Kalua Pig

If you’ve been to Hawaii, perhaps you’ve experienced the paradise of pork known as kalua pig. If you’re from Hawaii, thanks for letting us haoles near this treasure. I had it at Yama’s Fish  Market in Honolulu with poi, as the gods intended, and never forgot it. Imagine pulled pork, but juicier and smokier. Kalua pig is roasted in banana leaves in a buried fire pit, and is velvety tender. It requires no sauce. I took home a frozen container and cried the day I finished it, because I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Hawaii for quite some time. Pork fat can do wonderful things, but when the almost sweet flesh is roasted for a day wrapped in banana leaves, I think that is its greatest accomplishment.

A gift from the Hawaiian gods to humanity.

So, when I saw a kalua pig recipe that used a crock pot instead of requiring a shovel, hot coals and several huge Hawaiian dudes to kill a pig and lug it to your back yard and wrap it in banana leaves, I was intrigued. It seemed too easy- take a pork shoulder and poke it with a knife or carving fork all over, rub it with Hawaiian pink sea salt and Liquid Smoke, and slow cook it for 16 to 20 hours. Sure, that’s a lot of time, but if you set it up at night, you’ll have a delicious surprise waiting for dinner when you get home from work. It’s not the same as having a luau, but your tongue won’t know the difference.

All you’ll need.

I picked up a six pound picnic pork shoulder from King’s market in Verona for $11. The picnic style has the leg joint of the pig’s front trotter attached, and the skin still on, so I spent five minutes skinning it with a sharp kitchen knife that my grandmother used for twenty years. If you’ve never skinned meat, just start at a corner and pull it back, start cutting the layer of fat, and keep pulling and cutting. It’s not unlike removing a sticker from a window, pull at the corners. Try not to cut the meat off, and don’t worry about losing the fat- the porker has plenty of interstitial fat and gelatin to make this melt into a puddle of porky butter. After that, jab it all over with a fork or knife, and rub it with a few tablespoons of sea salt. The recipe calls for Hawaiian sea salt, and it is available from vendors online or at specialty stores. I opted for pink Himalayan sea salt from Trader Joe’s because I had it on hand. Then you need Liquid Smoke to mimic the hot coals and charcoal flavor from being  baked underground. Use a tablespoon or so and rub it down.

Anyone wanna make a football?

The hardest part was fitting a pig’s shoulder joint into the crock pot! For a minute I thought I’d have to debone it, like I had to do to a grass fed chuck roast I slow cooked a while back, but it fit. Put the lid on and set that sucker for 20 hours on low, and forget about it for 8 to 10 hours, when you should flip the meat over. No liquid is required. I was dubious, wanting to add water or cider vinegar, but I obeyed. When I woke up the next morning, the apartment smelled of barbecue. The pork had created plenty of its own juices, and I flipped it with tongs. It was already very tender and beginning to pull apart, but I let it go for the full time. And I was not disappointed.

Now go to sleep and awaken to joy

When I got home from work the pork smell had deepened and mellowed. I opened the slow cooker and was greeted with a steamy blast of fragrance that would make even the most stoic turn into a drooling Homer Simpson. I immediately shredded the pork up with a fork, forgetting to take a photo beforehand, and tasted it. Delicious. It needed more salt and smoke, so I added them and removed the bones with tongs, then let it cook for another 30 minutes on high while I went to pick up Firecracker from the train. This would ideally be served with poi, poke, lomi salmon and haupia- and one day I may just do so. Getting the pig right was the first step; raw tuna, salmon, coconut blancmange and mashing taro root are not quite as challenging, but I have a great idea for a housewarming party next summer. If you comment on this blog post, you might get invited.

