Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stir-Fried Berkshire Ground Pork and Pork Liver

I love Southern Korean cuisine.  Especially fascinating to me is how South Korean recipes mix and layer proteins.  It’s quite common to find pork and tofu all in the same dish; there’s no a mindset of “tofu is only for vegetarian meals.”  Similarly, offal is also included in dishes alongside mainstays like chicken breast or strips of beef.
North Woods Ranch Berkshire Pork Stir Fry
Back in my own kitchen, I’ve found this technique is great for introducing friends to offal and organs.  Plus, the bright flavors and aromas of ginger, garlic, scallions and chilies are perfect for exciting the palate and still standing up to the flavor of liver or kidney.  The stir fry I describe in this post is perfect for people curious about exploring the delicious world of organs.

When doing a stir fry at home I normally divide the ingredients into two skillets, but a large wok could also work.  Piling all the ingredients into a single large pot, would overcrowd them, causing them to steam and stew, rather than fry.
For this recipe, I used one pound of North Wood’s Ranch Berkshire ground pork and one pound of their sliced liver.  Thinly sliced pork kidneys are also a traditional ingredient in many Asian stir fries, especially in Sichuan, China and could be used as an alternative for liver.
Many PA farmer's markets offer log-grown shiitakes this time of year.
To start I chopped up all the vegetables and started cooking them in one skillet. In my second skillet I started cooking the meat.  For the shiitakes I removed the stems (which are inedible but very good compost) and then sliced the caps into strips.  I also cut the onions and bok choy into narrow strips as well, so everything cooked evenly.  To season the vegetables I went with the bright taste of ginger, grating a tablespoon or two over the skillet.  The water I added to wash out the ginger from the grater’s teeth will create a small amount of steam, which will help the greens to wilt and incorporate into the mushrooms and onions.
First Additions to the Pan
As an aside, I also really love this ceramic grater. I use it regularly for both ginger and horseradish.  The box-style metal graters always seems to get clogged, but this ceramic plate just grates it into a fine paste without any waste.  To get all the ginger out I pour a tablespoon or two of water over the center of the plate, which washes out any stuck pieces and goes into the dish.  
To prep the meat, I just crumbled up the ground Berkshire pork and chopped the liver into small cubes.  Ground pork takes a little longer to cook than liver, so I started the pork in the pan first.  Once the pork was beginning to brown, I added in my next ingredients: cubes of liver.   This is also the time I added my spices and seasoning: soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, five spice powder, Szechuan pepper, and toasted sesame seeds.  Alternatively, there are some very good bottled sauces available in grocery stores, that you can use to season the meat, rather than making a sauce from scratch.

Liver cooks quickly, so I checked the doneness of my pork liver every minute or so to avoid the toughness that comes with overcooking it.
Adding the Liver Cubes and Bok Choy
Finally, to finish the dish, I made a large bed with the cooked vegetables in the bottom of a bowl, then added a large scoop of the seasoned pork.  I garnished it with some fresh scallion and a little more soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.  All in all, this is a wonderful mix of savory pork, rich liver, and zesty greens, mushrooms, and scallions. I hope you enjoy it, too!
Recipe at a Glance:
- 1 lb pork liver, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb Chinese greens, such as Bok Choy
- 3/4 lb shiitake mushrooms
- 1 medium onion
- 2-3 scallions
- 1-2" piece of peeled ginger
- 2 garlic cloves

For the Sauce
- 2 Tbl sesame oil
- 1 Tbl fish sauce
- 1 tsp Szechuan pepper
- 1.5 Tbl toastes sesame seeds
- 1 tsp Chinese Five Spice powder
- 3 Tbl soy sauce or tamari

Grease two 12" skillets.  Grate the ginger finely, using a tablespoon or two of water to loosen any stuck ginger fibers.

Remove the stems from the shiitakes, the roots from the scallions, and peel the onion.  Mice the garlic.  Slice all of the vegetables into 1/3" - 1/2" strips, except the scallions.  Slice the scallions into fine rings, saving a small handful of sliced scallion to use as a finishing garnish.

Heat the skillets to medium high heat.  Brown the ground pork in one of the skillets.  In the second, begin to cook the onions and mushrooms.  When the pork is browned with some pink remaining, add the liver and all the seasonings, then cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.  When the onions begin to turn translucent, add the bok choy, garlic, and scallions.  Add the ginger and ginger water, which will help to steam the greens.

Check the pork liver to see when it is just cooked through, then remove from heat.  When the stems of the bok choy are tender, remove from heat.  Some additional salt may be needed for seasoning the greens.

