Paula Wolfert’s Red Beans with Pork and Carrots

dsc04092 from The Cooking of Southwest France, pp. 286-87.

For reasons I have yet to understand, I have only warmed up to Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks recently. Hers and Claudia Rodin’s recipes have always been interesting to read but not exciting enough to make. Now that the quality of the meat I buy is incomparably better than the meat I bought when I first started reading their books, I’m beginning to get the point. And it should have been obvious all along. Everything depends on the quality of the ingredients. A recipe that calls for few ingredients places a great burden on the quality of the provisions and the execution of the steps involved.

Wolfert’s exploration of southwest France, a region I’m particularly fond of, struck me yesterday as the perfect response to the climate outside. The weather continues to be drab, dank, and cold. This bean stew will warm up the house. I made the stew over the course of the day and invited some friends over to share it and some wine. A salad was all that was additionally necessary. By the end of the meal, we agreed that this one is a keeper.

For those who stop reading when they reach an ingredient they know they’ll never find, let me warn you that the recipe calls for goose or duck fat or, alternatively, pork fat. Bacon, in other words, would work just fine. But, really, get a hold of some goose fat. It keeps a really long time once it’s opened. Just shove to the back of your fridge and save it for omelets and recipes like this one.

Paula’s steps seemed a little convoluted, but I think I understand why she’s designed it thus.

Here’s her original…

Begin 1 day in advance.

2 cups small red beans or red kidney beans

1 cup full-bodied red wine, such as Côtes-du-Rhône

1 large onions, halved and stuck with 2 cloves, plus 1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 large carrot, chopped, plus 1/2 pound carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

2 Tbsp rendered goose, duck, or pork fat

1 lb boneless pork butt or shoulder, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

1/4 lb pancetta

5 peeled garlic cloves: 4 left whole and 1 finely chopped

4 sprigs of parsley plus 1 Tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 imported bay leaf

1/4 tsp thyme leaves

2 Tblsp butter

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 Tblsp Armagnac or brandy

1 Tblsp walnut or olive oil

1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar

1. A day in advance, place the beans in a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Add water to cover by at least 2 inches and let soak overnight.

2. Early the following day, rinse and drain the beans. Place them in a 5-quart flameproof earthenware or enameled cast-iron casserole with the wine and enough water to cover by 1 inch.

3. When the beans reach the boil, skim thoroughly; add the onion stuck with cloves and the cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer while preparing the vegetables and pork in Steps 5 and 6.

4. In a large skillet, brown the chopped carrots and onions in the fat over moderately high heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pieces of pork and sauté, turning, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the beans.

5. In a food processor, combine the pancetta with 4 cloves of the garlic, the parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and thyme. Gring to a puree. Add to the casserole.

6. Cook the beans, covered, over very low heat or in a preheated 275 F oven for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, uncover the beans and cook until the liquid is thick, about 1 1/2 hours.

7. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, cook the sliced carrots with 1 tablespoon of the butter, covered, over moderately low heat for 5 minutes. Uncover, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and swirl over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the carrots take on a little color. Sprinkle with a pince of sugar. Mix the carrots into the beans in the casserole. Season with salt and pepper. (The recipe can be prepared to this point at least 4 hours in advance.)

8. About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the beans uncovered until the tops glaze slightly, 20 to 25 minutes. Gently stir from bottom to top to keep the surface moist. Bake until a light crust forms on the surface, about 30 minutes.

9. Sprinkle the Armagnac on top and let stand until ready to serve. Serve hot, with a light sprinkling of the walnut oil and vinegar and a dusting of the chopped parsley and garlic.

Note to the cook: To avoid drying out and breaking the beans, be sure that they are always covered with the cooking liquid or enrobed in the sauce. If necessary, add boiling water. Cooking beans in wine keeps them from turning mushy. They need longer cooking but are able to absorb more flavor.

Now, when I went to make it, I did it like this…

The red beans I bought and was in the end happy with were described in my food co-op as “red chili beans.” They’re smaller than kidney beans.

Paula makes a point of bringing the beans to a slow boil before adding the clove-studded onion and cinnamon. She doesn’t explain why, but it’s the reasons Thomas Keller gives for bringing chicken slowly to a boil before adding the aromatics in his chicken broth recipe. If the water comes to a boil too quickly, too much of the scum from the beans will fold right back into the water. So, the more you skim off the scum, the cleaner the taste of the beans will be. And it’s a lot easier skimming off scum without floating bits of onion and carrot than with. So, make a point of skimming well.

