Archive for the ‘Pork’ Category

Weekly Update, December 12

December 12, 2010

Not a lot to report here.  The leaf mulch is on the garlic, it has been cold and wet, and we haven’t harvested anything this past week.

I’m not inspired to post of the recipes on this week’s menu that haven’t already been posted.

I will however, toss out a couple notes and links regarding country ham.  At one point or another I have personally tried the 1st 5 links to ham, and I like them all.




I wish these people did country ham:


I don’t like smoked country ham, it always seems like it is “too much” to me.  But then again, I’m not much of a fan of anything with a strong smoked flavor.  If you’re reading this, and are not in the US, country ham is most similar to a salty proscuitto.

I will go ahead and relink to my red-eye gravy post.  I noticed however, that when I was making it today, that I left something out in that recipe, which I’ll go back and edit in; I add a few shakes of black pepper to it.


Carnitas Durango

July 14, 2010

Crock Pot Carnitas:

This is not the simplest recipe for doing carnitas, but it definitely has a high “oh god oh god” factor.  And you can set it in the crockpot early, then have an easier time setting up for dinner, say if you have company.

I am a crock pot

I’ve cooked carnitas a variety of ways over the years.  I realize that a lot of traditional carnitas use larger hunks, and then shred it, but I like the coverage of the spices and the crunchiness of the exterior you get from having more surface area, so I cube the pork.  The first way I learned to do carnitas was to slice a whole shoulder into 1 inch slabs, and braise into oblivion in a big pot  in a fire pit.    This recipe is easier and indoors.

The ingredients are based on 1 lb of meat, so that it is easy to scale up.  To me, carnitas are pork, and best from the shoulder.  So either boston butt or a picnic roast are probably best.

In all my recipes that require chilies, variety is king.  You can certainly just use “chili powder” that you purchase.  However, you get a lot of depth and complexity of flavor by using different ones, hence the variety of peppers you see referenced below.  Use what you have, but dried peppers keep pretty much indefinitely.  At the moment a casual inventory tells me we have dried Jalapeno, Cayenne, El Chaco, Pasilla, Gaujillo, Thai hot, Chiles de Arbol peppers — and we have ground cayenne, some kind of ground hot Indian long pepper, ground pasilla powder, ground gaujillo power, and a mix of ground dark chili pepper.  We have pepper sauces in bottles as well, like chipotle, Tabasco, habanero, pickapeppa, etc., so you can see my fondness for keeping peppers around.  Yes, I only de-stem peppers, I typically do not remove either the seeds or the membranes.

Lard (the kind without preservatives) is not optional.  This simply won’t work properly with another kind of fat.  It is possible to make these by adding some fresh pork fat and rendering the meat and fat down together, but that is a completely different process for making these.  One of the objectives of making carnitas is cooking down the fat in the pork until it is all tender, but still arranging things so you have a nice bit of crispy to the outside of a given bite of food.  Lard helps this process in all ways.


Part 1:

1 lb Boston butt, cubed.

1 tsp onion powder (not onion salt), or ½ finely chopped onion

1 tsp powdered garlic (not garlic salt) or 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled

2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted

2 tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)

1 tsp pasilla chili powder

1 tsp gaujillo chili powder

1 tsp cayenne

1 tbl ground black pepper

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp oregano (dried or several fresh leaves)

2 large dried chili peppers – chile de arbol, pasilla, gaujillo, etc.

1 fresh large jalapeno

Lard (the kind with no preservatives)

Dark Beer or Ale

Part 2:

½  lb of sweet onion

2 fresh large jalapenos

2 fresh large anchos or poblanos or anaheims

½ cup butter

¼ cup ketchup (or 1 tsp tomato paste + 1 tsp sugar + ¼ cup water)

¼ cup whole milk


Part 1:

Remove the stems from the dried peppers.  Toast the cumin seeds and the dried peppers in a pan.  Flip the peppers and shake the seeds when they start to smoke.  I do both in the same pan.  Place the peppers in a bowl of water, and microwave the water until near boiling.  Let sit while you do other stuff.  Set the seeds aside for now.

Cubed Pork

Cube the pork into ½ inch cubes.  If you are defrosting a frozen roast, this is a tad easier if it isn’t *quite* totally defrosted yet.

Remove the peppers from the water after at least 10 minutes, and chop them up.  Keep the pepper water.  Chop up the fresh jalapeno.

Combine the onion and garlic powders, toasted cumin seeds, paprika, chili powders, reconstituted dried chilies, salt, black pepper, oregano, and the one fresh jalapeno.  Grind this in a spice grinder until fine.

