Monday, March 28, 2011

Roast Pork with Mustard, Herbes de Provence & Thyme

I had to double check the index of recipes on this blog to believe that I had not yet written about one of the best recipes in my bag of tricks. Shockingly, it was nowhere in sight.

How could I do this to you, dear reader?

On Chowhound when you fill out your profile, they ask what your "go-to dinner party dish" is. I only put down two things, a sublime tomato soup and roast pork with mustard, herbes de Provence and thyme.

This pork has saved me countless times with guests and family, but for me the clincher is that it is one of my personal favorites. Every time I take my first bite I am astonished by how extraordinary this dish is. This isn't fancy cooking, rather it is rustic French farm fare. For me that is some of the best the culinary world has to offer.

I found this recipe for Roti de Porc au Thym (Roast Pork with Thyme) in the September/October 2001 issue of Saveur magazine. That particular magazine is covered in grease because I have put it to such good use. Inside you'll also find a terrific French lentil salad and my favorite recipe for Arroz con Pollo.

This is a recipe for those of you who don't have a lot of time for chopping and mixing and measuring, but are still foodies at heart and want the end result to be divine. If you can handle browning the roast, the rest of the process is a breeze.

The recipe calls for a boned pork rib roast, but allows for substituting the loin end, shoulder, or blade end. What I typically purchase at the market is the large pork loin roast (not the tenderloin!), because that is what I routinely find. Shoulder would be great too, if a little fattier. However the loin works well, and because of its even shape you don't need to tie it up.

The marriage of pork drippings, mustard, thyme and herbes de Provence leaves no room for wanting garlic or onions. The flavor is just right. I don't really use herbes de Provence for anything else, though I'd be willing. The hint of lavender seems exotic, as if you're walking through fields of purple flowers in France.

Ironically, according to Wikipedia, lavender is only added to the American blends of herbes de Provence. Is this true? The typical mix includes savory, fennel, basil and thyme. The mix I've used lately from Penzeys includes rosemary, fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, dill weed, oregano, lavender, chervil and marjoram. This might be overkill (although it's quite good), but I certainly wouldn't want to give up the lavender, no matter how much it screams American.

After browning the meat on all sides, dijon mustard is slathered over the top of the roast. The herbes de Provence are scattered over and thyme branches are placed on top. One cup of water is poured into the bottom of the pot. The pork in a heavy bottomed pot -- preferably of the Le Creuset ilk -- is covered and nudged into a 425 degree oven, where it cooks for just 45 minutes. Basting every 15 minutes is essential.

Your pork needs just a wee rest on the counter, maybe fifteen minutes, and then it is ready to carve. Right? It doesn't get much easier than that!

The pork is remarkably succulent. Carving the meat always produces a puddle of precious juices that must be guided with care back into the pot with the rest of the pan drippings. The resulting sauce is superb.

The perfect accompaniment that properly showcases the sauce is a tiny pasta. Orzo is my preference because I like how slippery it is and how that feels in my mouth, but fregola sarda or any of the other little babies will work well too.

I don't want to oversell this recipe, because I wouldn't want to disappoint you, but I'm using words like superb and divine with complete sincerity. I really think you'll love this dish.

Roast Pork with Mustard, Herbes de Provence & Thyme
Adapted from Saveur Sept./Oct. 2001 Roti de Porc au Thym

1 4 lb. pork rib roast, boned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon peanut or other neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
6 branches fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place rack in the middle of the oven.

Generously salt and pepper the pork all over. Melt the butter and oil in a large Dutch oven with a lid that fits snugly. Brown meat thoroughly on all sides, about 5 minutes or so per side.

Turn the pork fatty side up, and spread with the mustard, evenly over the top. Crush the herbes de Provence with your fingers and scatter them over the meat. Rest the thyme branches on top of the pork. Add 1 cup water to the bottom of the pot and cover.

Put the pot in the oven and roast the pork, basting every 15 minutes, until the temperature reaches 135 degrees. This should take about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and set the lid ajar. Let the meat rest for 15-20 minutes. Discard the thyme branches, and place the meat on a carving board. Thinly slice the meat and serve with the pan juices spooned over.

