The Perils and Pleasures Of Pork

Another great class with Chef Fredericks where we made pork cutlets, homemade applesauce, wilted swiss chard with pancetta and potatoes au grain. Online, I discovered Chef Fredericks was a Dinner Chef at the James Beard Foundation in 2002, a great honor. Chefs are invited to cook a five course meal, plus three to five hors d'oeuvres, for 74 guests at the Foundation. You can take an interactive tour of the James Beard Foundation kitchen here. I dig the wallpaper! Also, take a look at their recipes, the Tawa Baingan (eggplant and potato layers with coconut sauce) looks especially good.

Chef Fredericks paired his James Beard Foundation menu with Brewer-Clifton wines which are from the Santa Rita hills in Santa Barbara County. I haven't had the chance to sample them, but I know that one of the two partners, Steve Clifton, owns the local winery Palmina which makes nice Italian varietals.
What is a sautoir? A deep, wide, straight-sided frying pan used in classic French cooking for braising, pan frying and sautéing. It is particularly useful in the kitchen because it can go from stove top to oven. Buy one with a thick bottom, long handle and tight fitting lid. Like your Dutch oven, you will end up loving this kitchen tool!

Use a high-smoke point oil (best over 420ºF) for deep frying and pan frying. At Culinary school, we use olive oil pomace which is made from the pulp of the olive oil after the first press for extra virgin olive oil. It has less flavor, but a higher smoke point.
Here's a table of common cooking fats and their smoke points:

Refined safflower oil320ºF
Clarified butter (or ghee)335-380ºF
Pork lard370ºF
Walnut oil350-400ºF
Extra virgin olive oil350-410ºF
Vegetable oil410ºF
Pomace oil410-440ºF
Canola oil*430-445ºF
Refined sunflower oil460ºF
Corn oil450ºF
Cottonseed oil450ºF
Peanut oil450ºF
Refined soybean oil450ºF
Soybean oil495ºF
*Personally, I avoid canola oil in all my cooking. Have you ever heard of a canola plant? No--because there is no such thing. Canola is made from hybridized rapeseed plants which normally contain erucic acid. Most canola oil is processed using a petroleum product called hexane.

One of the many things I've learned from Chef Fredericks is the importance of contrasting flavors. We made applesauce with apple cider vinegar--just enough to give a bright zing to complement the sweetness of the apples and brown sugar. It's those little nuances that make the difference between a good cook and a real chef.
4 large tart apples, like Pippin or Granny Smith
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup water, approximate
1 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
pinch cinnamon
Peel the apples, remove the core and chop into a small dice--about 1/4" cubes. Place in a saucepan with the vinegar and enough water to fill the pot just below the level of the top of the apples. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour on the stove over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple is soft but not mushy. The water should cook away, leaving a thick sauce--add more water during the cooking if needed, or increase the heat to evaporate some of the water if the sauce is too watery. Add the sugar and cinnamon to taste. Stir the sauce just until some of the apple is broken up but chunks still remain. Serve with the pork cutlets above.

Why did I title this post "The Perils and Pleasures Of Pork"?  I taste what we create in Culinary class to learn how to be a better cook, but my avowed vegetarianism is threatened by pork products. I took one nibble of the pork cutlet and ended up eating both of them. The crispy pancetta in the wilted swiss chard was irresistable. I fell off the vegetarian wagon yesterday, but I'm back on today, making buckwheat blueberry pancakes for breakfast and loading up at Lane Farms with organic veggies.

This recipe is from my childhood:
Crispy Panko-Crusted Pork Cutlet:
2 pork cutlets
1 1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 cups, approximate, oil for frying*
salt and pepper
In a sautoir or deep frying pan, pour in oil to a depth of 2" and heat over medium heat. The oil should be hot, but not smoke. To set up your standard breading procedure, you will need 3 wide, shallow bowls. The flour goes in the first, the egg in a second (whisk the yolk and whites together thoroughly with a fork), and the Panko in the third bowl. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides, dredge in the flour, then dip in the egg, then in the Panko. Using long tongs, carefully put the cutlets in the oil. They will sink to the bottom. The oil should be bubbling around the cutlets. After a few minutes, the cutlets will rise to the surface. Turn with the tongs and continue cooking until golden brown. Drain on two layers of paper towel, then slice and serve.