Spice Rub Paste

Rub, toss, and stir the spice paste all over the pork cubes in a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

In the Pan

Melt some lard in a large skillet.  Iron is good, but I also love my giant 16” electric skillet (without which I feel naked).  You want enough lard to cover the bottom of the pan when melted, at least 1/16th inch deep.  We use local lard which does not have preservatives and must be kept frozen, which is just as well since you want cold lard for things like biscuits anyway.  Pour in about ¼ cup of the pepper water (remember saving the pepper water?).

When this heats up, add the pork.  Sear lightly for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want parts of the pork to still not be brown when you’re done.


Pour all this into your crock pot, add 1/4 cup of dark beer, cover, and turn on to low heat.  Come back in 6-8 hours.  Drink the rest of the Ale.

Part 2:

Peppers & Onions

Chop the onion and the fresh peppers, and sweat them in your skillet with the butter for 12-15 minutes at low heat.  Add the ketchup halfway through, salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and put in a serving bowl, but don’t wipe out the pan.

Pepper & Onion Condiment

I use this condiment for a lot of things...

Turn the heat in the skillet up to high, add the pork from the crock pot (and any juices, etc. as well), and pour in the milk.  As soon as it all starts bubbling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook off the liquid, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, and scrape pan clean of pork and fond, putting in a serving dish.

After the milk


Carnita Meat with Fresh Cilantro and Guacamole

Serve with tortillas and sides of fresh chopped cilantro, the onion/pepper condiment, black beans, sour cream, and salsa.   Bon Appetit.

Red-Eye Gravy

May 23, 2010

Red Eye Gravy and Country Ham

Country Ham

Country ham is to American cooks what prosciutto is to Italians.  I must be a southerner born and bred because honestly I’d rather have a nice Virginia country ham than prosciutto.  A real country ham is salt-cured, and either not smoked or only lighted smoked.  On a properly cured ham the fat is soft and easy to eat.  There are a wide variety of ways to eat country ham, and you can buy them both cooked and uncooked.  (Note the two embedded links in the above paragraph for examples.)

One of my favorite ways is sliced thin and fried in a skillet.  All you use are the ham and just enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan.  I cook it at around 250 degrees and just leave it, flipping it once, but otherwise ignoring it for 12-15 minutes.  That’s not hot enough to burn the fat or the butter, but is plenty hot to cook it through and give a nice crispness to the exterior.

Nothing could be simpler than red-eye gravy, although I am constantly amazed at how often it is done wrong.  The Wikipedia description of how to make it actually makes me queasy and a bit horrified.  Eww.

I melt equal volumes of butter and brown sugar with all the remaining ham grease from cooking the ham, then add about three to four times the same volume of left over coffee.  Add the coffee last to deglaze the pan, then turn the heat up a bit and reduce it, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken.  Shake a few shakes of black pepper over it.   Pour it off into a bowl, scraping out the thicker parts on the bottom as well.


Ham grease, Butter, Brown Sugar — equal volume of each

Coffee — Add 2-4 times the volume of the above of coffee, to deglaze the above, then reduce

Black pepper — several shakes of black pepper while reducing.

This morning I fried up some ham and made some hard dry rye toast.  I made red eye gravy using 2 tbls of butter, 2 tbls of brown sugar, and about ½ a cup of strong coffee left over from our morning pot.  I covered the toast with cream cheese, then put on a layer of the ham, and sauced red-eye gravy on the top.  Frankly, this was “oh my god” good.

A few tips.  When I first learned to make redeye gravy, it was using coffee that had been in a percolator for a couple of hours.  So using old strong coffee is a good thing. If you have enough ham grease you can add less butter, or add more butter to make a larger quantity of gravy.  Having some good fond from the ham in the pan is excellent for the deglazing part, it adds more flavor.

With Red-Eye Gravy

Brunswick Stew Event with Southern Pig-pickin’

May 16, 2010

My stepbrother is getting married this summer, and this weekend we had a big party for him and his bride, a kind of post-engagement, pre-marriage party to celebrate the event and to welcome new people into the family.  My best wishes to their upcoming nuptials, and I think both of them did well in the arrangement!

Souey the Oinkchef

Brunswick Stew

Our family has been cooking a Brunswick stew every year since at least 1966.  My father got the recipe from a local church, and we cook it over a wood fire in a black iron cauldron that is used solely for this purpose.  The recipe has gotten to be somewhat famous over the years and has been well documented in the annals of Brunswick stew lore.  The big iron pot spends the rest of the year with the interior coated with vegetable shortening to preserve the seasoning on the iron.