Lay down a bed of sauteed mushrooms, onions, and bok choy, then top with the seasoned pork mixture.  Garnish with the reserved scallions. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Smoked Pork Chops with Stone Fruit Salsa

Pork and smoke have a long history of being paired together, with a near-religious zeal heaped onto bacon in American food world today.  While bacon deserves the attention, there is much more to pork and smoke than bacon.  This post is going to focus on another stellar example of smoke and porcine bonding: smoked chops.
I always feel reassured knowing I have a package or smoked pork chops in the freezer.  They’re a wonderfully satisfying centerpiece to a meal and are very quick to prepare.  The smoked chops are already infused with a wonderful campfire aroma and flavor, so they don’t take a lot of dressing up to produce big flavors on the plate.  Plus, being pasture-raised Berkshire hogs from North Woods Ranch, the meat has a wonderful flavor before it even hits the smoker.
Smoked Pork Chop from North Woods Ranch
The Beast!
As the photos show, this was a giant chop from a very large pig!  One of these large chops was more than enough for both my wife and I, so I just cooked one for our dinner.  Originally I planned to grill the chop outside, but an early summer storm altered that plan.  Instead, I used a cast iron grill pan on our stove top to add a nice char and appetizing look.

While the pork chop cooked in the pan, I brought a pot of water to boil and blanched a bundle of broccoli rabe.  I love pairing slightly bitter vegetables with rich cuts of pork, as the fat from the pork mellows out the bitterness of the greens.  A monster-sized chop like this needs a vegetable that can stand up to the rich, smoky, porky flavor, so broccoli rabe was a perfect fit for this dish.
To top it off, I made a quick fruit salsa with peaches, plums, and a touch of jalapeno.  Stone fruits are starting to come in strong here, but this would also be great in August with heirloom tomatoes.  Piled on top, the salsa added sweetness, a bit of acidity, and a very bright freshness to the entire dish.  As a whole, I really loved this dish: super savory, smoky pork combined with an earthy from the rabe and topped off a sweet and crisp salsa that also delivered a bit of heat. 

Recipe at a Glance:
1 Enormous Pork Chop, or two “Regular” ones
1 bunch Broccoli Rabe
1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
3-4  Plums, Apricots, Peaches, or Nectarines (whatever looks best and delicious
1 small Jalapeno or 1/2 of a larger Jalapeno
1 Scallion
1 Lime
1/4 cup diced red onion
A little chopped cilantro

Preheat a grill pan to medium high.  While the pan heats, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

To make the salsa, cut all the stone fruits in half and remove the pit.  Chop the fruit into a chunky dice, so you can get a mix of the different fruits in one bite.  Zest and juice the lime and add to the salsa.  Remove the seeds from the jalapeno and mince.  Add the jalapeno, diced onion, and a little chopped cilantro to taste.

Grease the grill lightly, then lay the pork chop(s) on the grill.  Cook 3-4 minutes per side until grill marked, then rotate the chop to create a cross-hatch appearance from the grill.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes per side, or until chop is heated through.

When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli rabe and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Remove the broccoli and rinse under cold water to blanch the broccoli and keep its vibrant green color.  Remove the pork chop from the grill pan and let rest on a serving plate.  Toss the broccoli rabe onto the grill pan to rewarm it from the blanching, as well as to dress the vegetable with the rendered fat from the chop.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes (if desired)

Serve with the salsa spooned over the chop.

Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Make Pork Skin Dog Treats at Home

I'm not sure if this post is better described as a recipe or as a craft project, but your dog will see these pork skin chews as a real treat no matter what you call the process.
Our wonderful pup is seventy pounds of fuzzy, adorable joy.  We're particular about what he eats, but who wouldn't be?  We've read and heard of too many horror stories detailing the commercial pet food industry as a catch-all for anything and everything.

