Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Pig in Autumn - Part 1

Hello again,

It's that most wonderful time of the year: Fall! Now's the time when our ursine side takes over and we start padding our midriffs with richer fare in preparation for that long hibernation period which is coming up in a couple of months. Well, at least it's hibernatory for those folks who choose not to have fun in the snow... Wimps.

All kidding aside, Fall cooking has got to me some of my favourite. No longer do I need to concern myself about the restrictions of heat and heaviness that makes eating rich food in the Summer time about as pleasant as punching yourself in the gut. It's also somehow a bit more acceptable to use the oven instead of the BBQ (not like the weather is that cold, but there's something pretty comforting in having the oven on for a few hours, warming up your home), while in Summer it's somehow blasphemous to NOT grill your food.

In Summer, for me, it's all about smoked pork, whether it's Ribs, Pulled Pork or Bacon, whatever... all of these have been important culinary undertakings for the past 3 months (including making enough pulled pork to feed a festival, sort of...). But now that I'm far less inclined to step outside (it's been raining A LOT this month), I'm looking for different ways to make use of pork and different ways to cook it, specifically indoors. So this and the next post will look at fun ways to make porky good times without having to step outside.

One way that Kari's been egging me to re-familiarize myself with is the slow cooker. A slow cooker is basically an electric element that heats a large ceramic container in which you put food and let it cook for several hours. The idea is that a) it is less time consuming because you just prep everything in one go, throw it in the cooker before heading to work and it's ready at dinnertime, and b) it allows tough cuts of meat to break down and become super-tender over the 'low and slow' period of several hours without having to keep a fire going.

So, I happened to have a hunk of heritage Berkshire pork shoulder sitting in the freezer (an impulse buy from the Farmer's Market) and I figured, even if it was the most expensive cut of pig I ever bought, it should go in the slow cooker and become something delicious. I was thinking something between a pulled pork and a stew, with a lot of wine and flavours that comfort the soul in cold weather (even though we were still in double digit weather at the time). Maybe I was jumping the gun, considering it was still technically Summer, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have a preview sampling of winter flavours.

And here's what I made!

Slow-cooker Wine-Braised Pork Shoulder

Serve LOTS!

- 4-5 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2-3 celery ribs, chopped
- 2-3 carrots, chopped
- 2 potatoes, diced
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tsp. thyme (dried or fresh)
- 1 tsp. rosemary (dried or fresh)
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
- pinch of cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste

- Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Skim layer of fat from slow cooker every 2 hours or so.
- Serve in a bowl with crusty bread.

My slow cooker: soon to become one of my best friends!
As time went on, the pork broke down beautifully into strings of tasty goodness. See for yourselves:

After 8 hours or so...

 The flavours came together into a stew reminiscent of Boeuf Bourguignon, which was the comforting, warming profile I was hoping for. Cook anything in enough wine and it'll be comforting! Served with a hunk of sourdough baguette and a cold beer, it was pretty much a slice of domestic heaven!

Not so much on the "light" side, but tasty and comforting as all get out!

Another serving application is to cook up some old-fashioned egg noodles (y'know, back before it was all called 'pasta') and serve the stew/ragu over top.

So, we've already got one way of cooking up pork that doesn't involve the smoker or grill. Next we'll look at our friend the oven, using both the stovetop (stew) and the oven itself (RIBS!).

'Til then, oink oink!

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