Stewpot & Barrel Rig

Believe you me; it is a job to clean the cauldron every year.  The day before the stew, we set the cauldron in the cooking barrel, build a fire under it, fill it full of water, and boil the shortening off.

Pot in Barrel

I don’t know how many barrels we’ve had over the years, but by the 1970s we had the procedure for making one up down pat, including cutting a door out of the bottom.  It is through this door that we tend the fire.  We use dry hickory and oak, both are nice hardwoods that don’t contribute excess “flavor” to the smoke or the food.  Burning pine or some other aromatic wood would ruin the cooking.

Catch that Pig!

Looking into the stew albums we keep is like having a time machine.  It brings back so many memories of friends and family.  For many years, my grandfather helped orchestrate the event, and he was a source of much information regarding the cooking of a stew, or a pig, or just about anything.  I still remember conversations with him regarding cooking terrapins, possums, rabbits, squirrels, and catfish.  I learned to skin and clean an animal by watching him, my father, and my uncles after hunting or during slaughtering times.  He kept chickens for meat and eggs, and in the fall I would go through a strip of woods to the sharecropper’s house at the pig slaughtering.  Venison I learned from my father, and how to pick a quail.

Burn barrel

It takes a whole afternoon to set up for a stew, not least because we also tend to bbq a whole pig and 30-40 chickens.  It takes one large grill these days for the chickens and another one for the pig.  In addition to the stew barrel, we have another barrel for making coals for the pig or the chickens.  Rebar is inserted through the barrel on the lower third, and the hardwood fire is built on top of this and fed through the top.  As the embers accumulate, we shovel them out through a door on the bottom and shovel them in to the grill.

Inside the burnbarrel

Making Embers

If any precipitation is possible, we hang the tarps and make sure that any stakes or ropes are out of the way.  People can find the craziest ways to trip over stuff, as we have experienced over the years, especially when the Chatham Artillery Punch is flowing.

Chatham Artillery Punch Vat

On the morning of the stew, a couple of folks need to show up early to start the fires going, and get the water boiling for the stew.  It is probably my favorite time of the whole day.  It is quiet and businesslike, but relaxed.  When people are doing something they know about, they don’t talk too much, they just work together, and that feeling is rare and precious.  When the water is boiling, we start adding meat to the cauldron, along with onions and hot peppers.

Stirring the Pot

By mid-morning, maybe someone makes biscuits, cooks some sausage or ham, or there is something else to nibble.  We are fishing the bones out of the cauldron as the meat cooks down.  For many years, the hardest part of this chore was finding and removing the small bones of the squirrels, but my father discovered that he could put the squirrels into a cheesecloth bag and just throw them in with the rest.  When they are fully cooked it is easy to remove the bag, open it, and hunt out the bones, then dump the now boneless squirrel back directly into the pot.  All through the day we add the different vegetables at the right times so that the stew “cooks down” in the right sequence.

Checking for Bones

We stir the pot with a wooden paddle that is now an antique in its own right.  I remember my grandfather whittling to shape one of the paddles we had.  And we have long tongs and other accouterments of the trade, including the custom made iron turning forks I showed a picture of in the first bbq chicken post.

Notice the paddle

The pig goes on fairly early, as well, skin side up.  In the heat of the afternoon it is “time to flip the pig”.  We put another metal grate on top of the pig, wire the two grates together and use several men to flip the grate 180 degrees.  Then we put him back on the grill, untie the wires and remove the now top grate.  At the right time, the ribs are done and we pull them out with tongs; eating the ribs is a time honored tradition and being there to do so is considered an honor.  I can also remember pulling cooked chicken out of the pot.  We would make hot chicken sandwiches on white bread.  Honestly, hot chicken sandwiches and ribs dripping with grease and sauce are the best eats of the day.  I am rarely still hungry by dinnertime, and typically content myself with a half a chicken and dessert.

Pig on the Woodcooker

Right after lunch is time to put on the chickens.  For details, see my last post on bbq chickens (click here).

Almost done!

More people start showing up as the afternoon passes, and by 4 pm there is a passel of folks sipping wine, beer, our Chatham Artillery Punch, or other beverages more or less exotic.  There are nibbles to eat which have varied widely over the years, but may include crudités, cheese and crackers, cold salads, etc.  Traditionally there is pimento cheese spread, but we don’t have it every so often, I think to whet the appetite for the next time.  Live music is being played on guitars and banjos and basses and cellos and fiddles and dulcimers, and mostly consists of old time music, bluegrass, or plain unlabeled folk music.

