweet sausages with the savory sugary thick brunette gravy, holding our forks overhand and our knives like spatulas;  we spread our hot baconcabbagepotatopulp over our forkfulls and jackknife our loads heartily into our open mouths; we grunt with satisfaction, and dive in again and again and again, only pausing to swig malt beverage and to mutter our full-mouthed approval.  Afterwards, we lean back in our chairs, loosen our belts, strokepat our tummies, and sing “The Harp That Once through Tara’s Halls” a few times, remembering Dublin at the turn of the century, remembering Joyce.  Ahhh…. Bloomsday!
Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Deconstructionism: Scallop Chowder

According to all the top chef TV shows, deconstructions are passé.  The judges always seem to diss them, but their contestants still do ’em… and so do I.  It’s an interesting exercise to break down a common (or uncommon) favorite, and see how all its components work when they’re presented together on the plate in a different way.  According to all the top food blogs (a pantheon to which I hope someday to rise), pork belly is IN; and not a day too soon, if you ask me.  All things pork are a siren call to my senses, and my tongue yearns for it like a satellite caught in the irresistible gravitational pull of a delicious cosmic event.    Pork belly is bacon in its natural state — uncured, unsmoked, unsalted: just luscious Wilbur fat striated with marvelous Miss Piggy meat which, when roasted right, is covered with crispy crunchy come-n’-get-it cracklin’.  We’d eaten well already this weekend, so even though I wanted the pure fat pork belly promises, I really wanted a light dinner, too; er, but, since I’m me, I wanted cream and sweet and savor and sass and sublimity as well.  What’s the point of eating, otherwise?  Savenor’s had some super large, super fresh scallops, and a basket full of yummy silky Yukon Gold baby potatoes, and several bunches of fresh snipped chives, along with a perfectly portioned 1 lb slab of very clean pork belly… and suddenly, it all came together.

My idea was a chowder, where shellfish, smoked ham, potato, and cream come together with other flavors to make the scrumptious warm savory of a wholesome seafood stew.  I really thought the tender sinews of sea scallops would compliment the similarly textured flesh of a pig’s belly; that the mollusks’ briny sweetness would offset the pork’s earthy richness, and that these two proteins would stand in for the traditional clams and bacon. To round out the simulation, I figured substituting a thick, creamy potato puree for the typical chowder base, and adding some roasted carrot bits and, in some fashion, chives, would bring the dish home.  Here’s what I came up with:

Seared Scallops with Potato Puree, Carrot Cubes, Blistered Pork Belly and Chive Oil

1 lb fresh pork belly
Dry rub:
1  star anise
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs ground ginger
1 tbs allspice
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp juniper berries
1 tbs white peppercorns
1 tbs sea salt
1 tbs crushed black pepper
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 c – 1 c heavy cream
3/4 stick butter, divided
4 extra large sea scallops (~ 1/2 lb total)
1 bunch carrots
1 tsp crushed thyme
1 bunch fresh snipped chives (about 1/3 cup chopped)
1/3 cup EVOO
2 tsps lemon juice (I used some of the citrus currently home-preserving some Meyers lemons in my fridge)

I start with the ingredients for my dry rub, placing them all into my mortar and pestle.

Right — all of my ingredients.  I forgot the white peppercorns on the first time around, so after I ground up all the star anise, ginger, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon to a nice fine powder, I added my wee pallid pellets, and ground them all up, too.

My pork belly; I try not to think about … well, this cut of meat in relation to, um,  MY belly.  ‘Nuff said; just know that my mind’s wanderlust is twisted and obscure, and… right, ’nuff said.  Anyway, you can see that the price isn’t prohibitive – whereas the fat content (all that lovely white stuff among the pink flesh) is extremely high.

See?  All the smooth, buttery white is melting fat, and the wee strips of pink represent the only sweet meat this slab of midriff has to offer.  To my eyes, this is the swell of an Odalisque’s inviting white belly; the seductive mounds of Maja’s tender tummy; the luxurious folds of flesh Luncheon(ing) in the Grass.  This is the idealized Botticellian belly that, in times during which my miniaturized voluptuousness mayhaps would have turned heads, such mature development of softness and latent energy was desirable and en vogue.  (To most others these days, it is CALORIES.  P’shaw, I say! Life’s too short…)

I looked through many posts (starting with FoodGawker, then Googling, then Epicurious, then – heck, lots more choices), and found TONS of ways to make crispy skinned pork belly with meltingly tender meat.  The Vietnamese refer to it as Thit Heo Quay; the Chinese (I think) call it Siu Yok or Sieu Yoke; the Filipino style is  Lechon Kawali; and my peeps love their Chicharron.  Some recipes call for marinating the meat with fermented bean paste and spices overnight before roasting; some call for it to be brined then boiled then dried then roasted; some for it to be boiled then dried then fried; and all sorts of recipes in between.  I, er, sort of threw myself into random mode, and cherry picked my procedures based on my impulses,  my ingredients, and my equipment.  So I started by flipping my slab meat side up, cutting deeply into it, but NOT through the bottom-most layer of fatskin, about 1″ apart.  I then rubbed salt and my spice rub into all the meat *very* generously.

