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Friday, September 19, 2014

Bourbon Belly

Porchetta. Porketta. Pork. With layers of slowly rendered fat, succulent meat, and bone cracking skin, what's not to love about roasted pig wrapped in pig wrapped in fat? Think about it.

Porchetta, common street fare in certain regions of Italy, is traditionally made with a whole pig (head to tail) stuffed with herbs, tied, and roasted over an open fire. The fat melts into the flesh, crisps, and protects the meat as it cooks low and slow. It's then sliced and served in paninos, as antipasto, or simply eaten unadorned. Nowadays, for convenience, contemporary porchetta is typically made with either butterflied pork shoulder or pork belly-wrapped pork loin slathered with spices, aromatics, and herbs. When rolled, tied, and roasted,  the pork bundle mimics the unctuous decadent essence of the whole pig experience.

I arranged to have a 5 pound half belly waiting for me at our farmers' market. Communication wires got crossed and I ended up with an entire 8 pound whole belly from another vendor. More is more. Win. Armed with the massive slab of belly, I got my pig on.

Bluegrass Porchetta.
Mise en place.
Spices. After heating a dry cast iron skillet over a medium  flame, I toasted 4 tablespoons (each) whole black peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and crushed  red pepper. When the oils started to release from the spices, I pulled them from the heat, added 2 tablespoons of salt, used a spice grinder to crush them into dust, and set them aside.

Herbs/Aromatics. After snipping handfuls of fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage from the garden, I rolled the herbs into tight ball, minced the hell out of them, and  tossed them into a bowl along with the zest of a large orange. I smashed 10 garlic cloves to release the skins, and minced them into a  loose paste before adding  the paste to the herbs and zest.

Belly. Down and dirty. Like a wet meaty flag, I unfurled the pork belly onto a huge cutting board. After scoring the flesh at deep 1" intervals, I pounded the meat with a heavy mallet, flipped the belly over, and pounded the skin. Some folks score the skin as well to achieve that explosive fatty checkerboard look. Nope. I left it alone.

I flipped the belly over onto the meaty side and rubbed the spice mixture over the flesh  before slathering and messaging  the garlicky zest-infused herbal paste into every exposed nook and cranny.
The other pig. For a little twist, I ditched the conventional pork loin center and whipped together a simple country forcemeat using ground pork and ground fatback bound together with a panada (milk and bread). I wasn't shooting for pate consistency, so I left the texture on the courser side. After thoroughly incorporating the panada into the forcemeat, I smeared it onto the lower end of the pork belly (lengthwise) and pressed it into the flesh.

With several (15)  18" pre-cut pieces of kitchen twine on deck, I rolled the porchetta into a gigantic roulade. I carefully nudged the pieces of twine under the pork log and tied it up as tightly as possible. Sure, guts spilled from the sides. I simply smooshed them back into the rolled porchetta. Waste not want not.

At 36" long, I ended up with a full yard of roped and tied pig. Booya. After tipping the tied pig into a full-sized hotel pan, I slid it into the refrigerator (uncovered) to marinate and air dry for 48 hours. Yep.

With the fat-infused messy prep out the way, roasting the porchetta was a piece of cake.

After 2 days, I pulled the roast from the refrigerator and let it rest for 2 hours to come to room temperature. Knowing I wouldn't need the whole rolled belly, I sliced it in half and wrapped one half in plastic wrap before tossing it into the freezer for another day.  I blasted the oven to 500 degrees, brushed baking soda over the skin of the remaining rolled belly, showered the skin with salt, placed it on a wire rack inside a large roasting pan, and slid the porchetta into the oven to roast at high heat for 40 minutes before downing the heat to finish roasting at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 hours, basting the meat with the rendered fat every now and then.

During the last hour of roasting, I added peeled Casey County white sweet potatoes, quartered candy onions, quartered fennel bulbs, the reserved orange (sliced), Elmwood Stock carrots, and sliced Boyd Orchard Jonathan apples.

When the porchetta reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, I pulled it from the oven and nestled it onto a large cutting board to rest. After tumbling the vegetables alongside the roast, I skimmed the fat from the roasting pan and placed it over 2 stove top burners cranked to medium high.

Pan sauce. As a throwback to my stints teaching the Culinary Arts Cooking School at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I deglazed the hot roasting pan with a cup of Makers Mark bourbon. When it started to sizzle, I ignited the booze. Fire. As the flames died down, I scraped the sticky fond from the bottom of the pan and let the bourbon reduce to a light glaze before swirling in 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, and a splash of chicken stock.