You can read all about my adventures in Hawaii here.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

May… is Hamburger Month

There is only one way to celebrate Hamburger Month- by eating hamburgers. The holiday has vague roots, but it is believed that White Castle came up with it as a promotion. Other chains such as Smashburger have special offers as well, so it is catching on. I decided to go DIY this time, and made these for a post-workout meal for myself and my cousin Pete, after we busted our asses on a nasty circuit of box jumps, push-ups, blast strap rows, Bulgarian split squats, burpees, and other exercises that sound like the signature moves of a professional wrestler. Oh no! He’s got him trapped in the insidious flying butt pliers!

Hasidic Burger! Though not kosher. At all.

Cooking burgers is easy, but if you want them juicy and with a seared crust, you need to follow some rules. I don’t have a grill, just a cast iron pan and a big silicone spatula. That’s all you need. I began with a pound of organic 85% lean ground beef from Costco, $4.35 a pound. A little pricey but the flavor is worth it. It has the beefiness of bison, without being too lean. A burger needs fat to stay juicy, so 80-85% is ideal. Save the 93% lean for chili. Unpackage the meat and form it into two loose patties; this wasn’t freshly ground, so it’s pretty tightly packed already- I tore it in two and quickly made two patties. I heated my cast iron pan on medium-high and scattered coarse salt all over the pan. I learned that trick from Julia Child’s show; there’s no need for cooking oil, just use salt. Put the burgers in the hot pan and sprinkle some more salt on the top side.

It’s better if you flip your burgers often, but wait until you get a good sear on the bottom before flipping it. This usually takes a few minutes. Just never, ever flatten them with the spatula so the juices run out! I also have a thermometer probe to test- 125 is rare, 145 is medium. I made mine to 135 and Pete’s to 145. This saves you from cutting them to peek inside, and letting the juices escape. While your burgers are cooking you can lay 6 slices of bacon on a plate and cover it with a paper towel, and microwave it for 5 minutes, for perfect crispy bacon. The downside is your house will smell like bacon for days, so if you use the last of your bacon, you’ll be tormented with the tortures of the damned. After you flip your burger for the final time, slap a slice of your favorite cheese on it and cover them with a lid so it will melt. I used aged cheddar, because my American cheese went bad. This is also a good time to toast your buns- I had Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted English Muffins, my favorite. They’re crispy, crunchy and dense enough to hold a half pound burger!

Let the burger rest for a few minutes like a steak, then top it with the bacon and slap it on a bun. I built mine with ketchup and hot banana pepper rings on the bottom, bacon and BBQ sauce on the top. And it was glorious. A little overcooked, next time I’ll stop at 125 for myself. 720 calories of protein-packed goodness. As much as I enjoy stopping by Elevation Burger for a bite, making my own is very rewarding. Sure, the apartment is filled with smoke and smells like burgers for days, and I have a sink full of dishes to clean, but this remains one of my favorite burgers.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

24-second chicken recipe

I’d never roasted a chicken before. I picked up two 4-pound organic chickens at Costco and planned on giving one to Firecracker to make in her slow cooker, but as the weather got warmer I realized my oven roasting time was about to vanish. So I opened all the windows and tried to remember what I’d internalized from reading Julia Child, and watching her show with Jacques Pépin. “Jack” as she called him, is a knife wizard and an extremely pragmatic chef, while still honoring his French culinary roots. He shares many helpful shortcuts from his years as an apprentice, and his roast chicken recipe can be recited in 24 seconds:

You can tweet it. Set the oven to 425. Roast it 40 minutes on one side, baste it, and 40 minutes on the other side. End it with the breast side down so the juices soak in. That’s it. Sure, you can rub it with salt and pepper and olive oil or butter, like I did; I put it on a bed of baby carrots, a sliced onion, and a cubed celery root. The prep, including cutting off the wingtips and removing the giblet bag, cutting the vegetables, took about ten minutes. In an hour and a half, I had one of the best chickens I’d ever tasted, and certainly the best I’d ever made.
When I flipped the chicken at the 40 minute mark, I added some olive oil to the pan because the veggies were dry. The chicken released a flood of juices, so this was unnecessary. When it was done I let the bird rest and put the roasting pan on the stovetop, added white wine, and deglazed the sticky bits off the pan, and let the alcohol cook off while I carved it. I’d also never carved one before, so I found this video: How to carve a chicken which helped, but the chicken was fall-apart juicy. The breasts were juicy as Jacques promised. I thought I’d removed the wishbone but actually I was reaching up the chicken’s ass, apparently, and had broken two of its ribs. (That’s a secret Mixed Martial Arts move.) The wishbone was no impediment to carving this small bird and came out clean.
I put the carcass in a freezer bag and saved it for gumbo or soup. You’ll be seeing it again! With the vegetables in wine, the dish was one of the best I’ve ever made. I had a drumstick, a wing, a breast, and an oyster. The tenderloins even fell off the breasts, and I had one while I was carving. I saved half for lunch tomorrow. Yeah, with the amount of weightlifting, mixed-martial arts, and idiotic exercises like tire flipping I’m doing, half a chicken is lunch. This would have been even better with the addition of garlic, spices of your choice, or if I’d had more prep time and could have patted the chicken dry and left it salted in the fridge for a day to make the skin extra crispy. That was the one deficiency; the skin wasn’t very crisp because all the fat soaked into it, even though I trimmed a lot of the hanging fat and skin off the neck.
Next recipe? Christopher Walken’s chicken with pears:

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Biscuits & Sausage Gravy

If you’ve been down South, hopefully you’ve experienced the delight that is biscuits with sausage gravy. When you order it up north, usually is lacking in the sausage. In fact, even Cracker Barrell calls it “sawmill gravy,” which is mostly flour and water with some grease for flavor. When I make this breakfast, I do it right.
Start with a pound of ground sausage, brown it, add 1/3 cup flour, stir in 2 cups milk- 1/2 cup at a time- and stir until it’s as thick as you like it. This serves 4 hungry men, or 8 dainty ladies. Season with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning and black pepper! It’s that easy. Oh wait, you say. How do you make biscuits? Well, here’s my quick-n-easy biscuit recipe: Go get them at Popeye’s chicken. you have to be one hell of a cook to do much better.
I prefer to use venison sausage when it’s available, but the deer were wily this year, so I grabbed some fresh-ground pork breakfast sausage at Whole Foods seasoned with sage. You can use the frozen logs of ground pork sausage found in the freezer section- thawed first- or even open sausage casings, but that will take a lot of little sausages. Ask your meat department or butcher if they have ground breakfast sausage. Or buy a meat grinder- I’m tempted- and make your own from pork belly!