Eat Me

Along about 6 pm we have let the heat on the pig die down, and it is time to chop the pig.  Our choppers this year did a yeoman’s job (including my stepbrother).  The chickens have been taken off their grill and piled high in large platters.  The stew is ladled out into large wooden and ceramic bowls with an immense ladle (darn it, I missed shooting a picture of the ladle).  Slaw, bread, cornbread, and extra sauce are set out, along with gallons of iced tea.  Soon the call for dinner is made, and a buffet line congas around filling plates with food.

Chop Chop

Not much left

The party goes on into the night.  The clean up job takes hours of dedicated work (both this evening and the next day), by a bevy of hard workers who chip in to lighten the load.  And at the end of it all, everything has to be taken down and moved back into storage until next time.  As much prep work goes into ensuring that everything will be clean and ready the next time as goes into setting up the show the day before.  In my mind are images of small circuses coming to rural towns, setting up, performing, breaking down, and moving out quietly; all to provide a day of entertainment and pleasure, and my notions of what they are like has a lot to do with the same rhythms of this annual process we dance through.

Is it Soup Yet?

I can see already that I’ve left out hundreds of details.  I think it would take a whole chapter of a book to document it as well as I’d like.  And that doesn’t count the dozens of “stew stories” I can relate.

Oh!  The Recipe.  It is documented slightly differently in several places, but here is one I keep on hand.

2 squirrels

8 lbs beef

8 lbs pork

7 young fresh whole chickens

2 lbs onions, coarsely chopped

2 cayenne peppers

1 gallon tiny butterbeans

10 lbs potatoes (peel and quarter)

8 quarts canned tomatoes

10 quarts sweet white corn, cut off the cob

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

salt and black pepper (add 3 tbls each time a new ingredient is added)

Bring water to boil in 25 gallon pot, adding the meat, onions, and peppers, adding more water as needed (season).

3 hours after that, add the butterbeans (and salt & pepper).

3 hours after that, add the potatoes, season.

3 hours after that, add the tomatoes, season.  Until now the whole thing has been kept at a low roiling boil.  You must stir it regularly to keep it from sticking.

After 1 hour, start to reduce the heat.  30 minutes before serving add the corn.  15 minutes before serving add the vinegar, sugar, and butter (remember to season!).  Taste and season.  Heat should now be residual.  You can let it cool while you eat, but before you go to bed remaining stew must be removed from the pot and placed in containers to freeze.  Easy to reheat and serve.

Bon Appetit.

Hot Tamales and They’re Red Hot

May 12, 2010

The other day she asked me if I could make some tamales.  I had mumbled something about tamales a few weeks back while we were shopping, and I guess it stuck in her ear.

The same guy who taught me how to make gumbo and jambalaya showed me one day how to make tamales.  I was only nineteen years old and should have listened to him better.  He was in Boston by way of New York (The City), but had grown up in Mississippi and Louisiana with a father who was a camp cook.  He was over six and a half feet tall and about the size of a door.  I was a skinny farm kid from North Carolina, and at first glance we had nothing in common.  But we both liked to cook, so he taught me about some things he knew while I taught him how to make fried sweet potato pies, quail, and crème puffs.  Just thinking about all this brings back memories.  I had never seen anyone make gumbo at all, never mind from just vegetables, and it had a lot of greens in it.  My recent kale eating (along with some other greens) might just inspire me to mix up a pot of gumbo some day, but at the time I did not have a good appreciation for what was in front of me.

After reminiscing and mumbling to myself some more, I dug in and updated myself with some tamale research.  I have tried to stick to the core of what I learned back then.  Apparently what I learned to make is something commonly called Delta-style tamales, i.e., one in which the liquid comes higher up the pan than just for steaming, and is a combination of water, broth, juices from cooking the meat, and about as much seasoning as you actually put in the tamale itself.  We picked up some masa harina before I remembered that he used to use white cornmeal, along with a bag of corn husks.  I already have the peppers, herbs, and spices and we had a nice boston butt in the freezer.

Prepare the meat:

Pork butt

I smeared the butt with sesame oil, seared it in my electric skillet, and threw in a big sweet onion, some red and green bell pepper, a large stalk of celery, about 6 crushed garlic cloves, and some of our home-dried oregano and black pepper and a bit of salt.  After putting the butt into the crock pot, I deglazed the pan with 2 cups of chicken broth, and then poured the whole thing over the butt, closed the crock pot, and turned it on low.

In the skillet

Wait.  While waiting, I started this post and I started working backwards from when dinner needs to be served.  I backed off at least one hour for cooking the tamales, another hour for making the dough and another 30 minutes for taking 1.5 hours to soak the husks.  Back up another hour to have time to make some of my own adobo sauce to have on the side, and I don’t have to start until mid-afternoon.  It turns out I should have started an hour earlier.  Since the sauce I made to go with it can be made earlier I’ll make it the day before next time.