Serves 6-8

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Berlin Currywurst

A. really wanted to try Berlin Currywurst. I sort of did, though I had doubts.

We had a day to ourselves and part of me really wanted to go to town. I was thinking Aburiya Toranoko. I have a Blackboard Eats coupon burning a hole in my pocket. But the day after a seven course tasting menu with wine pairings at Drago Centro (more later!) is not really the day to go off.

So we popped over to Silver Lake and waited in line for over thirty minutes at Intelligentsia. Do people do this on a regular basis? The coffee is swell, but waiting in line for that long sent me back to clubbing days that I would just as soon forget.

After the caffeine issue was settled, we waltzed over to Berlin Currywurst. Yes, it's true the interior of the tiny spot is lovely and modern. There is just the right balance of bare white wall, black and white photo-murals, brick, and exposed filament light bulbs. Plus, I like the hip wood and metal furniture too.

A. is, generally speaking, a big fan of sausages and hot dogs and while I enjoy them as well my love is more measured. I worry about stomachaches and often I want some vegetables too! Not just french fries.

The menu is simple. Pick a sausage -- pork, beef and pork, pork with paprika and garlic, or perhaps tofu -- and then a heat level. One through four are on offer. I'd read here and there that even the lower levels are hot, so I didn't go all the way. But understanding that I am a bit of a heat fiend, you'll know I had to start at level three.

There is some kind of choice of additional flavors. I didn't manage to get to the bottom of this. Apparently for eighty-nine cents something in the flavor of your wurst experience will be altered.

I personally did not notice a need for alterations. Really not at all. Or not with the currywurst anyway. I opted for the pure pork bratwurst. A. chose the one with paprika. We were both more than a little enthused.

Honestly, I don't think I really understood currywurst. I know Richard Blais did a variation on it during the most recent Top Chef episode, but I was so pissed that Antonia went home and that Mike Isabella was left standing that I had completely forgotten. I was actually expecting a sausage on a bun, even after I had read all the reviews on Yelp. I guess I wasn't concentrating.

Apparently currywurst is not some sort of hybrid German/Indian food. The owner made this clear. It is German food with the addition of curry that British soldiers brought to Germany. Wikipedia informs that a German housewife may be responsible for its invention. Thank goodness for Herta Heuwer!

The sausage is cooked and cut into thick slices and served in a rather addictive sauce of tomato paste and yellow curry. Vinegar and perhaps worcestershire sauce are probably lurking in there too along with some other mystery ingredients. I've read that the owners won't give away the secret recipe. Too bad! On the side is a terrific soft country-style German bread.

Two bites in and I was telling A. that I would most likely be licking the plate clean.

I was perfectly shocked by how much I was loving that lunch. The wurst itself has a satisfying snap to its skin. There are just the right amount of fatty bits within to keep the meat juicy and delicious.

And the sauce was ridiculous. I was easily imagining the development of mad cravings. It balances sweet, spicy and tangy exceptionally well. The charming owner let me sample the fourth level of heat after I told him that I thought I could hack it. It wasn't too bad, especially if you like a little eyelid sweat.

I wish they served beer! This food is made for it.

The only mild negative is the french fries. The idea of topping them with slightly-cooked onions is very good. I have no idea what the other choice of jambalaya topping is like. Next time! Unfortunately the fries themselves are not quite right. Somehow they are oily on the outside but the oil doesn't penetrate far enough inside and the middle of each fry seems a little dry. Hopefully they can sort this problem out, because that is my only complaint.

The food is cheap. It's a five-spot and change for the sausage and bread and unless you are a really big eater, you don't need anything else. Not even the fries. They're just added decadence. It's a great deal and a super addition to the neighborhood.

Our big star spotting at this tiny Silver Lake eatery was none other than snowboarder extraordinaire, Shaun White! I loved his mirrored glasses and tight black and white striped pants. Funny funny.

As I sat at Berlin Currywurst, I could easily imagine a line around the block in the not too distant future. A. was busy imagining a mightily successful franchise.

It's clear that Berlin Currywurst is going places.

Berlin Currywurst
3827 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tasting Table's Country Pork Ribs with White Beans and Kale

Do you folks subscribe to Tasting Table?