I leave the skin-side bare…

Although you can barely (if at all) see it, I used two forks to stab my pork skin thoroughly.  I read in many recipes that this works better than scoring, and helps ensure an evenly crackled crust.

Using my kosher salt, I rub down the entire pockmarked surface of my belly’s skin.  I set this into my fridge for 2 hours uncovered (or, you can put it into a ventilated ziplock bag, and put it into your fridge overnight, taking it out an hour before roasting to bring it back to room temp).  I preheated my oven to 475°, then placed my belly, skin side up, on a rack, over a pan, into my stove, and walked away for 20  minutes.

After which time, my belly has begun to crisp and cook, and the house has begun to smell — well, like smoke.  All the spitting fat is making quite a mess (sorry, Clayton), but its such a seductive mess…!  I lower my heat to 350°, and let my roast cook for another hour.

I’ve peeled my pound of gold from the Yukon…

… and dropped it into a pot of salted, boiling water.  It will take about 20 minutes of roiling boiling for these to cook to ready.

I trim my small bunch of organic carrots and roll them in EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and dried thyme.  I place this pan in my oven, under my roasting pork, for 20 minutes, or until tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.

Like so. Cover with foil to keep warm.

It’s the one hour mark, and I check my pork belly.  It is deeply dark roasted, its meat easily shredded with a fork, and its skin hollowly echoes when I tap it with the side of my knife.  But it’s not dark enough, so I baste it with the clear fats that have collected in the bottom pan, stick it back into the oven, and turn up the heat to broil for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I’ve drained my potatoes, leaving a little of the cooking liquid in the pan, and have mashed them thoroughly.

This is 2 tbs butter, cold and cubed.

I add it, one cube at a time, plus one tablespoon heavy cream at a time, to my spuds, which I’ve set over a low burner and which I’m stirring vigorously with a whisk.  I add all my cream and butter, whisking well, salting and peppering until it tastes perfect, and until everything is fully incorporated, and the texture of my potatoes is smooth and creamy.

I’ve also cut down my carrots into tiny little cubes.  My idea is, that were I to have made my chowder, I would have minced my carrots and some onions to sauté in butter before adding my cream and potatoes, so a small dice of sweet roasted carrots will capture the sweet vegetable flavor they bring.

After 10 final minutes under my top broiler, I pull out my pork belly to see blackened charred skin and a full pan of clear fat drippings.  I reserve the latter, and don’t fret about the former; most of the recipes I’ve read today indicate that you WANT the skin to be this burned, to ensure that you’ve cooked this outer fatty layer enough to get that crunch you really want.  If it doesn’t blacken, it might be chewy instead of crispy.

The solution to over-blackened skin?  A serrated knife.  I just scraped off all the black crap from my dry, cracklin’, toasted skin; it was easy peasy.  When I’m ready, I use my Chinese cleaver to chop – not slice or cut, since my skin is so cracking – my pork into small squares.  1/2 way through shattering pork crisps across my kitchen, I realized that if I chopped through the meat side, with the skin side down, I’d get the perfect pieces I wanted, without the mess.

The final ingredient: plump, juicy, dry sea scallops, each weighing about 1/8 of a pound.  NICE.  I dry these babies, then sprinkle them with kosher salt.  These cook quickly, and you have to pay attention, so be sure you’re ready to plate before you put them on the heat.

I’ve got a small saucepan set with a tablespoon of butter (no, I didn’t clarify it; I rather wanted the milk solids browned and sticking to my shellfish) and a tablespoon of EVOO over high heat.  When the fats are just about to smoke, I set my scallops into the pan and let them sizzle for 2 minutes, or until I see the cooked worked halfway up the disc of flesh.

Once my mollusks have turned a healthy crisp golden brown on the edges, I use my tongs to flip them.  Beautiful.

