Monday, February 18, 2013

Pork braised in milk

When you live near a butcher who breaks down a locally raised pig at least once a week you tend to become accustomed to eating a fair amount of pork. The Italians are proficient in the ways of preparing il maiale, of course; by now you may have noticed that my cooking leans in their direction. (You noticed that, right?)

Pork braised in milk is a very old preparation, though its origin is less than clear. The Romans think that they invented it, but so do the Italians in the Emilia-Romagna, as do those in Campania.

Ask me if I care one way or the other. It's a killer good dish, people. And a lot simpler to prepare than it looks.

This is a 3-pound piece of pork shoulder (which is also called pork butt for some reason). The idea here is to infuse the meat with flavors and to do that the herbs and spices are placed inside the meat. To get them in there make a series of deep cuts, maybe two inches deep, on both sides of the roast.

Like so.

Then begin stuffing each opening. I went with the recipe from David Downie's Cooking the Roman Way because it is about as simple as it gets. That's just garlic and rosemary there. For the whole roast you'll need just six chopped garlic cloves and six sprigs' worth of rosemary to season, plus salt and pepper. Other than that all you'll need is about a half gallon of whole milk.

Press down so that the garlic and rosemary are fairly well secure.

Generously season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then lay a spring of rosemary on each side of the roast (I used a couple on each) and tie with kitchen string.

In a heavy pot in which the roast fits nicely sear the meat on all sides and edges in olive oil.

Then add enough preheated whole milk to just about cover the meat entirely. (I used raw milk because I can get it easily here in Maine and because I think it tastes better.) You'll need around half a gallon of milk, though all of it won't be required at once. Cover, bring to a low boil and cook for 20 minutes, turning the roast a few times during that time. Then uncover and continue to cook at a low boil for another two hours, turning the roast every 15 or 20 minutes or so. Add more milk along the way as needed, to keep the roast nearly covered.

When the pork is done you've got two choices: eat it now or eat it later. I chose later, a full day later actually. Once it cooled I just put the whole pot in the fridge overnight, as the plan all along was to have it the next evening when Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend came by for dinner. Flavor-wise it will taste better from the overnight stay in the fridge, but it isn't necessary. Anyway, when you're getting close to dinner time remove the roast from the milk and start boiling the milk at medium heat to reduce it to a thick sauce. This could take a little while, depending on how much milk is in the pot, so give yourself a little bit of time.

This is how my milk sauce looked when it was done. It needs to be thick and creamy, not loose and watery.

Remove the string and slice the pork nice and thin.

Then line the slices on a serving tray and top with the milk sauce.

Nothing to it. No matter who invented it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How to hijack a dinner party

It looks as though I planned this thing out some, right?


I was not on deck to cook this particular evening. Nor even do the provisioning. The only reason I had stepped foot inside the Rosemont Market on Brighton was to loiter in the wine department and collect a few bottles to go along with my friend Giovani's birthday dinner.

But then I just had to mosey over to the meat counter, just to say hi to Jarrod the butcher.

Next thing you know I had taken possession of all these beautiful specimens. And for no reason other than that I wanted them. There was a mixed pound of duck and sweet Italian sausage, a pound of pork belly, two giant fatty pork chops, half a pound of pork ribs, and a couple duck legs and thighs.

Hey, somebody had to go home with the things!

An hour or so later and I was in my kitchen, hoping that the comforting aroma of a soffritto simmering in the dutch oven might somehow soften the blow of my having hijacked the birthday meal — a blow no doubt felt by my associate, who had been charged with cooking it.

For the record, it did not soften the blow very much. If at all.

The soffritto, by the way, consisted of a leek, four carrots, a large onion, four garlic cloves lightly smashed but left whole, a tablespoon of fresh marjoram, two tablespoons of fresh rosemary, and four sage leaves. After the vegetables and herbs softened a bit, I started browning the meat in batches, as there was too much of it to do so at once.

After all the meats were browned, I removed them, tossed in two cups of white wine and reduced it pretty much all the way down.

Then the meats went back into the dutch oven. Some cannellini and borlotti beans had soaked overnight (for, ahem, another person's purposes, not my own) and so I threw a bunch of them in too, along with eight cups of freshly made chicken stock (also not made by, well, me).

After a good couple of hours in the oven (covered) this mess of meat and beans was ready to go. Except that I am a big believer in such dishes benefiting from a day's rest, and with the birthday dinner scheduled for the following day all was well with my plan.

So well that I was forgiven my indiscretion.

At least for the duration of the meal.