March 2, 2011
Have you heard the saying that “The most simple solution is usually the best?” Well, the same applies to cooking. I enjoy watching the food channels from time to time, but when you get these Iron Chef guys who have all these outlandish ingredients nobody’s ever heard of, and they need a large team of assistant chefs and a roomful of specialized equipment to create their signature dishes with foreign-sounding names, it can make cooking look rather intimidating. I have found that the recipes I keep coming back to time and again have a very, very short list of ingredients and steps. Once the list starts topping five or six, I start to sweat a little bit. If it hits ten or more, unless it’s all spices I can find in my cupboard that I can dump into a bowl, I skip it entirely. Who needs the stress and the lengthy shopping list?
Besides, I’m not sure that making things more complicated actually makes them taste any better. I already told you about my love for the sheer simplicity that is creme brulee. Vanilla ice cream is really almost the exact same thing, except frozen instead of cooked. So here I have a couple of recipes to share with you today that are the height of simplicity. Very little preparation time, short ingredient list. When you’re leading a busy life, that’s the way to go.
This basic Hawaiian shredded pork recipe is versatile and delicious. You can put it on a roll with some BBQ sauce, throw it in a salad with some beans and red onions, add it to your favorite chow mein recipe, or just eat it all by its juicy self.
1 pork picnic roast (*see note below)
Sea salt, if you have it, if not, regular salt will do
Liquid Smoke, hickory flavor(**see note)
1. Trim the rind off the top of the roast with a very sharp knife, leaving a small amount of fat. Rinse roast in water and pat dry with paper towels. With your very sharp knife, score the surface of the roast in criss-cross lines (i.e. cut very shallowly, 1/8-1/4 of an inch deep). This allows the flavoring to seep into the middle of the meat.
2. Sprinkle a very generous amount of salt all over the roast and rub it into the flesh as well as you can. Pour the liquid smoke over the entire roast and also rub it in well. Put roast in a large plastic zipper bag and let it marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour, up to 24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 450F. Remove roast from bag and place in a large roasting pan. Cook under this high heat for maybe 45 minutes to get a nice brown sear on the roast. Then turn the heat down to 325F and continue cooking for another
3 to 3 1/2 hours. Because you left that nice little bit of fat on the roast, it will self-baste itself as it melts, making the meat deliciously moist and flavorful.
4. When your cooking time is up (you may want to use a meat thermometer, but I never do), remove the roast from the oven and cover it with a large piece of tin foil, folded in half. Let the roast rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting to let the juices solidify a little bit. Otherwise, when you cut into the meat, all the tasty juices will come running out onto your cutting board instead of staying in the meat where you want them. When the meat is done resting, cut it off of the bone in small chunks. It should be very tender and easy to remove. If desired, take two forks and pull apart the smaller sections of meat to shred it for sandwiches and salads. Yum, yum, yum!
*If you are confused about meat cuts, join the club. It’s worth doing a little research to figure out which cut is right for the dish you have in mind. The main thing to know in this case is that you want to look for a “shoulder roast”. This means the meat that comes from the top part of the pig’s hind leg (the next time you look at a pig, notice how much chunkier their back legs are compared to their front legs–that’s where the good meat is!). The shoulder is generally divided up into two kinds of roasts–the butt roast (snicker, snicker) and the picnic roast. The butt roast is usually bigger, about 6-8 lbs, while the picnic roast is generally smaller (5-6 lbs) and usually is left with the rind (the skin) intact. Both cuts will work well for a shredded pork recipe, but the picnic is generally preferred because of the additional fat provided by the rind.
** Liquid Smoke is an awesome condiment that you can usually find near the BBQ sauce or flavored marinades section. It is basically what it says it is–wood-smoked flavor without the wood or the smoke. I’ve seen it come in both mesquite and hickory, but the bottle says there might be even more flavors out there somewhere. This stuff is great in marinades, soups and sauces. I highly recommend keeping a bottle on hand.
Simple Tuna Salad
I got the main idea for this salad from a cookbook by Giada de Laurentiis. It is perfect for a one or two person light lunch. Make sure you look for the “special” tuna—the kind that comes marinated in OLIVE oil, not soybean or vegetable oil. It will say olive oil specifically. Sometimes it has additional seasoning, such as lemon and dill, included. They all work with this recipe! It is very flexible. I have included the ingredients I usually throw in, but I have mixed and matched different stuff, depending on what I have on hand. Try different cheeses as well. I like feta best, but you can also use parmesan or mozzarella! I also don’t have exact measurements for this salad because, well, I don’t measure salads! Just put in as much as you want!
Chopped romaine lettuce, or your favorite kind of greens. (I usually chop up a whole head or two of lettuce and keep it in a large container in the fridge. Then I can just grab a handful or two out of it for lunch, or stick it on the table with dinner for a quick side salad)
Red Onions, sliced very thinly
Carrots, cut up however you like them
Cucumbers, also cut up
Your favorite kind of tomatoes (my suggestion–grape tomatoes–they’re my favorite!)
Crumbled feta cheese
White northern beans (I usually cook up a half bag at a time and keep them in the fridge, but you can also use canned)
One small can of tuna, packed in olive oil
Red wine vinegar
1. Put all the veggies on your plate.
2. Sprinkle with cheese.
3. Dump the tuna, undrained, onto the top. (Make sure you don’t drain it because you want to use all that tasty olive oil as part of your dressing). If it’s a little too dry for your taste on its own, mix some mayonnaise into the tuna before adding it to the salad.
4. Sprinkle with red vinegar to taste.
5. Toss well. Salt and pepper to taste.
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