I’ve taken 1 bunch of chives, chopped it into about 1/3 cup, and whirred it with my hand blender with an equal amount of EVOO, 1 tsp of salt, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice (or, in my case, the juice from some Meyer lemons I’ve been preserving for a week or so) to make a chive oil.  I spoon up my potato puree, stud it with a couple scallops and a few chunks of crispy roasted pork belly, then scatter my carrots and squirt a few drops of my chive oil.  My plate is a steaming warm mound of silky smooth fluffy potato puree; the carrots have actually cooled somewhat, and their sweet toothiness contrasts perfectly with the spuds and fresh green snap of the chive oil.  My scallops and pork are tender to the fork, with the added bonus of crispy chichurron to add texture for my tongue.  A surprisingly light, fresh, sweet, flavorful, and fantastic meal – elegant and homestyle, gourmet and damn-good, all at once.  Literary deconstruction isn’t really my thing, but from an gastronomic perspective, it is a tantalizing approach to food.  Each bite was delicious alone; but each forkful, laden with layered bites of each component of the plate, was sublime in concert.  Baby, it’s cold outside, but it is warm and wonderful at my dinner table, and I wish I could share it with each of you.

Seared Scallops With Potato Puree, Carrot Cubes, Blistered Pork Belly and Chive Oil

Friday Night Pot Roast

It’s the day after a thoroughly delightful Thanksgiving, during which Clayton and I enjoyed the convivial atmosphere of my favorite prof’s annual feast with friends and fine food.  The conversation flowed, the laughter was abundant, the hostess and hosts were gracious and generous and warm, and the food was absolutely delicious!  Several of my friends made remarks to the effect that it was strange I wasn’t cooking, baby-blogger that I am, but we simply couldn’t resist enjoying the hearth and home of these fantastic friends, and after all – I have three more nights this weekend to make up for it!  Tonight we wanted something equally warm and hearty, but red meat seemed in order after the abundance of poultry consumed last night.  Whole Foods had some lovely bone-in chuck roasts, which made me salivate for a succulent, tender pot roast, one to really stimulate us from the inside out.

Here’s everything I plan to use tonight for my simple, satisfying meal.  The chuck roast, the carrots, the pearl onions, the rosemary, my sage, beer, olive oil, potatoes for mashing, and a few things from the pantry, of course.

I start by salting, peppering, and flouring both sides of my 2 lbs of bone-in cow shoulder meat.  I shake off the excess flour, but do make sure all the surfaces are nicely dusted.

Then I nestle my steak into my largest, heaviest, flat bottom skillet, in which I’ve heated a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I let this side sear for about 4 minutes…

… until I see the bone start to “bleed”, and the browning on the sides reach about halfway to the top of the steak.

See how nicely browned it is?  Using tongs and a spatula, I flip this baby over, and let the other side sear to a deep brown, too.  Meanwhile, I cut up four large carrots, and remove the papery outside layers of a dozen or so white pearl onions.

I dump my veg into the pan, along with a few sprigs of rosemary and a handful of late season sage from the winter garden.  I could add all sort of other veg here, too, like celery, or turnips, or potatoes, or whole cloves of garlic – but, as usual, I aim for the simple.

But I did not skimp on the braising liquid.  OK, I have to admit that adding this expensive ale to my roast wasn’t exactly planned out in advance, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for to drink this afternoon, once I tried it, I mean, so I decided to let it exert its influence over me from a different avenue.  It ended up being exactly the right base for the gravy it formed later.  Anyway – I dumped two bottles over my roast…

… then covered the pan.  Then I set the whole thing into a 350° oven, and walk away for an hour before checking it again.

… and it looks good.  Then I cover it again, and put it back into the oven for another hour – at least.  I use the spooling spaghetti technique to check for doneness; when I stick a fork into the meat and spin it on its axis, the meat just easily pulls and shreds and spools on the tines, I know the roast is ready.  Or…

… if I can easily grip the bone and pull it right out of the meat, like so.  Using those tongs, I remove my meat and most of my carrots and onions from the pan (discarding the three – four bones).

Like so.  I set this aside, so I can make my gravy from the liquids left in the pan, which I set onto the heat and bring to a roiling boil.  I squish the remaining carrots and onions, and add a little cornstarch mixed with water to thicken.

Using my hand blender, I whir my gravy into a smooth , hot sauce, adding salt and pepper as needed.

Set atop of creamy bed of smooth mashed potatoes, my tender, flavorful roast can be pulled apart with a fork.  It’s studded with sweet soft carrot slices and buds of sensuous onions, drowned in smooth silky gravy, and dressed with snappy watercress and milky Greek yoghurt – just for contrast and zip.  Oh, and a little dollop of Pierce Brosnan for the cookie crust, because there’s nothing like having Bond for dinner during Thanksgiving weekend.  Delicious!

Classic Pot Roast