Beer & Oysters – Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout

‘Twas a brave man, who first ate an oyster.
–Jonathan Swift

I’m really enjoying Flying Fish Brewery‘s NJ Turnpike Exit Series of beers. It’s so quintessentially New Jerseyan to celebrate one of our state’s greatest eyesores and hellholes, and they’re doing it with excellent brews. I reviewed their excellent Exit 11 a while back, which was an American Wheat Ale. Their Exit 1 is a classic Oyster Stout, made with oysters and shells! This was a popular type of stout in England public houses when a pint of stout might be the most vitamins a man would have all day. Now, it’s just a smooth and tasty malty stout that goes great with a dozen on the half shell. The Exit beers only come in 750ml wine bottles, so share with a friend!
I was alone since Firecracker headed home for Christmas, so why not drink away my sorrows? I got these at Whole Foods, along with an Oxo shucking knife. Cost $20. But the experience of shucking oysters for the first time was worth the money. Scrub the oysters well, and discard any that aren’t tightly closed.
I opted for Drago’s Char-broiled Oysters recipe. I like them raw, but I missed these from Louisiana, so what better to eat when I missed by Baton Rouge baby? You’ll need melted butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, minced garlic, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, lots of grated Parmesan, and a little Tabasco. Mix it all up!
Shucking an oyster is easy if you’re patient and confident. Clamp the oyster flat side up in a dish towel, with the pointy end sticking out. Press the point of the knife into the hinge and wiggle it until you get in there and can twist it open. Slide the knife down into the valley of the shell to separate the meat, then do the same to the top. When the knife goes into the hinge you should feel it try to close; it’s alive, after all. Quickly separate the meat to put the poor oyster out of its misery, you heartless hungry bastard!
Cover each one with the cheese and butter and parsley mixture and broil them until the cheese bubbles and the edges begin to brown. I went a little lighter because I didn’t use enough cheese- a cardinal sin- and I wanted the meat to remain juicy. There’s also a salmon patty in the corner. I didn’t have any bread in the house, but I’ll be warming a nice crusty loaf in the oven to soak up the juices, when I do this again. I also used a bit much parsley, but I like it so that’s fine. Next time, I’ll mince it finely.
I like how it turned out- less like Oysters Rockefeller and more like Felix and Acme’s char-broiled oysters. The sweet shellfish really only need a little seasoning. But, on to the beer! The chocolatey smooth stout went very well with them. Because cooking oysters gives them a mild fishy flavor, the strong stout went well with them. I think it might drown out the delicate flavors of raw oysters, but I’ll buy another bottle and try that next. Because now the Plucker is a mother shucker, and I’ll be eating them at home more often. The stout’s a winner- it’s not too heavy like the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout that’s sat in my fridge for months- that’s tasty but too heavy to drink! I’m gonna make stew and chili with it. Flying Fish is quick becoming my favorite New Jersey brewer, because their varieties are readily available and quite good. And their Exit series has been fantastic!

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

–Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”

Yankee Gumbo Foxtrot

This Yankee tried his hand at making gumbo on Sunday night. From scratch, roux and all. It turned out a little more like etoufee in the end because I’ve only had thick gumbo, and it’s supposed to be a little soupy. But I couldn’t do that, in light of Soupy Sales’s death, so there we are. You start out by browning some andouille sausage in a cast iron pan, I used Trader Joe’s chicken andouille to keep things lean. Most recipes tell you to drain the fat anyway, so why not use lean sausage?
In the same pan I put some bacon drippings and then pieces of chicken tenderloin seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, a staple in my house and great for seasoning Louisiana cooking. I didn’t bother cooking the chicken fully, since it was going to simmer later.
I was drinking Samuel Adams’ chocolatey, malty face-slap of an Imperial Stout. I’d had this at their brewery and was glad it got bottled! I deglazed the pan with it and poured the thick sauce onto the chicken. Then I whipped out my Staub enamel crock pot to make some roux. Amazon had a great sale on these, and still does. I was gonna rave about Staub is family owned, but they are now part of a conglomerate, so oh well.
You’ll want to dice your trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery ahead of time, because once you start stirring roux, you can barely stop to scratch your ass, much less cut vegetables, answer the phone, or open another beer. So do all that first. I used two small onions, two small bell peppers, and a cleaned, small bunch of celery heart all cut into small dice.
Next the roux, the important part. Roux is 1 part oil (or butter, if you’re brave) and 1 part flour. This recipe calls for 1 cup each. I threw a few pats of butter in the oil and made a cup worth for flavor. Over low-medium heat, you stir constantly, mixing the flour in, and slowly browning it until it looks like a Hershey bar. If you get black specks in the roux or it smells burnt, you ruined it. So use low heat, and be patient. I used a silicone spatula, next time I’ll use a whisk as tradition demands.
This is peanut butter color, about halfway there; I chickened out because I saw specks, but it was probably the Tony’s! Add the seasoning later. Friend Katy recommended taking half your roux out at the point you get concerned, and browning the rest more; I might try that next time. I didn’t have enough flour to start over, so I erred on the side of caution. I thus lost the famous smoky flavor for a rich, buttery popcorn type base.
When you get the desired color, add your trinity. This will cool the roux and keep it from burning, but keep stirring often. When the onions turn translucent, add some minced garlic, and chicken stock. This is where I learned that I don’t own a big enough stock pot! It called for 10 cups, I barely got 7 in there. That’s why my gumbo isn’t soupy. Now that we ate two servings, I might add more to get the right consistency.
This is where you add your seasonings- some Worcestershire sauce, a few shots of Tabasco, Tony Chachere’s, salt, pepper, fresh parsley. And add all the meat you cooked earlier, with all the juices, and some tomato sauce or paste. I used a can of tomato paste because it seemed very spicy, but it mellowed overnight. Next time I’d use half as much, and freeze the rest. Let it simmer on low for an hour, after stirring well to dissolve the paste.
There ya go. Gumbo Yankee style. If you can find gumbo filé, which is ground sassafras root for flavor and thickening, you can sprinkle some on last. Tony Chachere makes some, I have it on order from Cajun Grocer– recommended by Caitlin over at the movie blog 1416 and Counting. The base recipe came from Firecracker’s Sis, who told me the most important part- don’t eat it right away! Keep it in the fridge overnight and let the flavors mingle. It tasted amazing the next night, when we heated it up and ate it over rice with some Abita Pecan Harvest Ale, my favorite of their seasonal brews. I learned some lessons- good gumbo is easy, but great classic gumbo is harder to master. But it’s a lot of fun trying.

