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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

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Pork, Pork and More Pork (Plus Recipes)

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Butcher case at Rosemont Market's Brighton Avenue location, where local lard is touted as the new olive oil. Pork there is from Milkweed Farm right here in Brunswick.

Butcher case at Rosemont Market’s Brighton Avenue location, where local lard is touted as the new olive oil. Pork there is from Milkweed Farm right here in Brunswick.

I’m totally spent, after appearing on local TV for the first time, and banging out a cover story for The Portland Phoenix’s pig issue, plus my side column take on Jews and pork. I attended a whole hog butchery workshop (lung was delicious, spleen was gross) and have tracked down numerous chefs, pig farmers and butchers. I remain indebted to Oregon for teaching me how to cure my own guanciale and to seek out meat CSAs and heritage Red Wattle hogs. Now, for some recipes (previously discussed on our latest WBOR radio show on food waste).

Breaking down half a hog in the butchery and curing workshop organized by Giant's Belly Farm in Greene, Resilient Roots and the Local Sprouts Cooperative.

Breaking down half a hog in the butchery and curing workshop organized by Giant’s Belly Farm in Greene, Resilient Roots and the Local Sprouts Cooperative.

First, pig ears, normally considered dog food/dog chew toy. Perhaps they should stay that way. I’m all for crispy pig ears at restaurants, but I found them a bit gross and not worth the effort to do at home. I worried about ear wax and hating shaving the ears of hair. For a recipe, I consulted the trusted Michael Ruhlman, a charcuterie guru with a new book out (with co-author chef Brian Polcyn, whom I interviewed) on the porky art of Italian dry-cured Salumi. He recommended prepping pig ears confit-style.

Pigs ears confited per Michael Ruhlman's instructions. Next time I'll leave them for the dogs.

Pigs ears confited per Michael Ruhlman’s instructions. Next time I’ll leave them for the dogs.

So I rubbed the ears with salt, pepper, garlic and Chinese five spice powder and let them cure overnight (well, ok, they were left in the fridge for a few nights). I was thinking crispy pig ear banh mi. That never happened. I confited them in a super-low oven in grapeseed oil (didn’t have lard). But when I tried to fry them up, they were chewy and gummy and not that crisp. I now see I ignored Ruhlman’s advice to roast them, weighed down between pieces of parchment in a 425 to 450˚ oven. My bad. I missed his note that “a serious issue with frying is that water remaining in the skin can cause them to pop and splatter in hot fat.” Splatter they did.

Bone-in leg roast brined per Tamar Adler's instructions.

Bone-in leg roast brined per Tamar Adler’s instructions.

The pork roast, really an uncured bone-in ham, recipe I tried from Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace proved far more satisfying. I got to taste a little roasted bone marrow, which tasted just like that fancy restaurant appetizer. The next day, I made a good ole New England pot of baked beans, flavored with the bone and pork scraps, inspired by a recipe in a recipe from the revamped classic Cooking Down East. Here’s Adler’s recipe…you definitely want to try to brine the ham first, to tenderize the dense muscle. I added molasses and liquid smoke to the brine, to make the meat, well, more ham-like.

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The lovely bone-in ham roast (see that yummy bit of marrow) from a Red Wattle hog from Squire Tarbox Farm on Westport Island.

Meat brine (from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal; roast follows)

1/4 cup salt

1/2 tablespoon sugar (I used molasses too)

water

2 bay leaves

2 whole dried chiles

1 teaspoon juniper berries

4 sprigs thyme

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Combine the salt and sugar over low heat with 1/4 cup water. As soon as the salt and sugar have dissolved, take it off the heat. In the container in which you’re going to brine the pork leg roast, combine everything with a few ice cubes. Mix it all well. Once it is cool, add the meat and water to cover. Brine, before meat is added, stays good forever.

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Pork roast

Brine a three-pound pork leg roast (preferably bone-in for flavor) overnight in the refrigerator. Cover the meat with a plate that fits inside the container and weigh it down so that it doesn’t float. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine and pat it dry. Heat a cast-iron pan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brown each side of the meat over medium-high heat. Let each side turn caramel brown. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the pork is browned, put the pan or pot directly in the oven. Cook the meat, untouched, until it’s medium-rare. In an oven, this will take about 20 minutes per pound. Pork will need an internal temperature of 165 degrees when you pull it out of the oven, and will go on cooking once you remove it. Err on the side of under-cooking the meat. Check it with a meat thermometer at its thickest part until you get good at telling doneness by pressing on the meat.

Remove the meat from the pan and let it sit on a cutting board. It needs to rest for at least 20 minutes. Sliced earlier, the outside of the pork may taste salty; if there is still a bone in the cut, the meat along it will still be bloody.

Slice the meat thinly with a sharp knife. If you can avoid it, leave the serrated knife for bread and use the sharpest straight blade you have.

Serve with a big green salad.

