pork

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I know what you’re thinking. It’s something like this – “Seriously, Russ? You already have an awesome Swedish Meatball recipe in your cookbook. Way to put a new coat of paint on your old favorites.”

First of all, thanks for the compliment. Second, these meatballs are a little different. For example, Danish Frikadeller are often smashed and look more like little patties than those little round balls you might be expecting. Think of them as Denmark’s LEGOs (probably their coolest invention) vs. Sweden’s crescent wrench (also a cool invention); both are useful, but serve slightly different purposes.

The recipe itself differs from Swedish meatballs in that I found that adding a bit of tapioca starch makes the balls stick together really well, and they’re pretty delightfully spongy, too. I also played around with the spices until I found something that delivered a distinctive Old-World taste while using common pantry items.

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First of all, I want to thank everyone who bought my cookbook or spread the word about that crazy deal last week. The Kindle version of The Ancestral Table climbed from somewhere in the top 105,000 to the #12 book on all of Amazon! My time near the top of the list was short-lived, but it was pretty awesome knowing that my book made it into so many new hands.

We spent our Thanksgiving with Sarah Ballantyne and her family in Atlanta, and came home earlier this weekend with enough time for me to develop and photograph a few dishes. After the hubbub of a holiday meal, I was in the mood for something simple and straight-forward. Pork chops came to mind. These easy glazed chops come together in less than an hour and are impossible to mess up. Bear in mind that you’ll want an instant-read thermometer to make sure they’re perfectly done; we use and love this one.

Don’t worry about the cut of chop (bone-in, center-cut, etc) for this recipe. Any of them will work fine, although thick chops are preferred; thin chops tend to try out quickly and are best prepared with a marinade, like in the Lemongrass Pork Chops recipe found in my book.

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Lately I’ve been in the mood to catch up on all of the recipes that didn’t quite make it into The Ancestral Table. Like last week’s Chicken Tikka Masala, I had initially considered putting Pernil in my book. But once I put everything together and realized that there were already two pulled pork shoulder recipes in there (Kalua Pig and BBQ Pulled Pork), plus a Puerto Rican roast pork (Lechon Asado), I knew that it would be more appropriate to put my Pernil recipe here on the blog.

Pernil is a roasted pork shoulder popular in Puerto Rico, often served during holidays. It is derived from the Spanish word pierno (leg), likely because it was originally made with the hind end, but since most hind quarters are used to make ham nowadays it makes sense that the cheaper shoulder is the cut of choice today. One particular trait of Pernil is the use of an adobo mojado, or wet marinade, which is created by using bitter orange juice (I used orange and lime juices) and a little vinegar to add moisture and tenderize the meat.

Although roasting a pork shoulder in the oven would be considered cheating here in the US, Pernil is surprisingly roasted in an oven on an almost exclusive basis. I can see why, since oven-roasting makes this dish dead-simple to make. I did add a smidge of liquid smoke to boost the roast’s flavor, but otherwise I kept the recipe true to what I found in most Puerto Rican cookbooks.

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Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to take my blog in a new direction by visiting and writing about food producers around the world, in order to better understand how the food we eat gets onto our plates. Off the bat, I knew that one of my first destinations needed to be where the whole “food” thing starts. At a farm.

Choosing a farm to visit was easy. Last summer I met David Maren, founding farmer and general manager of Tendergrass Farms, and we quickly became friends through our mutual love of languages and our mutual disdain for our country’s rampant, negligent farming practices. We’ve also been working together over this past year; he sends me samples of food to cook and eat, and I take pictures of that same food for his website. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties, hearkening back to humanity’s bartering days: he gets free photography and my family gets free food.

David’s small farm is located near Floyd, VA (about 4 hours from us), so we made the drive down a couple weekends ago to check out and talk about his company. Here is what I found out.

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Ham recipes have always been special to me; they tend to remind me of family gatherings. But recently, they have been especially special. For starters, my other ham recipe marks the first collaboration I did with my friends at US Wellness Meats, when I was their April 2012 Featured Chef. Last year, that same ham recipe was featured in People Magazine. That’s quite a lot of attention from one little cured pig leg!

