Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Slow Cooked Pork Spring Rolls


Got a beautiful pork shoulder from Paulina Market and decided to cook it for a real long time and eat it. I'm old and have traveled a lot, and the one thing I've learned is that very few things are universal. Not every culture is monogamous, not every culture has money or property, not every culture even has numbers to express quantities bigger than three. But everybody on earth not forbidden by religion cooks pigs slowly and eats them. Some do it by burying the pig in a hole full of hot rocks, some wrap the pig in leaves and build a fire over it, some rotate the pig on a spit over the fire, and some put it in a pot and braise it. The only  common feature is that a pig is getting cooked for a long-ass time and people are going to eat it and tell each other how fucking delicious it is. Pork is magical, in that as long as you season it and cook it for a real long time, you basically can't make it anything but delicious. We've all had bad barbecue or mediocre ribs. Delicious, wasn't it? Totally finished the whole thing.

I seasoned the shoulder with salt and pepper, after first scoring the beautiful fat cap into a diamond pattern, and started it off in the dutch oven. With pork I usually like to bring the meat up to temperature slowly, so it doesn't seize up and get tough. If I want to caramelize a pork chop or roast, Ill do it at the last minute under the broiler, once the meat texture has been finalized by slower cooking. For a big butt like this though, I brown it all over to develop a nice flavor and fond first, then let it braise long enough to break down and become unctuous. I started the browning on the fat cap, so the rendering fat would provide most of the cooking medium and I don't need to add much extra oil, just enough to get the fat started.

Once the meat was browned all over, I moved it to a platter to make room and loaded the pot with an onion and apple, both cut into substantial chunks, a handful of little carrots from a bag and six cloves of garlic, smashed but not chopped. I let all that brown in the rendered fat, then seasoned it all with salt, pepper and a couple glugs of vinegar. I threw a cinnamon stick and some dried hot chiles in the pot, nestled the pork back among the vegetables and added a  pint each of chicken stock and apple juice. Once it came up to a boil, I stuck it in the oven at 225 degrees with a lid on it and let it cook for christ knows how long. Hours. Five hours, maybe eight.

How was it? Dude, we've been over this. It was slow cooked pork, it was fucking awesome. Delicious, succulent, unctuous and tender. That's what you get when you do this. You strike a match, you get fire. You cook pork a long time, you get something delicious. When it's a big ass pork shoulder, you also get a lot of it, way more than can be eaten all at once, and that's where the spring rolls come in. We had so much left over that I could make enough spring rolls to feed both Heather and the poker crowd.

Somewhere in there Legs* sent me an email asking if raw apples would be good with cooked pork. I replied of course they would but then realized I hadn't eaten raw apples with cooked pork before. A regular late-night snack for Heather and me is a plate of apple slices with prosciutto or salami, and I cook pork with apples all the time, but raw apples with cooked pork, nope. Time to give that a shot. I began grating an apple in preparation for making rolls with it, but the grated apple began discoloring immediately. I tried acidifying it with a little rice vinegar but that didn't stop the discoloration. I decided that since the apples were going inside the roll the discoloration wouldn't offend, and stopped worrying about it. I made the spring rolls with the apples and shredded delicious braised pork on a bed of rice cooked in stock and saffron, and some parsley, basil and mint from the alley. I served them with a quick Siracha aoli made by emulsifying some Siracha with an egg yolk, a little honey, mustard, pureed garlic, salt, sesame oil and olive oil. It's a favorite quick sauce and all-purpose dressing. It goes well with anything containing strong flavors.**

Single men, for a good time in the LA area, call Legs. Can't find a photo of her at the moment, but picture the girl of your dreams, only sexier. That's Legs. She has a car and a Prince tape she plays in the car. She will sing along to Prince in the car. Guys, really it's better than I'm making it sound.

** Absolutely no dick jokes this time. Didn't even slip one in accidentally.***
*** Footnotes don't count.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

(App)Led Zeppole

Fried stuff is great, so long as you get it while it's piping hot. Since our place is small, I can get food from the kitchen to Heather in a heartbeat, so I fry stuff all the time. Usually I make little croquettes or other doughy things and fry them, but I thought they might be getting a little heavy after repetition and have laid off the fried things for a bit. Heather and I have been to Hawaii several times, including getting married there, and one of our favorite things from there are local dougnuts called malasadas that are puffy and light but tasty as all hell. I wanted to make something like that for the next fried thing, but savory rather than sweet.

We discovered malasadas at Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu on a tip from Heather's dad, Charles Ellsworth Whinna, USMC ret. When he was stationed in Honolulu in the late 1960s, and then living there at liberty in the early 1970s, he had several regular haunts, and Leonard's was one of them. On our first trip to Honolulu we were delighted to find that virtually all of the favorite spots from his time in the Marines were still going concerns, and all still superlative food experiences. Other Chuck-approved wonders of Honolulu include lau-lau dinner at Ono and shave ice from Waiola Market. Malasadas are apparently of Portuguese origin, and are balls of leavened dough, fried, dusted with sugar and eaten instantly while still in the goddamn parking lot with the box in your lap because fuck me they are delicious. I am a genuine threat to fuck up a whole box of them by myself if there's coffee available. So I always order coffee.