The Magic Of Mirepoix -- Coq Au Vin Cookoff

Paso Robles Syrah
Last week, Touring and Tasting's magazine editor, Wendy van Diver, asked if I'd prepare Coq Au Vin to compare recipes for the upcoming issue. What fun! I love to make food and share it with the office--especially if there are several bottles of Syrah from different wineries to taste along with it! I already have a tasty, EASY recipe for coq au vin on my blog here. But in week #7 of Culinary class, we made the dish with mirepoix, in classic French style, to add flavor and body to the sauce without needing flour for thickening. I adapted the recipe we used in class. The following is a more time consuming recipe than the one on my 2/18/10 post, but the rich, flourless sauce is worth the extra effort.
Coq au vin
olive or vegetable oil
6 chicken legs, cut into thigh and drumstick
salt and pepper
4 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
*1 large onion, fine dice
*2 carrrots, fine dice
*3 stalks celery, fine dice
*these three make the mirepoix which should be in a ratio of 2:1:1 -- 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1 4 oz. can of tomato paste
1 bottle red wine--red Rhone, Beaujolais or Syrah
2 tsp. thyme, in two parts
1 bay leaf
12 pearl onions, blanched
2 packs button or Crimini mushrooms
Parley Potatoes:
24 baby Yukon gold potatoes
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
salt and pepper
You should have a sautoir or saute pan for this dish: a large frying pan with straight sides and tight fitting lid. Along with a sharp, top quality chef's knife, a sautoir is a must-have. It goes right from the stove top into the oven, plus the wide base is excellent for reducing sauces.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all sides of the chicken. Heat 1/2" of oil in your sautoir over medium heat (do not let it smoke) and place half the chicken pieces in it. Brown the chicken on both sides--the oil should be sizzling and bubbling lightly--turn down the heat if the oil starts to smoke or bubble furiously. Set the first batch aside and brown the second batch. Pour off most of the oil and put the bacon in the pan and saute it until browned. Lower the heat and add the mirepoix and let it sweat (cook without browning) until the onion is translucent. Add the sliced garlic and cook just until it releases a garlic smell. Then, add the broth and scrape up and mix in the fond (the browned bits on the bottom of the pan) using a wooden spoon. Add the tomato paste and 1 tsp. thyme, stir well. Nestle the chicken into the mirepoix. Pour in the red wine until the level is 3/4 up the sides of the chicken. Cover tightly and put in the oven for 1 1/2  hours, turning the chicken over halfway through the cooking (total cooking time will be about 2 1/2 hours).
Start preparing the onions and mushrooms: to blanch the onions, first cut the root end off each one but do not peel off the papery husk. Boil a pot of water large enough to fit the onions and put them into the boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove them into a large bowl filled with ice and water. When they have cooled, the outer peel will come off easily. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and cook the drained onions for about 5  minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with the white wine, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook and stir until mushrooms are done. Take out the coq au vin and remove the chicken to a plate. Strain the juice and return to the sauce pan. Stir in the vegetables and add the chicken which will continue to cook while you prepare the potatoes.
Parsley potatoes: Put the potatoes into a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Cook until done--test by piercing a potato with a fork to see if the inside is soft. Drain and put into a bowl with the butter. Toss to coat evenly and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top with minced parsley.
Serve the coq au vin with the potatoes and a Syrah or Rhone blend. We had the 2007 Venteaux Vineyards estate Syrah, the 2008 Sculpterra estate Syrah, the 2007 Vina Robles estate Syrée (a blend of Syrah and Petit Sirah) and the 2007 Calcareous Vineyard estate Syrah--all delicious. All four are from Paso Robles and gave us a good taste of the range of flavor profiles in the varietal.


Exploding Watermelons and Pork That Glows In The Dark

Four years ago, the New York Times published an article titled "Fake goods and unsafe food threaten Chinese exports" after thousands of dogs and cats in the USA became ill or died from melamine in pet food imported from China. The Washington Post declared "For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught -- many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry." ("Tainted Chinese Imports Common") The problems with imported Chinese food was outlined by the US Department of Agriculture :
1. unsafe veterinary drug residue in farm-raised shrimp and fish
2. unsafe processing and handling,with the most common problems cited by FDA being “filth, unsafe additives, inadequate labeling, and lack of proper manufacturer registrations"
3. lack of oversight, since most of China's 200 million farms and food companies are not certified
("Imports From China and Food Safety Issues")

Besides the pet food contamination, problems in China's food supply have included 300,000 children
sickened with kidney ailments after consuming infant formula adulterated with melamine, an industrial chemical added to raw milk to raise its apparent protein content, use of toxic dye in duck feed, chili sauce, and other foods, use of industrial bleach to whiten noodles, carcinogenic drugs in fish and shrimp, poisoning from steroids used in pork production, illegal dyes in foods, insect filth in bean curd, filth from insects and animals in dried mushrooms and garlic and fluoroquinolone and chloramphenicol (known carcinogens) in honey, and heightened levels of lead and cadmium from contaminated soils in the Pearl River Delta region of southern China. This matters to the US because we are importing more and more cheap food from China. The majority of our apple juice, garlic, canned mandarin oranges, fish, and shrimp come from them.