In Step 4, Paula directs me to sauté the onions and carrots first in the fat and then add the pork to it. I wasn’t happy with this. Browning the meat with the already sauteed vegetables was a recipe for burned vegetables. Since she calls for 2 tablespoons of fat, I’d divide it up and sauté the vegetables in one tablespoon, toss them in the beans, and then brown the pork in the second tablespoon. Then add the pork to the beans.

The puree of pancetta, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf in Step 5 turned out to be the usual fine mince that food processors produce, not a puree. Before I pulsed, I wondered if the fat in the pancetta would turn it at least into a paste, but nope. Just a really fine mince. No matter. Into the beans and pork it went.

Steps 6 and 7 went according to plan.

I’m not sure I understand the rationale for Step 8, because I already had a pretty nice glaze over the surface of the stew.

I must confess that in the flurry of activity surrounding preparing the table I forgot Step 9. But when I reheat the beans tomorrow for dinner, I’ll add a touch of red vinegar, a splash of brandy, and a sprinkle of walnut oil. I can’t believe I forgot Step 9.

The next time I make this…

I’m going to remember Step 9! This stew was absolutely luscious, deep in flavor (the goose fat!), tender to the nth degree.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Roast Pork Belly (and one relish)

dsc04083from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, pp. 114-15.

Traveling to other people’s holiday meals can be one of the drawbacks of living alone, especially now that traffic in northern California grows worse every year. For a long time now, I’ve been giving some thought to instituting my own traditions in my own home. For instance, I would like to establish a custom of throwing an annual open-house over the holiday break, but that’s unlikely to begin this year. Instead, I plan on cooking a nice, festive meal on Christmas day at home.

Like a lot of people, I don’t crave the usual foods cooked at Thanksgiving. I’d rather do something different. So, two days after Thanksgiving, I decided to try Ottolenghi’s Roast Pork Belly, which Ann made while I was in London. That first attempt — and a second one of hers that reinforced in us both the pitfalls of the recipe — made it clear that he set the roasting temperature far too high. It’s difficult to imagine an oven or kitchen in which one could roast a pork belly at 500 degrees for an hour. You’d certainly get crackling, but you’d also get a smoky kitchen and a charred baking dish, which is what we wound up with in the London kitchen.

A recipe like this also makes me envy the British once again for the butcher’s cuts commonly available. A pork belly in the UK comes with thicker skin than I can find on the cuts here. A soft, leathery skin makes for great crackling.

So, here’s Ottolenghi’s recipe straight up, warts and all:

Roast Pork Belly

1 bunch of thyme, roughly chopped

1 bunch of rosemary, roughly chopped

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed

150 ml olive oil

1 piece of pork belly, weighing 2-3 kg

1 bottle of white wine

coarse sea salt and black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 250 C [500 F] or its highest setting. Place the herbs, garlic and olive oil in a heavy-duty blender or food processor and purée them roughly.

2. Lay the pork belly in an oven tray, skin-side down, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Use your hands to spread the herb mixture evenly all over the top, pressing it on so it sticks to the meat.

3. Turn the belly skin-side up, wipe the skin dry with kitchen paper and sprinkle sea salt evenly all over the skin (but don’t put too much on, as it might create a crust and prevent the crackling forming). Put the tray in the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the tray around every 20 minutes. Once the skin has formed some crackling, turn the oven down to 170 C [325 F], pour the white wine into the tray (avoiding the pork skin) and continue roasting for another hour. If the belly starts turning black, cover it with foil.

4. For the last cooking stage, turn the oven down to 110 C [225 F] and continue roasting for another hour, until the skin has crackled completely and thoroughly dried.

5. Remove the pork from the oven. Use a sharp knife to divide it into segments of a few ribs, cutting between the rib bones. Give as many ribs per portion as the appetite demands. [Serve with the following relish.]

Spice red plum, ginger, and rhubarb relish

5 red plums (about 240 g), stoned and cut into quarters

1 red chilli, halved and seeded

2 cinnamon sticks

1 star anise

100 ml red wine vinegar

200 g caster [baker’s fine] sugar

4 stalks of champagne rhubarb (about 200g), cut into 3 cm lengths

a small knob of fresh ginger, peeled, very thinly sliced, then cut into tiny strips

1. Heat the oven to 150 C. [325 F]. Place the plums and chilli in a heavy-based saucepan and add the cinnamon, star anise, vinegar and half the sugar. Stir well, bring to a light boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming any froth from the surface if necessary. The plum should have a jam-like consistency. To check this, chill a saucer, put a teaspoonful of the chutney on it, then run your finger through it; it should stay separated. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

2. While the plums are simmering away, place the rhubarb, ginger and remaining sugar in an ovenproof dish. Rub them together with your hands and place in the oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

3. Combine th eplums and rhubarb and mix well, remove the chilli, then transfer to a jar and leave to cool. Either serve the relish straight away with the pork or store in the fridge, where it will keep for a week or two.