While our dog enjoys unbleached rawhide rolls (made in the USA) on occasion, they're not the easiest thing for him to digest.  While talking to Oliver at North Woods Ranch, he mentioned pork skin was a much better alternative.  I've written about using North Wood's pork skin for cracklin's and making homemade stock, so it only seemed natural that a food I'd be willing to eat myself would also be a good choice for my dog.
Making pork skin treats for your own dog is actually very simple.  If you can bring a pot of water to a simmer, you're halfway there.
Start by rolling out the pork skin and cutting it into thick strips.  It'll shrink a bit, so aim for about 2" wide strips.  Put the strips into a pot of water and simmer for about 90 minutes.  This will tenderize the skin and also soften any fat attached to the skin.
Remove the excess fat by using the flat back of a knife to scrape the soft white fat away.  After cooking the skin will be opaque, so it's easy to identify the white layer of fat.  While this fat might be too rich to give your dog as a treat, it's still perfect for greasing a skillet or cooking potatoes.
Once most of the fat is gone, it's time to firm up the skin into chewy treats.  My original plan was to braid the skin for thicker chews, but it didn't work as I had planned. So I just rolled them up like a paper towel roll. I don't think my dog minded, though.
Finally, I dried the skin in a dehydrator for 8-10 hours.  If you don't have a dehydrator handy, an oven set to low (170 F) would work. The skin changed from a cloudy, opaque look to a shiny, almost-clear appearance as it dried. 
Average Size of the Pork Chews
As an added treat, I did a test run and basted a couple in a little bit of Berkshire pork blood.  For those, I heated the blood in a skillet for 2-3 minutes to thicken it, then brushed it on like a BBQ sauce before dehydrating the skin.

As any pet owner will admit, they know their own pet best.  If your dog is the type to swallow large hunks of rawhide, pork skin will not slow their aggressive chewing.  The best course of action is to keep an eye on your pet to make sure they're not eating too much/too large of pieces in their animal excitement for something extra delicious.

For one package of skin, I ended up with nine "sticks," plus 3-4 broken pieces from my initial attempt to braid the pork strips.
Bonne Bouche ate two before I snapped this photo

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Berkshire Pork Chops with Kohlrabi Apple Slaw

Thick-cut pork chops may not be the first thing to come to mind when one thinks "quick dinner," but they're a personal favorite of mine after discovering a trick in an old issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine.
Delicious Berkshire Pork Chops from North Woods Ranch
A tough pork chop is a shame, but thankfully its easy to avoid with a simple technique.  What is the trick?  Start cooking the pork chop in a cold pan.  I didn't believe it when I read the CI article, but it's worked for me for years.  The musculature in a pork chop is so dense that it can actually squeeze out its own juices when shocked by a smoking hot pan.  By starting pork chops in a cold, greased skillet and turning the heat to medium, the meat gently acclimates to the warmer temperatures and doesn't squeeze out all the delicious juices.
But what about a seared brown crust?  Don't worry, just keep flipping the pork chops every 4-5 minutes until cooked to your preference. The bronze crust will develop over time, as the exterior of the chop slowly browns and caramelizes.
After the First Flip: Browning Beginning to Develop
For 3/4" inch pork chops from North Woods Ranch, I find it takes 20-25 minutes to get to my preferred state of medium-doness.  In that time, I can quickly fix up a side dish of something light and fresh.
I love raw vegetable slaws because they're so quick and versatile.  A nice side dish can be nothing more than carrot shredded on a box grater and tossed with lemon juice and yogurt.  For Berkshire pork chops this beautiful, I wanted to dress things up a bit and went with a combination of kohlrabi, Granny Smith apple, and carrot.  To start, I whisked together a dressing of apple cider vinegar, honey, celery seed, and black pepper in a large bowl.  Then I started in on the vegetables.
Sadly underused, kohlrabi is a member of the turnip family, and it looks like a little alien head that was planted in the ground.  It's delicious served raw like jicama, or it can be boiled or roasted like turnips.  Either way it's fresh and crunchy with a very mild flavor in comparison to turnips.

For this vegetable slaw I peeled the kohlrabi and cut it into matchstick shapes. Then I used the peeler to cut long ribbons of the carrot.  To give the slaw a sweet and tart note, I also cut a large, unpeeled Granny Smith apple into matchsticks.  All the slaw ingredients got mixed together, then tossed in the bowl to be coated in the dressing.
Kohlrabi Apple Slaw
At this point, the pork chops were a beautiful mahogany brown on the surface and cooked through to my liking.  I removed them from the skillet and deglazed the pan with a bit of apple cider vinegar to play off the flavoring in the slaw.  Scraping up all the browned fond on the bottom of pan, I had a simple pan sauce perfect for pouring over the chops. All in all, It was a delicious dinner put together in about 30 minutes.
North Woods Chops with Kohlrabi Slaw
Recipe at a Glance:
This recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, or googolplexed out to serve more
- 2 Berkshire pork chops
- 1 tbsp lard or oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

- 2-3 medium (lemon-sized) kohlrabi
- 1 tart apple
- 1 medium carrot
-1/4 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp raw honey
- 2  tbsp apple cider vinegar

Take the pork chops out of the fridge to help get the chill of the refrigerator off.  Thirty minutes is ideal, if you have the time.  Salt and pepper the pork chops on both sides, then grease a cold skillet with oil and lard.  Place the pork chops in the skillet and turn the heat on to Medium.  Let the pork chops slowly cook for 15-20 minutes in the pan, turning occasionally.  Keep an eye on the pork chops and prepare the slaw.