The other day, US Wellness Meats asked me to try out another ham recipe, this time using a slow cooker. I jumped at the chance. This recipe is simple and not unlike my other recipe, but with the added convenience of simply throwing everything in a pot to cook in a savory broth. Better yet, this recipe works well in two ways: perfectly cooked to 140F and sliced, or slow-cooked to shreddable deliciousness. Instructions for both methods are provided below.

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Today’s recipe is a combination of two recent events in our house. First, I recently bought a remote grill thermometer, and I was itching to try it out. The thermometer has has two probes: one that goes in the meat and one to gauge the overall grill temperature. It’s an easy way to keep an eye on both the grill temp and your food without having to open the grill lid. Plus, it has a wireless receiver so I can keep an eye on the temperatures from afar, perfect for some wintertime grilling.

Second, we recently came across a beautiful French Rack of Pork at our local market, which is a shoulder pork loin still attached to the ribs; basically, it’s a rack of center cut pork chops. As luck would have it, the rack was on sale; my guess is that it intimidated customers and the store was having a hard time selling it. Either way, we couldn’t turn down the price, so I dragged the big hunk of meat home and the rest is history.

I decided to smoke the rack on my gas grill, which would allow me to give it a flavorful crust without overcooking the tender meat inside. Just to be safe, I brined the pork overnight to keep it from drying out, which was also a good call. The end result was crisp on the outside, and ridiculously juicy and flavorful on the inside.

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Jaegerschnitzel (Jägerschnitzel) is a traditional German dish, most commonly made with pork or veal cutlets (schnitzels) today. Historically, they were made with wild boar or venison (jäger means “hunter” in German) and paired with wild mushrooms. Today, its accompanying mushroom gravy is what separates Jaegerschnitzel from its more commonly-known (and gravy-less) counterpart, Wiener Schnitzel. Fun fact: it’s believed that Chicken Fried Steak originated from this dish, when German and Austrian immigrants brought it to Texas during the 1800s.

Making this dish within a Paleo template is easy, as it only requires a different type of flour. A combination of potato starch and arrowroot flour works best, but if you have only one flour on hand it still turns out pretty well. Tapioca starch can also be used in a pinch.

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Carne de Porco à Alentejana is a traditional recipe from Portugal, made from a combination of pork, wine, paprika, clams, and black olives, and typically served with roasted or fried potatoes. When a reader first suggested I tackle this dish, I was floored by the seemingly odd ingredients list; but much like Chicken Marbella, the offbeat ingredients mixed together perfectly to create a unique taste that’s more than the sum of its parts.

While the name might lead you to believe that this dish originated in the Alentejo region of Portugal, it’s actually from Algarve (the Southernmost point of the country). Legend has it that chefs in Algarve gave the dish this name to let diners know that the pork was from Alentejo-raised pigs, who were fed acorns and had a flavorful meat. At the time, pigs in Algarve were fed fish scraps from the burgeoning canning industry, and was not considered very tasty. Some argue that the addition of clams to the dish was a way of masking any “fishy” tasting pork.

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A reader recently tipped me off about the idea of pan-frying rice papers (bánh tráng) to make a quick snack. Not only was it a great idea, it served as a unique way of making a quick serving “dish”; in fact, they acted not unlike tostadas in that sense. So to keep with the theme of rice papers, I decided to make some deconstructed spring roll “tostadas” as a quick and easy meal.

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This past weekend I competed in a bacon cook-off fundraiser, entitled Baconpalooza, which was hosted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The contest was part of an entire weekend of events, which included a tour of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and nutrition talks and cooking demos by Robb Wolf and Jenny McGruther. My competition was very stiff during the cook-off, with many imaginative and delicious entries trying to woo the sold-out crowd of 250 voters.

I’m happy to say that I was the winner of the cook-off! I thought it would be neat to share the recipe of my winning dish so you can recreate it at home.

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