It's a daily email newsletter for foodies that keeps you up-to-date on all the food happenings in your town. Where will you find the best dishes? Who are the best chefs? Best mixologists? The good people at Tasting Table will let you know. They'll share recipes from up-and-coming chefs. They'll even help you clean out your pantry with simple to throw together recipes.

Heck, you'll hear from them every single day. I can barely keep up!

I took advantage of their generosity the other week when I received their Pantry Raid -- Spring Awakening menu in my inbox.

The Country Pork Ribs with White Beans and Kale immediately caught my eye. I love the succulent shoulder meat that is country pork "ribs." Kale is a recent favorite of mine, a super vegetable, chock full of flavor and nutrients. Plus there was the promise of ease and talk of this being an excellent week-night dinner.

They had my complete attention.

The ribs are not at all labor-intensive. Most of the ingredients are whizzed together in the blender. You will need a little time, but it isn't active time. Twenty minutes for marinating and about an hour to cook. Bathing the baby and putting him to sleep while this bubbles away in the oven is completely manageable.

The flavors are enticing. Orange juice, ginger, garlic, paprika and thyme combine wonderfully to give a mild exotic flavor. But the real experience is of sticky, salty-sweet. The meat is succulent, because the forgiving pork shoulder is quite fatty.

My favorite part of the dish was actually the beans and kale that rest below the hefty ribs. They are the recipient of the dripping pork juices and marinade, so they possess exceptional flavor. The cannellini beans browned a little bit on the edges and were positively addictive. The kale also took on a bit of caramelization, which was a nice change from all the rather moist greens that I normally consume.

The funny thing is that the recipe suggests that there will be sauce left in the pot to spoon over, when serving. This was not at all the case for me. I'm not sure if my oven was a little too hot or if the recipe is slightly off. I was happy with the results as is, but sauciness can prove delightful, so I would adjust the recipe a wee bit, as you'll see below.

The Tasting Table suggestion is to serve this with creamy polenta. While I am a passionate lover of soft, soupy polenta, I just don't agree with this pairing. The starchy beans don't need another starch accompaniment. I'd increase the beans and kale in the recipe, and serve them with another harder green vegetable. I opted for roasted asparagus.

The pork tasted great cold the following day when I gnawed at it standing in front of the refrigerator. I'd happily make this dish again, with the changes below.

Country Pork Ribs with White Beans and Kale
Original recipe at Tasting Table

1 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1//2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 pounds country spare ribs (about 4 meaty ribs)
2 bunches (about 1 pound) regular or Lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves shredded
2 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Using a blender, blend the orange juice, oil, garlic, ginger, thyme, and paprika on high until completely combined. Put the ribs in a baking dish and cover with the marinade. The ribs should be well coated. Let rest on the counter for approximately 20 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven mix the kale with the beans, and season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Rest the ribs on top of this mixture. Pour the marinade over. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Bake, uncovered, until the meat is cooked through and very tender, approximately 1 hour. Serve each rib with spoonful of the beans and kale. If sauce remains, spoon a little over.

Serves 4

Monday, March 21, 2011

Potato and Leek Soup

When it comes to potato leek soup, I am a purist. Fewer is better, as far the ingredients go. And the less fuss the better. Who needs to muss up the blender or food processor, when a piping hot bowl full of hearty hunks of potatoes and leeks is so satisfyingly rustic?

Of course, that doesn't mean that's your preference for soupe aux poireaux. And that is indeed the beauty of this potato and leek soup recipe. It is exceptionally customizable. Feel free to purée, and why not throw caution to the wind and serve this puréed and chilled.

Mmm, Vichyssoise.

I've come to think of this recipe as a family heirloom, but that isn't exactly correct. We've eaten many pots of this soup in my family. So it seems like my mom's recipe, but it comes -- along with many other family classics -- from the New York Times International Cook Book.

I took this recipe in a notebook of other photocopied hits with me to college. This potato and leek soup along with a terrific tomato soup from the same book were two of the first dishes in my measly 18-year-old repertoire. I made it again last night for the whole family, Fe. included, and it is still something of a show-stopper.

I highly recommend a double recipe.

This simple yet decadent soup cannot be part of our regular rotation, because it is full of cream and butter. Full. But on a cold and stormy first day of spring, it was really quite perfect.

