Plastic Pork Shoulder

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Dear Suzanne Goin,

I love you and your book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It’s the book I go to when I want to dazzle, when I want to blow my guests out of the water. On Friday, my guest would be none other than Lauren, a great friend and former roommate who was there at the dawn of my website: she knew me when “uh oh” was a more common cooking exclamation than “a-ha.” This would be the first time I’d cook for her in three years, years in which my cooking has improved immeasurably. I wanted to knock her socks off and so I turned to your book.

The recipe I went for was the “Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta, Root Vegetables, and Gremolata.” I decided to nix the root vegetables and gremolata and focus on the pork: Lauren is a big fan of chili and I wanted this to be a kind-of highbrow chili experience. Well not highbrow, necessarily, just impressive. And I know it’s not really that chili-like, but slow-cooked pork shoulder with coriander seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds should please any chili-lover, shouldn’t it?

I followed your instructions to the letter. Well not to the letter exactly. I didn’t marinate the pork in all the spices overnight:

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I did it for a few hours. It went in the fridge at 2 and came out around 6, so 4 hours to be exact. But that was plenty.

I browned the meat thoroughly, as directed. I know that stews like this only get really good if you let the meat get golden and caramelized, and so I showed infinite patience and wisdom. I levitated off the ground, in fact, as I watched the shoulder sizzle.

For the liquids, I used good wine and defrosted my homemade chicken stock:

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I even got frozen veal stock from my high-end grocery store, as instructed, which I imagined would add body to the end product.

The oven was cranked to 325 and I did exactly what you said. Here are your words: “Cover the pan with plastic wrap (yes, it can go in the oven), aluminum foil, and a tightly fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven about 2 1/2 hours.”

2 and 1/2 hours later Lauren was here, the smell was intoxicating, and I was ecstatic to present Lauren with a truly accomplished dish. No more burnt caramel corn, no more undercooked fish en papillote, no more “uh ohs.” This was my moment. Everyone held their breaths in anticipation as I pulled the pot out of the oven; mouths salivated, forks were held aloft.

Then I lifted the lid and the syllables that came out of my mouth, those dreaded syllables, forced everyone to heave a collective sigh.

“Uh oh,” I said. Or, actually, now that I think about it it was: “Oh no.”

“What?” Lauren gasped, as did Craig who was sitting hungrily at the head of the table.

Here is what I saw:

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You probably can’t tell from that picture, but after removing the lid and the aluminum foil something was missing. Well not missing, exactly, just no longer where I left it. That would be the plastic wrap. It had melted into the dish.

“Ugh,” cried Lauren when I told her the news.

“Isn’t plastic wrap toxic?” asked Craig. “Doesn’t it cause cancer?”

I’m pretty sure the answer to both of Craig’s questions is “yes” and so I set to fishing. I fished out two bits of plastic wrap, but who knows what happened with the rest.

We were left with a choice. Proceed with the delicious dinner, risking cancer and death, or throw it out and order a pizza. We decided to put our lives on the line and eat your wondrous grub.

It was served, as suggested, on polenta:

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As you can see from the picture, it was gorgeous. The meat was succulent and flavorful and the sauce was zesty and nice. We just wish there wasn’t toxic, cancer-causing plastic melted in it, but after a few glasses of wine we looked death in the eye and said, “Get away with thee, death. Be not proud, yo.”

In conclusion, I still love you and your book but I’d love to know why the plastic melted in the pot when you said, “Yes, it can go in the oven.” Maybe we didn’t use the right brand? Maybe it wasn’t secured enough on the lip of the pan? Or maybe you meant for it to melt in the dish, to give it body and a nice plastic sheen? I’m not sure.

But I do know that Lauren got some joy out of seeing me flail a little bit. “I’m glad to see you’ve still got some amateur in you still,” she said.

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Here’s hoping the next time she comes I dazzle her for real, no snafus in site. That is if she survives the plastic.

Have a great December!

All my best,

The Amateur Gourmet

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