Jan 272014

(NOTE: This is one of the things on here that would really benefit from a couple of explanatory photographs. Annoyingly, I didn’t take any when I made this because it was an off-the-cuff experiment and I didn’t expect to be able to write it up immediately. Who knew? I will update this with real photos in the next week or so. Until then, you just have to make do.)

If you have ever been to a restaurant that offers northern African cuisine you will have noticed that the way the aromas in the place are somehow more enticing than any place else. The scents are all things you have experienced before – warm and aromatic spices like cinnamon and cumin and coriander – but it’s not the combination that makes them so memorable, it’s they way they infuse the space and hit your nose. You don’t just smell them, you almost feel them.

There is, of course, a trick. People in the northwestern horn of Africa – Tunisia, Algeria, and especially Morocco – mix their spices into a warm paste with the hot drippings from seared meats and then slather the result onto the meat before roasting. The hot fat opens up the spices and enriches them, making them penetrate the meat more easily and giving them an incredibly pervasive aroma that will give you a serious case of hound-dog drooling while it cooks. In Africa this technique is usually used for lamb or goat, but I got to thinking about how it might work out for a nice cut of pork. Since the traditional lamb spices don’t pair overly well with pig, I lazily co-opted my go-to pork rub as the base. While the technique is Moroccan-inspired, the flavours are not. But fear not. The results are, quite frankly, spectacular.

I did it in the Big Green Egg, but it would work quite nicely (just not with the same depth of flavour) in a regular oven. You do need a big oven-proof skillet to make this work, and a meat thermometer is a must. So grab your gear and read on for the incredibly simple details.

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Sep 042012

There was a time when bacon jams and bacon marmalades were exceptionally rare things. A handful of people made them at home, you might have found a jar or two in the homemade preserves at a specialty food or craft fair, and that was it. Now it seems like bacon spreads of whatever description are the flavour du jour in the culinary world – hell, I’m pretty sure I saw it on the shelves at 7-11 the other day.

This is not a bad thing. The more the merrier, I always say. But leave the store-bought stuff for the plebes. I have tasted a lot of bacon marmalade and I have yet to taste one as good as this. Or, quite frankly, even close. You don’t need any special equipment, but it is easiest (and, I think best) if you have a slow cooker. Beyond that it is just some chopping, some stirring, and an afternoon of amazing smells in your kitchen.

Read on for the ingredients and details.

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Jun 132012

Let’s cut right to the chase: People are intimidated by brine. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Brining is simple, relatively foolproof if you remember one important rule, and makes a massive difference in the quality of your finished meat. So it’s time to cast aside the fear and uncertainty – brining is good, and it’s time you started doing it.

A few ground rules to start: One, brining is generally reserved for poultry and pork. Beef isn’t really going to benefit from this and it is going to be too rough on the texture of fish and seafood. Two, you should always brine your poultry or pork if your cooking method is dry. Three (and this is the super important rule you must remember), your brine needs to be ice cold before the meat is immersed. Cold brine is happy brine. And fourth (and finally), giant-sized Ziploc bags are your best friends.

With these basic thoughts firmly stuck in the back our our minds, let’s begin. The basic brine for both pork and poultry is dead simple. For every half chicken (or equivalent) or every two pork chops (or equivalent) you will need:

1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of brown sugar
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of kosher salt

That’s it. That is the whole shebang. I told you this was simple.

So – dissolve your sugar and your salt into the boiling water in a large bowl. You are going to have to stir this pretty well to get it to completely dissolve, becuase it is right on the edge of how much sugar and salt the water can actually take on. When it is completely dissolved, put the bowl of brine in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry, but see the note below for a caveat or two) and chill it completely.

Cold brine is happy brine.

Once the brine is nicely chilled, you can add your meat. Grab a Ziploc bag that is large enough to hold both your meat and all of the brine you made, carefully pour the brine into it, and then add the meat. Adding the meat last helps you avoid pouring disasters, trust me. Now pop it back into the fridge, with the following list of times in mind:

Chicken or any game hen – 1 hour
Pork chops or ribs – 2 hours
Pork loin – 4 hours
Pork shoulder – overnight
Turkey drums or breast – overnight
Full turkey – 24 hours

When your time is up remove the meat from the brine and pat it completely dry (inside and out!) before you start to season or cook it. For pork, be sure to let the meat rest at room temperature so it can warm up before you start to cook, but poultry can hit the roaster / grill / smoker / whatever right away.

A Note About The Freezer: If you are in a hurry and need to chill your brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, be sure to cover it with a sheet of waxed paper so you dont get a tiny blizzard of crystals in your ice box.

And that is pretty much it. Roast or grill or smoke your brined and dried meat excatly as you would have before. Your actual cooking technique will not change, but your results definitely will. Once you get going with this you can start to add some flavour to the brine – orange zest, sage and cloves for roast turkey; juniper berries, garlic and rosemary for grilled pork; lemon zest, garlic and tarragon for roast chicken and other small fowl; garlic, crushed peppercorns, and ginger for grilled bird. Play with it, the possibilites are endless. Just remember: Add these things after the brine has cooled, otherwise you risk getting a nasty bitter note in your food.

And did I mention that cold brine is happy brine? Yes? Good.

Play with it. Experiment. Have fun. But most of all, do this. Every time.

Dec 212011

This particular pico de gallo use to have a really sucky name. That was unfortunate. Now, however, it has an awesome name which is entirely fitting since it is an awesome flavour mix. The new name just sort of popped out – I was doing some Chrstmas baking and shouting random and generally wrong lyrics to the Brave Combo version of Must Be Santa and there it was. Ho ho ho.