I'm not kidding about the simplicity. Anyone can make this potato and leek soup. Chop the leeks and onions. Sauté in butter. Toss in the potatoes and chicken stock. Simmer. Add a generous quantity of cream. Salt and pepper. Garnish with chives. Slurp embarrassingly.

See. You can do it in your sleep!

Potato and Leek Soup

2 large leeks
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped chives (optional)

Trim the root end of the leeks, then cut off and discard approximately half of the green stems. Slit the leeks several times lengthwise from the stem and rinse well under cold water. Leeks can be very dirty! Chop the leeks and cook them with the onion in the butter. Cook for three minutes, stirring.

Add the potaoes and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer about fifteen minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the cream and bring just to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with chopped chives.

Serves 4

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hainanese Chicken with Rice

So as I mentioned previously, Mark Bittman was my saviour, twice last week. He could be yours, too! His Hainanese Chicken with Rice is a fantastically delicious, relatively healthy, easy to make, curative. You can find it in his ever-handy How To Cook Everything

Everyone I know is sick or is just recovering from horrible snotty, phlegmy illnesses. This recipe might just nurse you and your loved ones back from the brink.

You won't see me writing about poultry that often, because A. is a hater. Yes, it's tough to deal with, but he has so many other wonderful and endearing qualities that I am learning to live with this major flaw. I usually confine my chicken cookery to Wednesdays when A. has his radio show and comes home too late for dinner. Fe. and I go to town! Hainanese chicken and rice is a favorite of ours.

This recipe produces a vat of chicken stock fragrant with garlic and ginger. You can easily sip or slurp your way to health for the better part of a week with the stock that remains after the rice is made.

I had no idea you could do this, but the gentle poaching of the chicken that takes place mainly occurs with no flame under your pot. You bring a very large pot of water up to boil, and you add your chicken, smashed garlic and ginger and salt. You simmer for ten minutes and then turn off the flame. The chicken bathes in the hot liquid for an hour and presto, your chicken is done.

I dig that.

The rice is made by sautéing chopped garlic, shallot and the raw rice, itself, in peanut oil and then simmering it in the stock you have just prepared. It is mighty tasty, if a little on the oily side. I kind of like that, though.

The rice is topped with shredded chicken, sliced cucumber and tomatoes, chopped green onions and a generous handful of chopped cilantro. I didn't bother peeling the Persian cucumbers I used, and I chose halved cherry tomatoes in lieu of whole ones.

A super-quick-to-prepare dipping sauce of peanut oil, chopped ginger, chopped green onion and salt is served on the side. It's amazing that what may just seem like a small bowl of oil, is actually a savory and quite addictive little sauce. Watch out, because this is where a relatively healthy dish can quickly take a turn for the dark side. It's a dipping sauce, not a pour-the-whole-bowl-on-your-plate sauce, Jacqueline!

A little drizzle of sesame oil enriches the flavor. I also like to serve a little dish of the broth alongside for warmth and comfort. Bittman serves the dish on a platter mounded high with the chicken and surrounded by the chopped vegetables. I prefer to make individual portions, as below.

Hainanese chicken presents beautifully, and appeals to just about everyone except my darling, A.

Tant pis.

Hainanese Chicken with Rice

1 whole (3- to 4- pound) chicken, trimmed of excess fat
Several cloves smashed garlic, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic
Several slices fresh ginger, plus 1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 cup peanut oil, or neutral oil like canola
3 shallots, roughly chopped, or a small onion roughly chopped
2 cups long-grain rice
1/2 cup minced scallions
2 cucumbers peeled and sliced
2 tomatoes slices
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Add the chicken to the pot along with the smashed garlic and sliced ginger. The chicken should be completely, but just, submerged. Cover and reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken remain in the hot water for an hour, until it is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the pot, reserve the stock, and let the chicken cool to room temperature. Put half the peanut oil in a skillet or medium dutch oven. When hot, add the remaining garlic and the shallots. Cook, stirring every so often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring until shiny. Add 4 cups of the reserved stock and boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the dipping sauce with the remaining oil, ginger, half the scallions, and a large pinch of salt.

Shred the chicken, discarding the skin. Put the rice on a large platter and mound the chicken on top. Sprinkle with the cucumbers, tomatoes, remaining scallions, and cilantro. Drizzle with the sesame oil and serve with the dipping sauce.