Friday, June 26, 2009

Pan-seared Porkchops

Pork chops! Who doesn't love a good pork chop? Whether it is seasoned, breaded and then smothered in generations old gravy, or is known simply as chuleta it is one of the worlds most easily identifiable comfort foods.

In my culture; being a Trinidadian we really don't make pork chops, or steaks in the preparation most commonly known to Americans. We cube our meat and allow it to richly develop in stews, curries and soups. The dominant reason is an economic one - STRETCH YOUR MEAT. One can become satisfied easier with less. Meats are allowed to stew in rich brown sauces comprised of herbs, brown sugar, vegetables and seasonings for an hour or more. The sauce then takes on the deliciously complex characteristics of the meat - what better way to stretch your meat than ladling it over a bed of warm rice.
(Above) - pictured food courtesy of Tante Yvonne*

But, stewed pork is not the subject of this post - maybe next time.
This post reflects upon my American upbringing, where everything seems like more of a culinary indulgence. Rarely, in my culture is a slab of protein, pork or otherwise laid upon a dinner plate. I am reminded of a particular night at my house a few weeks ago. I was preparing dinner, grilled corn, chicken and vegetable rice. Two chickens were in the fridge, to me a whole bird just tastes better; sweeter. You will rarely see store bought chicken parts in my household. I preceded to cut these whole chickens into halves and subsequently into quarters - dark meat and white meat. A quick marinade and then onto the grill. My uncle Marlon who seems to have his nose directly hard wired to my house when anything is cooking stopped by. He took one look at what he called a center cut chicken breast on the grill and claimed it for his own. Not before commenting, that if my Tante Si (Sandra) who still lives in Trinidad would have seen that chicken breast, "she would have cut it into four pieces by now." So, pork chops in the preparation I am about to share with you is an innately American indulgence.



Let us discuss for a moment a brine. A brine is a salt solution, more specifically salt, sugar and vinegar (acid), however you combine those basic requirement is creatively up to you. For this preparation I used apple cider. I brine many of my proteins, pork, poultry - specifically turkey, even shrimp. Just wait until you see my blog post on a brined thanksgiving turkey. My cousin was so shocked at the tenderness and juiciness that he spit it out and examined the meat to make sure it wasn't raw. After he saw that it was fully cooked, but not over cooked turkey - he placed it right back into his mouth. What a brine does is quite scientific, it places moisture into the protein via osmosis. That moisture is the brine liquid itself *so note that whatever you put into your brine, your are directly putting into your meat as well. You can also get really creative here. How often have you gone to a restaurant and tasted a deliciously seasoned crust or skin of your meat, but the meat itself is relatively bland. Brines allow you to season the meat from the inside - out. I personally use a lite salt brine, which allows me to still season my food on the outside or skin. Your dinner guest will be none the wiser, but enjoy their food being moist and thoroughly seasoned.


As for the sides. I am a big believer in simple preparation with extraordinary ingredients. Maybe this is why I like rustic Italian cooking so much. Get inspired! You will not believe the difference fresh local organic ingredients make in your cooking. Heirloom tomatoes are the epitome of summer, their color, size and obvious taste are just some hits that they lack mass production. I bought some spectacular potatoes; fingerlings, red creamers and Yukon golds. I did a large rough dice, topped with good olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs and you will have some of the best roasted potatoes you have ever had.

String beans are so yummy, large, medium or by any other name - haricot vert. I quickly blanch mine in boiling salted water. Followed by a quick shock in a bowl of ice filled water, this technique helps retain the natural vibrant green color - nothing is worst than freshly cooked veggies that look like they came out of a jar. You know that dull olive green color I'm talking about. I then heat up some butter in a saute pan, just until the butter is lightly brown and nutty, toss in beans and finish with some coarse kosher or sea salt. You will never go back to beans from a jar again. I have also been experimenting with grilled green beans as the weather begins to change, more on that later.


I am not a formally trained anything, except maybe as a video producer. But, there is one cooking technique I must share and that is called "Unilateral Cooking", it is the method by which you begin cooking on the stove top then transferring your dish to the oven. I particularly love this for meats, it allows you to develop a wonderful golden brown crust on the stove and finishes in the oven for even cooking throughout. If one were to leave their steak cooking in a pan on the stove you would burn that delicious crust by the time you got any sort of doneness on the inside. Beginning, on the stove also allows you to start with a screaming hot pan, this instantly sears the meat and allows the juices to stay in the meat, rather than running out. You know what I am taking about, how many times have you seen a steak bubbling away in it's own juices. This is not a good thing! Instead no nicely seared brown crust, where so much flavor and desired texture develops under the right cooking conditions. I like my steak medium or medium rare, if you like it well done, God bless you.

This has been a submission by food blogger Marcus Richardson

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tasting of Bacon

The Introduction came by way of third party - Tiffany and Catie. They had finally found a third roommate - Berlin. Already it was interesting. Tiffany during one of our many daily chats, we sit directly across from one another at work mentioned; he's a butcher.

He's a butcher!

*I am and forever will be a strong advocate of getting to know ones' butcher. Not only will you benefit from the
ir wisdom in terms of trying new cuts of meat and preparations, but you will also get the personal touch. And by personal touch I mean, your butcher shelping down to the basement or in the back, getting a fresh piece of meat and cutting it to your order.

Over the course of the
past few months that I have known Berlin, he has helped me out tremendously - in what he calls, me, "dropping bank on meat". I love cooking and when I do it, it is never half assed. I have been known to walk into keg parties and picnics with 2-3lbs slabs of prime sirloin - courtesy of Mr. Berlin and Green Grape Provisions of course. It is 100% grass fed goodness!

Finally, I get to the point of this first post. Berlin sadly will be moving to the west coast this summer (lucky them!) and I shall be rendered Butcherless, but not Baconless. In what he coins Bacon for Brooklyn - a few lucky souls got in on his custom bacon creations. The concept is simple fresh pork bellies, a simple cure and flavors. I greedily sercured three bellies for myself. Then came the hard part - flavor selections. Berlin and I sat down and came up with awesome flavors spawn from inspired ingridents.

BELLY # 1 - RUM, NUTMEG AND MAPLE Trinidad 1919 - 8yr old rum Grenadian nutmeg
Vermont Maple syrup




I picked up my bacon today and could not wait to try them out. I whipped out a saute pan and quickly cooked one piece of each bacon. The pineapple bacon quickly browned and I thought this to be odd, after a couple of moments I realized that the natural sugars in the pineapple juice was causing my bacon to burn faster than normal - I lowered the heat. I was quite surprised! Immediately, as the first piece of bacon made contact with the hot pan - aromas began the blossom. Smells of pineapple and spices wafted into the air. I was cooking bacon partly by my own design, much credit must be given to Berlin - The Ethical Butcher

I quickly cooked off the rest of my test bacon and thoroughly enjoyed the spoils of my culinary victory.

I cannot wait to incorporate my bacon into pastas, antipastos, salads and who know maybe even desert ;-)

This has been a submission by food blogger Marcus Richardson