Charles Ellsworth Whinna USMC

Malasadas use yeast, and yeast takes time to work and also is not JP-compliant, so that idea shit the bed before it woke up. In Italy there is another delicious fried thing, the zeppola, and while some zeppole are made of leavened dough, some use beaten egg whites or soda for leavening. I thought I could probably pull that off,* and use the batter to enrobe something savory and delicious. I started the batter by separating two eggs, intending to make the batter with the yolks, then beat the whites and fold them in at the last minute so the batter didn't have time to deflate. To the yolks I added a little sesame oil, yellow curry powder** and salt for flavor and a couple tablespoons of apple juice to provide enough liquid to hydrate the flour. I whisked the yolks until they were lightened somewhat and completely uniform, then added rice flour until the batter was slightly thicker than pancake batter. I expected the batter to thicken slightly as the starch in the flour hydrated, and if I guessed right, when I added the egg whites the composite batter would be thick enough to coat the apples but thin enough to form a nice smooth layer, and aerated enough to puff into an inviting shape when fried.

With that plan, I started on the innards of the zeppole. I cut some apples into thick planks and squared them just enough to get rid of the core and seeds without wasting too much. Each piece ended up being about the size of a matchbox.*** I wrapped each apple chunk with a slice of prosciutto and set them aside. I intended to dunk them in the batter and fry them like pieces of cod, with the light batter forming a puffy orb around them, but for a minute I was baffled by how I would dunk them and transfer them to the oil without marring the coating. Then it occurred to me that I could skewer each piece and use the skewer as a handle to dunk them in the batter and fry them. Bravo me, great idea. Skewers then. I stuck bamboo skewers in all the apple-and-prosciutto hunks. I should probably have soaked the skewers in water for an hour so they wouldn't burn, but I didn't, and ultimately I don't care if they burn. They're little pieces of bamboo, not innocent children. Also, they didn't burn.

With that problem sorted, I started the canola oil heating and returned my attention to the batter. I whipped the egg whites with a drop of rice vinegar until fluffy and folded them into the batter. The rice vinegar acidifies the whites in the manner of cream of tartar, which toughens the protein and stabilizes the foam, but saves me the trouble of having to own a tin of cream of tartar. Other than beating egg whites, what the fuck am I supposed to do with cream of tartar? I could beat the eggs in a copper bowl, which has the same effect, but I'm not a millionaire so I don't own a special egg-white-whipping bowl which sits tarnishing for 360 days a year. A long time ago I saw a thing on TV, maybe Graham Kerr, maybe Julia Child, I don't remember, but the test for when egg whites are properly beaten for inclusion in a batter is to turn the bowl upside-down, and if the whites stay in place then they're done. This is slightly stiffer than "soft peak" stage, but not the completely rigid stiff peak stage. If beaten to stiff peaks, the whites don't incorporate well, and tend to streak or break as they're folded into a batter, defeating their purpose.

The handle-skewer thing worked great. I was able to completely enrobe the apple hunks, move them to the oil and flip them while cooking without marring the coating, and I could even lift them out of the oil to check their color without using tongs. When the zeppole were done, I transferred them to paper towel to drain, and when cool enough to handle, the skewers came out easily. I think I have a kind of awesome thing going with the handle skewer idea. I think I'll call it Moreskewer. I need a patent lawyer right away. Also for Morepencil and Morecupcakes. If you're a patent lawyer and want me to be a millionaire so I can afford a copper egg-white-whipping bowl and a polishing steward to keep the tarnish off it, google up my phone number and give me a tinkle.

The zeppole came out puffy and light just like I had hoped, with a firm exterior skin and a fluffy, soft interior. Traditionally zeppole would be sprinkled with sugar, and I suppose I could have made a mock-icing sugar by grinding salt, white pepper and sesame seeds in a mortar, but I'm lazy, and in service of my laziness I decided that would be tacky. I made a dipping sauce instead. I ran a garlic clove through a microplane to make a puree, then emulsified it with some mustard, sesame oil, rice vinegar, siracha, salt and a little honey. I know, honey isn't JP, but the sauce was a little bitter without it, and it wasn't much.

The apples got warm but stayed firm, making a nice contrast with the puffy dough, and the sweet apple married well with the rich and savory prosciutto. The hint of curry in the dough and the spice in the dipping sauce all made for a multi-layered eating experience in a small package.

Seriously, patent lawyers call me about Moreskewer. It's a goldmine.

*Said the Bishop to the actress.

**I know curry powder is a bastardized version of a masala and unseemly in a proper kitchen. I know using it shows disrespect to the deep and varied cuisine of the Asian subcontinent, and I apologize for that. Regardless, curry powder serves a purpose occasionally and I have some on the shelf. We're not ninjas.

***A box of matches, also a little toy car about the same size. Matches are what people used for fire between the two-sticks-rubbed-together era and the Bic lighter era. Note: the Zippo was a primitive form of Bic.