Friday, September 26, 2008

on Guinness and pig


I now realize that owning a shit ton of cookbooks does me no good if I’m not even going to read through them. Sometimes I can be so very dumb.

Like this morning.

I’m working from home for the next two days. My boss instructed our entire team to work from home because he’s freaking out about the gas shortage down here in the good ol’ South. A lot of folks I know are going to 5 or 6 different gas stations before being able to fill up, which is weird to me, because the gas station closest to my house has gas. They say the same thing happened down here after Hurricane Katrina, but we weren’t living here at that time. It’s actually kind of ridiculous the way people are carrying on, but that’s another story, possibly for another non-food-related blog.

Anyhoo – so since I’m working from home, I did a shopping run early this morning. I love going to the grocery store when there are very few other customers. All the employees are busy stocking, or putting out freshly baked bread, and everyone is in a good mood – compared to later in the day when the after-school / after-work crush takes place and people’s moods are lousy. So I went to the store because I wanted to pick up some pork shoulder to braise, and as I stood there in the meat aisle and looked down, there were none. And I knew right then and there that if I’d even bother to do some homework before going to the store, or hey, bothered to LISTEN to the boy when he waxes poetic about cuts of meat, then I’d know other names for pork shoulder. If I’d even bothered to read my copy of The Elements of Cooking, which the very tall Michael Ruhlman was gracious enough to sign for me last fall, THEN I’d know that pork shoulder = pork butt = Boston butt.

But I’m not that smart.

I stood there staring down, and of course right at that moment I couldn’t find a butcher around, or anyone in a white coat. So I did the next best thing, which was to text the boy at work, cos surely he would know; but he was busy and didn’t answer. I walked around the store, even lollygagged in the wine aisle waiting for him to text or call me back, but no luck. Eventually, I wandered back to the meat aisle to make some Executive Decisions. I looked at the pork shoulder ribs (which I didn’t want because they were already pre-cut), and compared that to the Boston butt roast thing, and decided that their fat veining looked similar, so I bought the butt. (hee).

And now I promise myself to not be so damn stupid and actually pay attention when someone is instructing me on cuts of meat, instead of daydreaming about taking a nap in the hammock.

Guinness always reminds me of cooler weather. When they started distributing them in cans in the U.S, I was living in Savannah and it was right around Halloween. My upstairs neighbor, who was a great friend of mine and my main associate in getting drunk with at Pinky Masters, whipped out his Leatherman and cut a can open so that we could see the doohickey thing inside that helps the beer stay drafty fresh (the good people at Guinness call it the “Guinness Floating Widget’; it says so right them there on the side of the can) . We oohed and ahhed over it, and then went out and got drunk.

The recipe calls for 5 cups of it, which equals about 2 ½ cans (if you get the cans, that is; you could opt for the bottle, but then why would you even bother when you could get a can and whip out your own Leatherman and take a looky loo at the Floating Widget?). That leaves you with almost half a can to indulge in whilst cooking, a cook’s treat of sorts. When I saw this recipe in Daniel Boulud’s Braise, I knew I had to try it, if only to celebrate the first week of fall, and the fact that I can now run my oven and not indecently heat up the house.

And, as always, I toast the Almighty God of Pig. Cìn cìn.



Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes - adapted from Daniel Boulud and Melissa Clark’s Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine

5 cups Guinness stout
1 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons oil, for searing (we use peanut oil)
5 ½ lb pork shoulder roast (I used a 4 ½ lb boneless Boston butt)
3 red onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
2 bay leaves
¼ cup molasses
3 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

Bring the beer, cherries, and vinegar to a simmer in a saucepan. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and sear on all sides until golden brown. Transfer the pork to a platter. Boulud says to remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot, but I actually had a little less than this left; I did not add more.

Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of pepper to the pot and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are translucent, a couple more minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Put the pork back in the pot, and add the beer & cherry mixture, the crushed allspice, bay leaves, molasses, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 cups of water. Bring this to a simmer.

Cover the pot, put it in the oven and braise for 1 hour, turning the pork once during cooking. After 1 hour, add the sweet potatoes and continue to braise for 2 hours, turning 2 more times during cooking. At the end of 2 hours, if the sauce is too thick or is not flavored intensely enough (such as mine wasn’t), ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. If it intensifies but doesn’t really thicken, make a slurry on the side. I use one tablespoon of water to one tablespoon of cornstarch, and mix that up in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Add a trickle of that to the simmering liquid, stir and see how thick it gets. If it’s not thick enough, add a little more. By God, don’t dump the whole thing in all at once because you might end up with a gloopy mess and ruin all that good dark yumminess you worked three hours to get . When it’s to your likeness, add back to original pot. Slice the pork and serve with sauce and vedge on top.



What I might do differently next time:

1. Do not forget a good crusty bread.
2. The boy is not terribly fond of the sweet potato, even though i'm always telling him that it's one of the better-for-you vedges out there. Next time he would like to try it with any ol' white potato. I'm not so sure about that, but we'll see.
3. Might try it with tart cherries.

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