After letting the porchetta rest for 15 minutes, I sliced it into thick slabs and kissed the meat with the bourbon glaze. To counter the extreme richness of belly, forcemeat, fatty skin, and glaze, I finished the sliced pig on pig with quick pickled fruit and mache.

Lipstick on a pig.
Tucked beneath the perky pickled apples, peaches, and fresh mache, the glistening pork brittle crackled around the lightly glazed tender moist meat.  While the spiraled garlicky herb-packed filling provided aromatic hints of anise, orange, and piney grassiness, the spiced rub penetrated the meat and seeped through the flesh, adding eager saltiness to the puddled sweet, tart, and savory juices of the pork.

Bourbon belly pig candy.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Tomato Pudding

I peeled a lot of tomatoes the summer I moved back home to take care of my father. By golly, my dad loved his tomatoes. Bolstered by a sprawling garden tucked away in pasture just off the back deck, his tomato supply was endless. The garden fueled his need to have freshly picked sun-kissed sliced and peeled tomatoes with every meal. Yep, peeled tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One by one, row by row, bushel by bushel, I peeled a gazillion tomatoes that summer....with a dull paring knife.

For most of the summer and fall, we simply ate tomatoes with a dusting of salt. Sometime along the way, I slipped a small canister of flaky sea salt onto the table for added crunch. A delicious small win. Cracked Tellicherry peppercorns would have been a stretch, so I didn't go there. One day, out of the blue, my dad requested his mother's tomato pudding. Tomato pudding? News to me. By the time I'd settled onto the farm as a kid, her beloved tomato pudding must have fallen out of favor or slipped through the cracks as a forgotten recipe from leaner times because it never made it onto our dinner table. I'm not sure what bolted him back to memories of his childhood on the farm and his need for her pudding. It simply happened. Just like that. Boom. He wanted his mother's tomato pudding. Alrighty, then. I tried to play along.

Apparently, back in the day, my grandmother fashioned her old fashioned tomato pudding with canned garden tomatoes from the cellar mixed with sugar and leftover breakfast biscuits. Much like other bread puddings, the bread soaked up the juices, disintegrated into the tomatoes, and turned into pudding.

Without the luxury of a dank dark cellar, I relied on the sea of fresh tomatoes at my fingertips combined with frozen Fort Knox commissary white bread. I kept the puddings basic for a while. Before long, I got a little uppity and started  adding stuff.  There were hits and misses along the way. Wild mushrooms? Miss. Anchovies? Big miss. Raisin bread? Nope. Goat cheese? Big mistake. Croissants? A one hit wonder. Through it all, he was a good sport. In the end, my tarted up  tomato puddings lacked soul, so I reversed course and went back to the basics by using leftover breakfast biscuits mixed with fresh garden tomatoes. Humble. Old school. Endearing.

When lusty tomatoes start fading into warm summer memories, tomato pudding is a great use for the seconds, culls, uglies, or end of season tomatoes. As unassuming as it might be, Michael and I still adore tomato pudding warmly wrapped up in hand-me-down memories.

Tomato Pudding.
Right off of the bat, I peeled the tomatoes the easy way.
After coring and scoring 5 large overly ripe Pulaski County Big Boy tomatoes, I plopped them into salted simmering water for 45 seconds.  When the skins started to curl away from the flesh, I fished the tomatoes out of the water with a wire spider, dropped them into ice water to cool, placed them onto a dish towel, and slipped off the skins. No fuss.

Without a shred of finesse, I chopped the tomatoes into juicy chunks, tumbled them into a bowl, and squished the wet fruit into a pulpy mess. Tomato carnage. Because they were packed with tons of juice, I sauteed the tomatoes with 1/2 cup minced candy onion, salt, pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar over medium heat to tighten up a bit before adding 3 large roughly crumbled  leftover buttermilk breakfast biscuits. When the biscuits softened and swirled through the pulp, I scooped the mix into a buttered Bybee Pottery baking dish.

For texture and crunch, I smashed 2 additional biscuits into crumbs with a rolling pin before tossing them with minced  fresh parsley and parmigiano reggiano ( sacrilege).  After lightly packing the breadcrumbs over the tomato pudding, I drizzled the topping with olive oil, and slid the pudding into a 350 degree oven (uncovered) to bake for 40 minutes.

When the crumb topping was nicely browned, I pulled the tomato pudding from the oven to rest.

As the pudding settled down from the heat, I cracked the biscuit shell with a spoon  to snag the ruby red filling. Sealed beneath the herbaceous parmigiano crust, the salty biscuits softened, plumped with the juices of the crushed tomatoes, and jiggled on the spoon like a proper pudding should.

Sweet and savory.
Soft and crunchy.
Old fashioned tomato pudding.

Simple country fare.