So. This is an easy pico that makes any sort of roasted or grilled pork into a festival of summery brightness. There are just a handful of ingredients and the actual “putting it together” time is short. However, you will want to start making this about 2 hours before you plan to eat it – the watermelon needs to drain for a bit and you want to give some time at the end for the flavours to come together.
And a big special super thanks to Pippa at the Cheese Shoppe On Locke for information and advice about the feta!

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Aug 092011

When you eat barbeque in the Carolinas, you get a super soft bun loaded up with a big heap of pulled pork (drenched in mop) and topped with a mound of coleslaw. And not your bright green supermarket slaw, either. This is slaw for barbeque, and instead some undefined might-be-mayo creamy white stuff, the dressing is always based on mustard. So you get the sweet pork, the sour of the vinegar in the mop, and then the cool crunch of slaw and the tang of bright mustard to round things out. The combination is magical, and probably the main reason that in those parts the word “barbeque” means this dish, period. Why would you cook anything else?

However, when you are feeding barbeque newbies (something that occurs with distressing regularity here in the Great White North) you will find that there are a not-insigificant numbers of people who – for lack of a better word – freak when you even mention the idea of putting coleslaw onto a hot and tender pork sandwich. Being a good host, you don’t really want to force your guests to eat something, but you also want to give them the full flavour experience. What to do?

You make a mustard-based stand-alone sauce for serving, that is what you do. You can squirt it on each sandwich as you assemble them, or you can put it on the table in a squeeze bottle for the folks to apply on their own, or you can do both. It’s easy, it works, and you can even use it to give people the option of cole slaw or not. Keep reading!

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Aug 082011

One of the rookie mistakes with pulled pork is pulling the whole butt at once. Bad move. When you first break into your butt it is drool-inducingly moist but once the meat is pulled it goes south (no pun intended) in a hurry. It’s a conundrum – you need to pull the meat when it is steaming hot to get the right texture, but pulling it hot means that a lot of the moisture (and flavour) disappears as steam.

The trick is to pull just the amount needed for each sandwich, get it in the bun, close it up, and then pull the next serving. The bun traps and captures and absorbs the moisture, but even then you need help. Specifically, you want a thin sauce (traditionally known as a “mop”) to over-hydrate each serving as you pull it. You could use water, of course, but that would be lame. You want a mop with flavours that compliment and enhance the sweetness of the pork. What matches with sweet? Sour (of course) and a bit of heat.

Sour, sweet, and a bit of heat. It’s either the title of a forgotten Simon & Garfunkle song, or it’s a recipe for a simple pulling sauce that makes your pork sing. Keep reading to find out which.

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Aug 082011

This weekend I did the full feed of pulled pork: There was barbeque, Chicken Shakeys, Turd Rockets, Alabama Cornbread, and cole slaw. So I thought that this week I would run through all of the recipes involved (unless I have already posted them) from start to finish. Watch for Pulling Sauce on Monday, Serving Sauce on Tuesday, Turd Rockets on Wednesday, and the pork butt itself on Thursday. Friday, of course, you will be busy getting your own butt ready for your weekend cook.
Truly, it will be a festival of pork.

Apr 162011

Once again the readership has some questions about a recipe post – is this the start of a tradition? Or does spring just bring out all of the complainers?

Do you have to use the pork? I’m not a fan.

Okay. First things first. If you don’t like pork then you are probably reading the wrong blog. Just saying. But yes, you can simply substitute another half kilo or beef for the pork. But toss in a teaspoon of dried thyme to add a bit more interest and to make of for some of the sweetness you lose by deep-sixing the pork.

Fennel? Really?.

Yes, fennel. I’m guessing you have never actually met an Italian person. Fennel is the traditional seasoning for pork. Especially ground pork. In fact, if you really want a big hit of old-school Italian flavour, replace the plain ground pork with an equal amount of loose sausage meat. That’s-a nice!

Can I just make this in the oven?

Yes. And it will be great. Just not strong as great. But still, you know, great.

Apr 142011

My friend Shawn has some issues with food. If something has flavour or texture or any sort of culinary interest at all, he won’t touch it. No way, no how. Slabs of rubber and piles of sawdust would be his ideal menu. So these meatballs are like kryptonite to him – packed with flavour and perfect tender texture, they would have him cowering in the corner with his cape over his head.

If he had a cape.

For everyone else – even people without capes – these meatballs were created to be the filling of a nice meatball sandwich or sub. You can obviously use them however you like, but you are cheating yourself if you don’t try these in a sandwich at least once. Fresh bread, fontina cheese, and maybe a few grilled peppers on top. Trust me.

And finally, yes, I know that this one was a long time coming. I promised the final recipe months ago, but I kept dicking with it, assuming that there must be some way to improve on the original. After a number of variants, however, I have always gone back to the “beta test” version so I present it to you here in all of its original glory and with profuse apologies for keeping you waiting. Enjoy.

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Apr 052011

So it’s April and it is still snowing at random and vaguely vexing times. Specifically, when I am trying to smoke the season’s first batch of ribs. The forces of light, justice, and meat prevailed, however, and at the end of the day I was rewarded with some killer racks and an absolutely sublime batch of cornbread.

What does this mean to you? Good question! It means that you will get two different techniques for ribs and a stupidly good cornbread recipe this week. Stay tuned!