Pork for a party

My birthday rolled around and I had a party. Having just watched an episode of Cooked in which Michael Pollan describes the joys of eating a farm raised pig, I decided to go all out and buy some from my local butcher Bavette although I knew it was going to be pretty costly. But A.) I wanted good pork. B.) Organic. C.) Farm raised happy pigs. As Michael Pollan says, the pig that has a great life with just one bad day. I can be OK with that.

So I got 20 pounds of boneless, trimmed pork shoulder. I marinated it for 24 hours as Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, suggests you do for pork pernil, a Puerto Rican specialty dish that features onions, garlic, cumin, oregano and chopped cilantro. Only I wasn’t making pork pernil. I was making something, oh, let’s say, Mexicanish.

After the meat marinated for 24 hours, I charred it on the grill and then slow roasted uncovered at 200 degrees for I don’t really know how long. The meat gave up it’s liquid that then evaporated in the pan leaving a caramelized delicious thick pan sauce. While the meat cooled I de-fatted the juice and then made a gravy that I poured over the meat which I had sliced when it was cold. And then I slow roasted it again at 200 degrees for another, I am not sure how long, maybe 2 hours.

It was fabulous. I don’t know if it was the pork or the method but I didn’t taste any garlic, onions, oregano, and certainly not cilantro. It was delicious but it was roast pork delicious not pork pernil delicious. Served with tortillas and some sides…I’ll get to that.

Steak tacos

Another experiment with America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Christopher Kimball, whatever). Steak tacos although I wasn’t looking to make them, I am always interested in making them. Or anything edible really, well not anything with anchovies.

If I were going to the store to get steak for tacos, I would always be unclear on whether to use flank steak or strip steak or God knows what, I think their other suggestion was something called a tri-tip whatever the hell that is. And for the life of me, although I probably have seen this show and/or recipe 10 times I would be unable to remember what they suggest when I am presented with the choice at the store.

This time, though, I was presented with the meat first. I stopped at Bavette, my local, organic, blah blah and they had strip steak and it was about $20 a pound cheaper (seriously) than the other options. So I got it thinking, oh you know, I’ll just make whatever comes up when I google strip steak. Then I went googled it and the ATK strip steak taco recipe came right up.

The process wasn’t difficult, in fact, all you have to do is let the steak sit with salt and cumin on it for an hour and then grill. I can’t get my grill to be as raging hot as they get theirs, but then, they are able to reduce liquids in a fraction of the time it takes me, so I just got my grill as hot as possible and threw them on.

I don’t know if it was the meat itself, or the (what I thought was a very small amount of) process, but it was excellent. I mean really-good-I’ll-do-it-again excellent.

Merguez stuffed eggplant

A friend in Belgium created this recipe recently. I haven’t tried it yet but with my new love of North African food I will as soon as Bavette makes some merguez. Merguez is lamb sausage, FYI, and it’s not easy to find.

The recipe is pretty straight forward and although it seems Moroccan or Tunisian enough, I’m not sure any native North African resident would recognize it as authentic, like Indians regarding the curries of people not native to India.

Recipe follows.

Merguez stuffed eggplant

Preheat oven to 375

1 medium eggplant

1/2 lb merguez sausages

1/2 cup finely diced red pepper

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1 clove of garlic chopped

1 tbs cumin

1 tbs coriander

1 tbs tomato paste

3 tbs olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated parmesan

Cut the eggplant vertically, (top to bottom, I never know what “vertical” means) and score the exposed flesh. Drizzle olive oil (a tablespoon or so) on each. Salt and pepper each half. Roast for 20 minutes at 375. Remove from oven and cool.

In the meantime poke a few holes in the casing of merguez and sauté on medium high heat until slightly browned on each side, about 15-20 minutes, remove from pan leaving drippings in the pan.

Reduce heat slightly and add diced onion and garlic to pan drippings, sauté for a few minutes until onions begin to soften, add red pepper, sauté for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper.

Add cumin and coriander, mix well and then add tomato paste. Mix well and sauté for a few minutes until the tomato paste is well combined and beginning to caramelize. (you could slop in a few tablespoons of red wine at this point).

Remove merguez from the casing and crumble the sausage. Add to the onion/pepper mix.

Once eggplants are slightly cooled, scoop out the flesh, leaving about half an inch attached to skin. Chop up the scooped out flesh and mix into the merguez/pepper/onion mix. Taste and add salt/pepper as needed. 

Fill the egg plant halves with the mixture, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil and return to oven, bake until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes.

Bavette, le boucher

Had lunch at Bavette yesterday with Loralyn. We each ordered a sandwich. She, the paté, and I had the meatball sandwich and we split them. Both of the sandwiches were awesome although Miss I Can’t Eat Anything Spicy could not eat the meatballs which were as spicy as oatmeal.  

As delicious as the food was, the place has issues. 

Their ordering system leaves something to be desired. The waitress has to tell you what’s on the menu which is time consuming considering she has to read everything off of a little spiral notebook and really, it’s hard for customers (me) to remember from thing to thing when the descriptions are complex and include possibly frightening ingredients. 

And speaking of possibly frightening. On the butcher table behind the bar there was a dead pig. OK, that is not just possibly, it was in fact, frightening. I could not look at it and I didn’t like the thought of eating there knowing it was behind me. (I deliberately sat facing away from it.) It was hard, however, to ignore the sound of a band saw cutting it up. 

The place is a butcher shop, after all, so from now on I think I will only patronize it as such. Unless I get take out.

Bavette again

My friend LuAnn and I returned once again to Bavette le Boucherie to have dinner. Bavette, you may recall is a butcher shop/restaurant (this was my 4th visit). Unfortunately, they close at 7 on Tuesdays and since she was late (as per usual) we had less than an hour to scarf down our meal, if you could call it that. We had the small plates but they do have more meal-like things to eat. Starting with excellent paté, (actually, we started with wine) we then went on to pimento cheese. When I questioned the owner about this, I mean, pimento cheese is a deep south kinda thing and this is a French-Spanish kinda place. It turns out that her mother is from the south. Good enough for me. I love the stuff.

Karen, the owner, and my new best friend, spent 6 years in Spain working in, and owning, a restaurant. She studied butchery and while I forget the list of places she’s worked, seems highly accomplished. (God only knows why she came back to Milwaukee) We did not see any actual butchering taking place but she, Karen, told me that they, in fact, do butcher while people are there eating. I am not sure I would like this. Particularly if it includes the actual slaughter of the animal in plain view. It could be off-putting if you were trying to eat, say, well, anything.