Peel the kohlrabi and wash the carrot and apple.  Slice the kohlrabi and apple into matchsticks.  Using a vegetable peeler, peel long curls of carrot and mix in with the kohlrabi.  In a bowl, add the apple cider vinegar, honey, celery seed, and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk to blend, then add vegetables and toss to coat with dressing.

When pork chops are at preferred level of doneness, remove from pan and put on a plate.  Add the two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the hot skillet and scrape up the browned bits and drippings.  If the vinegar reduces too quickly and the pan is going dry, add a tablespoon of water.  Pour the vinegar and drippings pan sauce over the pork chops.  Finish by adding a pile of kohlrabi apple slaw to each plate.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pork Tongue with Lentils and Salsa Verde

When I first became serious about cooking offal, I had great success with tongue right off the bat. Because tongue is very similar to skeletal muscle cuts, the process of cooking tongue was actually quite familiar.  Like brisket or eye of round, tongue has a similarly dense texture with long striations, making it easy to braise and then slice against the grain, and is wonderfully rich and savory.  Tongue also contains a good amount of collagen, which gives it a lip-smacking quality like oxtail or pork hocks.
Berkshire Pork Tongues
I especially like cooking pork tongues, as their 6-8 oz size makes it easy to portion one per person.  For this recipe I used two pork tongues from North Woods Ranch Berkshire hogs. To start, tenderize the tongues by gently simmering them on the stove top for two hours cooking.  I seasoned the tongues with sea salt and put them in a small pot with pork stock, a bay leaf, and a small bundle of thyme. To check doneness, a knife should easily slide into the tongue without any resistance.

Tongues After Cooking: Notice the membrane is distinctly white
Once the tongues are cooked, they’re almost ready to eat.  The only special treatment a tongue requires in the kitchen is to peel off the thick, leathery membrane.  It’s not as tricky as it might seem--cooking turns the outer membrane of the tongue an opaque white, making it easy to identify where the membrane ends and the meat begins.  It’s best to peel the tongues while they’re still warm.  Just begin at one edge and peel like an orange; the membrane will come off in strips.  Occasionally a section might be “stuck” to the meat, but these bits of membrane can just be nicked off with the tip of a sharp knife.

While working on the tongue, I find it’s a good time to get a side dish cooking.  A quick dish of earthy lentils pairs perfectly with the full flavor of the tongue.  I reuse the tongue’s cooking liquid by bringing it back to a boil, adding in my lentils, and simmering them until tender.

To serve the tongue slice it horizontally from tip to base, cutting against the grain of the meat to produce tender slices.  The base may have some fatty sections, which can be trimmed off if desired.  

With the rich meat of the tongue and the earthly lentils, I brighten up the flavors by finishing off the dish with something like an Italian salsa verde, which is simply parsley, rosemary, garlic, capers and olive oil.  Pureed together, the sauce should be a little looser than a pesto, since there are no nuts or cheese in salsa verde to thicken it.  With a fresh herbal flavor and a piquant note from the garlic and capers, it’s perfect for spooning over the tongue, or almost any braised meat.

Recipe at a Glance
- 2 pork tongues
- 1 pint of pork or vegetable stock
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 cup of dried black lentils
- 1/2 bunch of parsley (about 1 cup, roughly chopped)
- 4 oz olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed from stem
- 2 tsp capers (rinsed)
- Salt and pepper to taste (capers will add some salt)

Bring the stock to a boil in a small pot.  Add the tongues, bay leaf, and a bit of sea salt (more if your stock is unsalted) to the pot.  Reduce to a simmer and cook at a gentle simmer on the stove top, or braise in the oven at 325 F.  Tongues should be done after two hours, or give another 20 minutes or so until tender.

Remove the tongues from the liquid and allow to cool slightly on a plate.  Bring the braising liquid back to a boil and add the lentils, then cover the pot and lower heat to a simmer.  Depending on the type of lentils, they'll be tender in 15-20 minutes.  Taste one at the 15 minute mark, adding more liquid if necessary to keep lentils covered.  When cooked, adjust seasoning and discard bay leaf.

To make the salsa verde, puree the parsley, olive oil, garlic, capers, and rosemary leaves in a blender until smooth.  Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.  