I visited China in 1987, when people were still wearing Mao jackets and farming the land by hand. From our tour bus, we could see into the mud huts where farmers lived and see them in the fields shouldering the plow since they were too poor to even have an animal to pull it. Their economy has grown by more than 90x its size since then. But farmers are still struggling to make a living, making about $900 a year vs. city workers making $2,965 a year.

In a land where rural life has been difficult, imagine!, between 20-43 million Chinese died of starvation in the 1950s, the financial incentive to cut corners or add toxic additives that can increase the value of product--like adding melamine to add weight and apparent protein to milk--is seductive for the struggling peasant class. I guess when a farmer is scrabbling to get by,  a cheap additive like clenbuterol  to make their pigs leaner and bring a better price is hard for them to resist--especially when it may take years for a human to feel the effects of the drug on their respiratory system.  Add to this endemic corruption and widespread environmental pollution, with a real environmental disaster of unclean water and heavy metals in the soils from industrial smokestacks belching smoke that is not regulated, and it not surprising that the Chinese people are getting angry. So angry, in fact, that some protesters have even set fire to themselves.

Some unexpected results of unregulated chemical additions to food have been  exploding watermelons (see video) and pork that glows in the dark! (www.Chinasmack.com)

China's response to these problems have been typically heavy-handed but mostly symbolic. 57 out of an estimated 10 million government officials were sanctioned for taking bribes related to food safety issues. The city of Chongqing approved the death penalty for "primary culprits, recidivists and criminals who cause serious health hazards or get a huge amount of illegal profit", though the real aim of the provision seems to be the Mafia-style gangs called "black societies".

Another of China's solutions to the problem of food contamination has been organic food grown behind guarded gates for the rich and political elite.  According to the LA Times story, "their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes. The general public, meanwhile, dines on foods that are increasingly tainted or less than healthful — meats laced with steroids, fish from ponds spiked with hormones to increase growth, milk containing dangerous additives such as melamine".

Here in the US, we are mostly complacent. We have no laws mandating disclosure of the food source if it is repackaged here or added to other ingredients. So, if powdered milk with melamine is imported into the US to be make into brownie mix--guess what? You won't know. "The FDA inspects less than 1 percent of food shipments destined for the United States, and it performs laboratory examinations on
an even smaller percentage of shipments." ("A Decade Of Dangerous Food Imports From China") .

My solution? Buy local organic foods whenever possible, in season (because out-of-season produce is sure to be imported) and as unprocessed as possible. Make your own baked goods from ingredients you know are made in the US--it will be better for your health, better for US jobs, better for your community--since revenue goes to your neighborhood farms and ranchers. Farmer's markets are great sources for fresh, clean food--and--you can grow your own food in gardens, pots and even in old tires on your driveway!


Risotto--Week #7 Culinary Class

This week in Culinary class, we made risotto and coq au vin. "Riso" is "rice" in Italian--"otto" is a suffix that indicates "small" and "adorable", so "risotto" would be "adorable little rice". However, as Chef Fredericks pointed out, in the culinary world, risotto is not a term for rice but for the cooking technique of gradual and incremental addition of liquid during the cooking process. So, it is possible to make butternut squash risotto without any rice whatsoever, just with cubes of the squash cooked and stirred as liquid is added--creating a creamy sauce around the cooked chunks. View a recipe for Fresh Fava Beans With Risotto.
I dislike the texture of most veggie burgers--too mushy. I've played around with crunchy nuts and found this combination works well. I've made these to bring to a traditional bbq so I can have something off the grill instead of hot dogs or beef. Keep them chilled in a cooler, between parchment paper, if you transport them, since raw egg is a food safety concern if left at room temperature for more than a few minutes.
Parmesan Nut Burgers:
olive oil
2 Tbsp. onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic
3 button or crimini mushrooms
pinch oregano
1/8 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. basil
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
approximately 3/4 cup Panko crumbs
Coat the bottom of a frying pan with a light film of olive oil, heat over low heat. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Sweat the vegetables (cook without browning) until onion is translucent. Stir in the oregano, marjoram and basil and remove pan from heat to cool. In a mixing bowl, stir the egg with a fork until well mixed. Add the Parmesan cheese, almonds, Panko and cooled onion mixture (use a spatula to scrape into the mixing bowl). Mix well with enough Panko to form a moist ball. Divide into two parts and pat each one into a patty. Coat the bottom of a frying pan with oil, heat over medium low and add the patties. Cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat to low. Cook the patties until browned on the bottom, flip with a spatula and brown the other side. Serve on bun with toppings of your choice. Makes 2 servings.