Prepare the Husks:  Bring water to a boil and immerse the husks in it.  I put a bowl on them to hold them down under the water.  Let soak for 1 hour to 1.5 hours, at which point they should be supple and much easier to handle without cracking.  I put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in water with the husks, because I was told to 30 years ago.

Husks soaking

Adobo sauce. See link here.

The adobo sauce is one of several which go well with tamales.  Some folks like to eat them dry, some with Tabasco, some with a ladle of juice from the pot, which is called “pot-licker” (liquor) where I come from.

Pork filling:

When the pork is done (8-9 hours in the crock pot on low), take it out and strain the liquid away from the veggies into a large heavy metal pot.  Chop the pork with the veggies, removing any bone or gristle.

Chopped filling

Spice Mix:  I made double this recipe and added half to the meat, because you need the other half for the cooking in the pot.

1 tsp powdered gaujillo chili powder

1 tsp powdered pasilla chili powder

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

2 tablespoons black pepper

2 tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)

1 tsp hot paprika

2 teaspoons of toasted and ground cumin seeds (I use seeds and toast them instead of pre-ground cumin.  Then I grind them in our spice grinder and measure out the 2 teaspoons).

Add half the spice mix to the meat and stir it in well.

Masa filling:  In the stand mixer, I combine 3 cups of masa harina (finely ground white cornmeal works just as well) with 8 tablespoons of frozen chopped lard, mix until mealy and combined.  Then I add 1 cup of the broth from cooking the meat, mix and combine, adding up to ½ cup more of the broth if needed to get the dough to clump.  It may be a bit sticky, but shouldn’t be wet and gloppy.  As it turned out, I ran out of this, and had to make another recipe of it for the amount of pork on hand (a bit over 2 pounds, the rest being put aside for another meal).

Masa with handprint

When you are ready, build the tamale.  There are plenty of instructions on the net to show you how to roll and wrap tamales.  I like to use nearly as much meat as masa dough, spreading the meat over the dough completely and rolling it up like a jelly roll, rather than having solid filling surrounded by masa.  Seal the seam and pinch the ends.  Wrap in the corn husk.  I was taught to tie them individually, but this time I am tying 3 together as a bundle instead, because it seems that a lot of recipes recommend this.

Building a tamale

Open a fold-up steamer in the bottom of the large pot, and stack the tamales with the top up until it is full.  I added 3 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken) and the rest water until the water comes up 1 inch from the top of the tamales.  Add the same spice mixture you added to the meat to the liquid.  Put on the lid and bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 1 hour.

In the pot

Clearly I did not remember how much time and effort it takes to wrap the tamales.  In retrospect, I remember that there were a couple more folks around who helped the last time I made these.  Even wrapping the 22 tamales that this made seemed like a snapshot from some timeless hell and I felt clumsy and graceless during the process.

On the plate

The eating of them was very good however.  We served them with condiments of adobo sauce and Tabasco sauce and had a light salad with our own lettuces, radishes, snow peas, and sugar snap peas, as well as avocado and beet slices.  And to drink we had a hard cider, since tamales cry out for a cold beer or a cold hard cider.

Ready to serve

Adobo Sauce

May 11, 2010

I’m using this sauce as a side condiment for the tamales later, but decided to post it here separately.  This sauce has a wide variety of applications.  I first used it in a pork stew served with rice.

16 dried guajillo peppers

4 dried pasillo peppers

1 dried el Chaco pepper

2 dried jalapeno peppers

1 dried Serrano pepper

(If you don’t want to bring the heat, leave out the el chaco, jalapeno, and Serrano peppers)

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp of Thyme, ground Cinnamon, ground Allspice, Oregano, Salt

1 tbl:  Cumin, Black pepper

¼ cup Cider Vinegar

Vegetable Broth

½ cup Olive Oil

Stem and mostly deseed the chiles, but I don’t even try to pick them all out.  Roast in a dry or lightly oiled skillet for 2-8 minutes until they begin to turn dark.  Heat 4-5 cups of water in a large skillet and transfer the chiles to it, bringing to a boil.  Cover and remove from heat for 30 minutes.

Toast the cumin seeds (unless you used ground cumin), then grind.

Saute a coarsely chopped onion in the 1st skillet, along with 2 whole cloves of garlic.  Remove from heat.

Strain the liquid from the peppers.  Combine all ingredients except vegetable broth into a blender.

Puree, adding just enough vegetable broth to ensure the blender combines easily.  Puree for 30 seconds.