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Hog butchery workshop in South Portland (notice James Beard Award winning chef Rob Evans of Duckfat in the audience!)

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Salad Perfection: Roasted Celeriac and Roasted Exotic Mushrooms with Shaved Radish (or Turnip) and Buttermilk Dressing

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My recreation of a Fore Street salad, with shaved local watermelon radish instead of white turnip, and roasted celeriac and roasted meaty King Trumpets and some enoki-or-shimeji-type smaller mushroom. Delish!

I don’t usually run photos this large, but this is an unassuming salad with big flavor. It’s inspired by a truly memorable one I just had at Fore Street, perhaps this Portland’s hottest restaurant. Chef/owner Sam Hayward is Maine’s answer to Alice Waters. My parents took us to his  Street& Company on a visit to Maine years ago, but I’d yet to eat at his flagship spot, just above his renown Standard Baking Co., which bakes the chewy fougasse I devoured with my appetizers at Fore Street.

Now, Fore Street is famous for its protein, its house-cured-and-smoked charcuterie, fresh Maine seafood and spit-roasted meats. So this simple salad especially stood out. The menu described a turnip and exotic mushroom salad with roasted celeriac and a light buttermilk dressing. Mushrooms on a salad usually stand out as a rare ingredient. I assumed the mushrooms would be pickled or marinated and shaved. But Fore Street is known for its wood-fired cooking. It turns out the mushrooms were quickly roasted, to seal in their juices and concentrate their flavor. How had I, long a slave to mushrooms in the sautee pan, never thought of roasting them before? So I sliced up some locally-cultivated King Trumpets and shimejis (smaller clumped ones like big enokis), rubbed them with olive oil, Maine sea salt and pepper, and into the 450 degree oven they went, along with the cubed celeriac. The buttermilk dressing, with Kate’s legit buttermilk from Maine’s Old Orchard Beach, came from a Vermont locavore cookbook. Recipe to come.

It wasn’t hard coming up with my “Meals We Loved” pick for today’s radio show (our second) I taped with fellow Brunswick food writer, Michael S. Sanders. The topic was sustainable seafood. Visit the Table Arts Media page for a soon-to-be-posted podcast of the show. We have a lot of kinks and technical glitches to iron out, but hey, it’s college radio. And as Michael reminded me, James Beard Award-winning chef Sam Hayward’s first restaurant experiment in Maine–22 Lincoln right here in Brunswick–actually went under after a 10-year-run. But, to the delight of diners everywhere, that sure didn’t stop him.

Short Ribs Once, Dinner Thrice

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The surprise of short rib ravioli with tangy horseradish-creme fraiche sauce, dusted with parmesan and fresh cracked pepper. More Slavic than Italian. Absolutely divine. Hats off to chef Amy.

It wasn’t hard coming up with the “food I loved” for the new “Fresh from Maine” radio show I launched today with veteran Brunswick food writer and  cookbook author Michael S. Sanders. It was a simple, Silver Palate-inspired winter borscht, a velvety broth with beets, tomato and braised cabbage, held together with a meaty short rib broth. Michael served it for lunch as we pulled together the show last week. Hands down best borscht I’ve ever had.

It turns out Michael’s discovery of these short ribs discounted at Shaw’s (the large grocery store with the best meat selection) led to not one, but three distinct meals. Talk about frugal gourmet. First, they slow-braised the short ribs in beer, plating the fall-off-the-bone morsels atop polenta. The recipe came from Michael’s lovely Fresh from Maine cookbook, he thought from the Portland restaurant, Vignola Cinque Terre. Or was it the “Stout and Chili Braised Short Ribs over Parmesan Polenta” recipe from the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport? The only expensive thing was the gluten-free beer required for braising to accommodate a guest’s dietary preferences. Meal #1.

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The pressed ravioli, to be boiled and dressed.

The braising liquid and bones Michael and his wife, Amy, then boiled down into stock with the requisite veggies. The resulting rich elixir yielded the most delicious borscht. No tough chunks of meat here but more umami-rich and savory than the still-good, vegetarian Moosewood version. Meal #2.

And Meal #3 was today to celebrate our first radio show (for now on Sundays at noon…live-stream it!) on WBOR, the Bowdoin College station. Michael and Amy graciously invited us to join them and their neighbors for an impromptu, quite convivial meal embodying the best of the Slow Food ethos. Amy, who is busy as an AP English and creative writing teacher at the high school, still managed to whip up a batch of homemade ravioli, putting the leftover short rib meat to good use. But don’t let the “ravioli” label fool you. These were more Slavic, almost like pirogis or Russian pelmeni, than Italian pasta. No coincidence here, since Michael and Amy speak Russian, and he used to import rugs from there and the Ukraine. A light horseradish-creme fraiche sauce perfectly complemented the sweet short rib meat. The ravioli reminded me of my Nonny’s kreplach, which I have yet to recreate. Here’s to more short ribs and homemade ravioli (and kreplach) in 2013!

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