What’s the difference between a home cook and a chef? For me, the answer lies right there in the pages of Daniel Boulud’s braising book which came out back in 2006. I’m a big believer in braising; nothing makes me happier than to sear a tough piece of meat, stir in some aromatics, add a cooking liquid, and then to let thing go for three hours, only to have the meat melt beneath the tines of a fork when you’re done, the sauce right there without any extra labor. But as for those individual elements–the meat, the aromatics, the liquid–the best I could come up with, if pressed, would be all the usual suspects: chicken thighs, onions, garlic, white wine, etc. That’s because I’m a home cook. Chef Boulud, on the other hand, fills his pages with the most startling combinations: beef shank with coconut and avocado, pork belly with pineapple and plantains, lamb shanks with mint, prunes, and bourbon. And so on Saturday, I decided to channel my inner-chef and make the recipe that called out to me the most: Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes.
Here’s a cooking tip: if you have something in your pantry that requires a long soak (dried beans, for example, or dried chickpeas), rip open the bag in the morning, pour them into a bowl and fill it up with water even if you have no idea what you’re going to do with them later in the day. What’s great about this approach is that it narrows the field for you after 5 o’clock; instead of choosing from endless recipes, you know you need to find one that features soaked-beans or chickpeas. It’s a win-win because you have a component that’s normally a pain in the butt and some direction for your dinner.
Have you ever made a roux? Like: really made a roux?
I’ve made a roux in quotes–a “roux”–whenever I’ve taken a roasted chicken out of its cast iron skillet, added some flour to the pan, cooked it for a minute or two and finished it up with a big glass of white wine. That makes for a thick, chickeny, winey sauce that’s very tasty. But after visiting New Orleans last year, and purchasing Donald Link’s indispensible cookbook “Real Cajun,” I’d been meaning to make a real Cajun roux. The kind that you have to develop for a while at the stove, the kind that you have to watch carefully, the kind that goes from a toast stage to a cardboard stage based on the smells its giving off. Which is why, last week, I made Donald Link’s Smothered Pork Roast Over Rice, a recipe he learned from his grandmother, and one that involves the creation of a peanut butter-colored roux.
We’re all aware of Porchetta the destination, aren’t we? Located on East 7th Street in New York’s East Village, Chef Sara Jenkins (who I met and interviewed a few months ago) has created a universally beloved destination for pork lovers. The menu there features two main choices: porchetta on a sandwich or porchetta on a plate. The experience of eating the Porchetta porchetta–which the Porchetta website defines as “roasted pork with crispy skin, highly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices, garlic, sage, rosemary and wild fennel pollen”–is so sublime, so otherworldly, I knew I had to recreate the experience here in my Los Angeles apartment.
If Craig had his way, this post wouldn’t have this title. I just asked him, “Would you call the chili I made the other day the best of your life?” And he answered: “I don’t even think of it as chili because there weren’t any beans; just lots of meat and stuff. But it was certainly delicious.”
Luckily, when my friend Diana ate it, she said the words that justify this post’s title. “This is seriously the best chili I’ve ever had.”