Ingredients, corrected for what I learned:
1 cup canola oil and 1 tbsp butter
1 cup flour
1 tbsp bacon drippings or cooking oil, for the chicken
1 lb chicken pieces, cut into cubes
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
2 small onions,
2 bell peppers,
1 bunch celery all diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
5 drops Tabasco sauce
5 squirts Worcestershire sauce
3 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Some Abita beer for drinking, deglazing, and adding some!

Fakin’ Canes: Cookin’ Salami Style

Raising Cane’s is one of my favorite fast food restaurants. I’ve raved about them before, but the closest one is now in Boston. What’s up with that? New Brunswick, home of the famous Rutgers grease trucks, could use a Cane’s! But until then, I’ll show you how to make a homemade facsimile.
For every six tenders, you will need 1 egg, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup each panko and regular unseasoned bread crumbs, and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning or Slap Ya Mama, or some other spicy salt/pepper seasoning of your own concoction. You’ll need more for the dipping sauce, that comes later. Set up a bowl with whisked eggs, add water to stretch it if necessary; one plate of flour mixed with the seasoning, and one plate of the panko and crumbs mixed together. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour until it feels dry, then coat it in egg, and finally panko/crumbs.
Place directly into a cast iron pan with a 1/4″ of canola oil in the bottom, after a water drop will sizzle in it. Medium-low heat! Don’t make it super hot. And if it catches on fire, throw flour on it or use an extinguisher. As Mythbusters demonstrates, water on a grease fire = human torch costume winner of the year.
While that’s cooking- 3 to 4 mins per side, use a timer- make the dipping sauce. You’ll need 1/4 cup REAL mayo (I prefer Hellman’s) 3 tbsp ketchup (only Heinz will do), a few tsp of Worcestershire sauce, a few heavy dashes of Tony’s seasoning (or garlic salt + black pepper) and a few splashes of Tabasco. (If you use Frank’s Red Hot, you will be dragged to hell by a lamia, the black goat demon of the gypsies. Likewise if you use Tabasco on Buffalo wings). Just mix it all up in a bowl until it gets that gooey pink consistency.
Don’t forget to flip your tenders with tongs. I used wheat panko, so mine are darker than they would be if I used plain panko. If you’re paranoid like me, after 6 mins, take one out and cut it open to look for pink. Don’t over cook them. Mine were juicy and tender, the flour seals in the juices. I used Trader Joe’s chicken tenderloins. You can cut up chicken breasts if you prefer.
Let them cool and eat with Texas Toast. I skipped the toast to cut carbs, but you can use pre-made Texas Toast or make your own, to soak up the rest of that sauce or make li’l sammiches. Bring nakkins, you’re gonna need ’em. Serves one.