When the tongues are cool enough to handle, but still warm, peel off the outer membrane, starting from the underside and pulling up to the top of the tongue.  Remove any "stuck" sections of membrane with a knife.

To serve, lay down a bed of lentils, then a spoonful of salsa verde.  Slice the tongue against the grain and place on the salsa verde.  Sprinkle with more sea salt and pepper.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Making Berkshire Lard at Home

When I started cooking with lard, I had a hard time seeing why people were so religious with their affection for lard pastries and pie crusts.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was cooking with bad lard.  The only lard I could find anywhere was a commercial brand mixed with the preservatives BTH and BHA to keep it from going rancid, plus hydrogenated fats.  When I came around to real, natural lard from pasture-raised pigs, it was like a light bulb finally clicked.

Berkshire Lard
Comparing commercial blocks of industrial lard to natural, homemade lard is like comparing meat from a industrially raised animal to meat from a pasture-raised, heirloom breed animal that lived a natural, healthy life.  The natural choice has an unparalleled depth of flavor and delivers exceptional results in the kitchen.

Much like making your own stock, making lard is easy, requiring just a little effort and some time.  The good news is that most of that time is leaving the lard alone on the stove to slowly render down.  Plus, lard lasts a long time (especially frozen in mason jars), so I just make one large batch two or three times a year.
Thick block of back fat (L) and ropey sheets of leaf lard (R)

Lard can be made with two types of fat: leaf lard, which is internal fat from around the kidneys, and back fat, which is the fat that lies just below the skin on the pig’s back and sides.  Lard cognoscenti prefer leaf lard, which has a very delicate flavor and produces exceptionally flaky pie crusts.  Lard from back fat shouldn’t be disregarded, as it is still a wonderful cooking fat and performs well in pastries.

Making lard only requires a heavy-bottomed pot and a strainer or sieve of some type.  The pork fat will naturally render out its fat at low temperatures, but it helps to have a ½” of water in your pot.  This water will keep the lard from sticking to the bottom of the pot and browning during the initial cooking.  As the fat slowly warms and renders out the lard, the water will evaporate and leave behind beautiful, clear lard.
To help the lard render out quickly, it’s best to increase the surface area of the fat either by dicing the fat with a knife or extruding it through the smallest plate of a meat grinder.  The first time I made lard I just chopped it into 1”x1” cubes, which produced great lard, but took a loooong time.  The smaller the pieces of fat, the quicker the lard can render out.
Once the lard and starting water are simmering in a pot the process is pretty much hands off, aside from the occasional stirring of the pot.  Keep the heat low; high heat will cause the fat to sear and brown, which isn’t terrible but will make the lard taste like roasted drippings, rather than a neutral fat.  After about 2-3 hours of steady simmering, the cubes of fat will sink to the bottom of the pot and look almost translucent.  This is when it’s time to pour off the lard.  I put the bulk of my lard into 8oz and 16 oz mason jars, which makes it easy to measure out a cup or pound of fat for a recipe. 
At the bottom of the pot will be all the small cubes of fat, which still have some fat in them.  To extract all the fat from them, I wring them out in an old towel or press out the still warm lard using a potato ricer.  This lard should be put aside for sautéing, as it has a stronger flavor than the lard that floated to the top of the pot.   
Greaves, pressed of all their fat and ready to mix into cornbread or biscuits
The leftover nubbins of fat, called greaves, shouldn’t be discarded; they’re a great addition to cornbread or a buckwheat pilaf.  I add a 1/2 cup of greaves to my favorite cornbread recipe for a delicious batch of cracklin' cornbread!

Recipe at a glance:
Any quantity of pork back fat or leaf lard.

1.) Cut the fat into small cubes, or grind it using a meat grinder or pulsing in food processor.

2.) In a pot large enough to easily hold all of the diced fat, cover the bottom of the pot with 1/2" of water to keep the fat from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Add all of the fat and place the pot on the stove and turn heat to medium.  Once the water beings to simmer, the fat will render out.  Once all of the water has evaporated, there should be plenty of rendered fat to keep the fat moist and avoid sticking.

3.) Cook for 2-3 hours.  If you're rendering out large cubes of fat, the rendering will go slower and additional time will be needed.

4.) When the cubes of fat have shriveled and sunk to the bottom, take the lard off the heat.  Ladle off the liquid fat into clean mason jars.  Once cool, screw lids onto the jars and refrigerate for three months or freeze to keep longer.

5.)  At the bottom of the pot will be the greaves, which can be squeeze for the remaining lard.  Save the greaves, which will add some fat and a good amount of flavor to dishes.  Greaves freeze very well, just like lard.