To make the pork belly for myself…

I should start with the relish, actually, since I made it a week ago. That it worked so well with the pork belly in the end is a testament to its versatility, because rhubarb has disappeared from the stores. I increased the amount of plums, used only 2/3s of the sugar. It keeps very well in the fridge as long as it’s tightly sealed in a jar.

I bought a 2 lb slab of frozen pork belly, which the butcher sawed in two and rewrapped it. For my own meal, I used one of the two slabs. The directions in step 1, 2, and most of step 3 are straightforward. I placed the pork belly, slathered on one side with garlic and herbs, in a pyrex deep pie dish.

But instead of setting the temperature at 500, I preheated it to 450. After putting the pork belly in the oven, I reduced the temperature to 350 and set my timer for 20 minutes. When the bell rang, I turned the dish part way round and set the timer again for another 20 minutes and then another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, before the first hour was up, I poured 2 cups of white wine and added whatever was left of the garlic-herb-oil mixture into a saucepan and let it come to a soft simmer. It makes no sense to me to add room temperature — or worse, cold — white wine to a hot oven. It would just reduce the heat. When the first hour was up, I poured some of the simmering wine around but not over the pork belly. I want what little skin left on it to crisp up, which it won’t do if it’s soggy. Over the remaining two hours, I added more wine when it looked as though the liquid threatened to evaporate completely.

I did not lower the oven temperature again, as Ottolenghi calls for. The pork belly did just fine. After three hours, I removed it from the oven, let it rest about 10 minutes and then carved it into four thick slices, two of which went on a plate with some relish and a small lettuce salad lightly dressed with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette.

The flavors of the relish melded beautifully with the pork belly. The acidity of the vinaigrette sliced through the sweetness of the fat.

When I make this again…

I think I’ll try roasting it at 375 next time. Now that I’ve posted three recipes for pork belly, I suspect that if I prepare the pork belly according to Ottolenghi’s directions and follow Fergus Henderson’s roasting method, I’ll get the best of both. That is something I very much look forward to.

Food Alone: Country-style Pork Rib in Mustard Cornichon Sauce (adapted from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries)

(In the photo above, you can see that I added more cornichons than I call for in the recipe. Mistake.)

The weather is cooler than it was last week. The air carries a hint of autumn. I can contemplate cooking in my kitchen tonight for the first time in a long time.

Tonight I bought two “country-style pork ribs”, which, as far as I can gather, means only a chunk of pork butt. In his Kitchen Diaries, p. 51, Nigel Slater created a recipe for pan-fried pork chops with mustard sauce. He cooked for two. I’ll make it for one.

Here’s how I prepared it for myself.

One 1/3-lb country-style pork rib

olive oil

half cup of white wine

one small shallot, finely chopped

2 tsp whole grain mustard

2 tsp dijon mustard

3 cornichons (gerkin pickles), finely diced

1/4 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Heat about 2 Tbl of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over a medium-high flame. When it’s hot, place the pork in the oil and sear it on all sides for a total of 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer with tongs to a plate and place in the oven to continue cooking for another few minutes, depending on how thick the pork is. If you’re using a thick pork chop or country-style pork rib, leave in the oven for about 5 to 8 minutes. Thinner cuts for about 5 minutes. Remove before you think it’s cooked through and cover with foil so that the internal temperature will continue to rise while you make the sauce.

Meanwhile, reheat the skillet that you cooked the pork in. Add another slug of olive oil, if the pork was too lean to render much fat. Add the minced shallots and sauté for about a minute or two. Pour in the half cup of white wine and scrape up the burned bits on the bottom. In a small bowl, mix together the mustards and a little bit of cornichons liquid. Add to the skillet and let reduce. Pour in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Keep stirring it as it reduces and thickens. Toss in finely minced cornichons. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is thickened, remove from heat.

Slice up the pork or leave the chop whole and spoon sauce over it. Serve immediately.