Oysters on the Half Shell at J’s Oyster in Portland Maine.
When you think of New England you think cold weather, cold water,
cold interesting people and fresh, delicious seafood. That’s why when I was recently in Portland ME, I naturally found myself at a mother shuckers paradise of bi-valve heaven: J’s Oyster. At J’s, simplicity is the rule. You want oysters? You get an icy plate with a dozen, shucked, a plastic ramekin of cocktail sauce, wedge of lemon and little teeny plastic fork. Simple. Easy. No mignonette or silverware picks or fancypants accouterments to get in your way of briny oyster goodness. Beers are cold, steamers are hot (and ridiculously good on a cold Maine day) and the prices are very reasonable for a creek-side fish shack. Next time your Down East and looking for some wicked good shellfish, give J’s a try.
Porchetta. Arguably, the most exalted, yet feared preparation of our tasty friend, the pig. Many home cooks have tried to prepare this delectable dish – which proffers decadent, herbaceous, slow-cooked meat wrapped with golden, fat-basted, teeth jarring, salty ‘cracklin’s’ – and most, most have failed. It’s not their fault. How many of us have a commercial sized oven capable of boxing a full size gutted pig all rolled up with herbs, garlic and oil, and sewn together? Not any apartment I’ve ever lived in. I guess if you had your own gigantic rotisserie on wheels, that might help, but sadly, they don’t sell those at IKEA. At least not yet.
So, brave home cook with a hankering for crispy, juicy, herby porchetta, what do you do? Well? You cheat. And by cheat, I mean go with what you can get your hands on and make the best of it. That is the quintessence of New Soul Food. Your grandmamma will be proud. (esp. if you don’t have to use her oven).
Our porchetta begins with a common, easy to find pork cut known as the shoulder (or Boston butt). We chose this cut because it has lots of fat (which equals flavor!) and it contains some dark and light meat, giving us some semblance of using a whole pig (if you squint real hard). We chose a nice, locally sourced 7lb, bone-in shoulder with the skin intact.
We actually removed some of the fat cap on this because we wanted a more aesthetically pleasing crust (read: our guest were scared of full on cracklin’s) but you can certainly leave it as-is. In the pic below, the fat we left is on the bottom.
The next task is de-bone the shoulder. This is actually harder than it looks because the angular shoulder bone zig-zags its way across the inside of the shoulder as you can see below.
To make the pistou (herb paste), we loaded our food processor with garlic, sea salt, cracked pepper, olive oil and some Simon and Garfunkel (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme). This is more eye-balling than recipe.
What you’re looking for is a slightly damp paste the consistency of dry ricotta cheese. Spread this on your butterflied shoulder and break out the kitchen string!
Obviously, I could stand to truss a few more things to get my chops back, but you get the picture. Pork should be wrapped, pistou on the inside. You’ll probably have green fingernails for a few days after this as well,
Preheat your over to 400 degrees F. Once the oven is up to temp, place the uncovered porchetta dish on the middle rack for 20 minutes. After that, reduce the over temp to 275 degrees F and tightly cover the baking dish with foil. Cook until the internal temperature reads 175-180 on a temperature probe (approx 1.5 hours). Remove the dish from the oven and let the porchetta sit for at least 10 minutes before carving. You can slice the porchetta into 1 inch rounds and serve right away with any sides of your choice. We had roasted broccolini with garlic and red chilis and cannelini beans, stewed with fatback and thyme.
The best part is that the leftovers are as good (or better) than the original. We had it seared with grits the next morning for breakfast (banner pic).
We’d like to take credit for this inspiration for this preparation – our porchetta loyalty runs deep – however, we got the idea from Chad Robertson, owner and Chef of Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco. If you love bread (like I do) I highly suggest his book Tartine Bread.
What do you with 3lbs of leftover pulled pork and a hangover the size of Sullivan’s Island? You make pork hash! And Bloody Mary’s. And an Emergen-C.
Pork Hash is the perfect
hangover leftover food. It’s salty and fatty and goes great with bacon and eggs. In fact, you can just cook it all in the same pan like I did. First fry 1lb of bacon. Eat 3 slices. Reserve the rest. Next, to make the hash, just add some poblano [or insert your favorite pepper here] pepper, onion and cooked potatoes to your cold pulled pork. Patty it up and fry in the bacon grease leftover in your cast iron skillet. Fry an egg, put it on top, garnish with bacon. Drink bloody mary. Eat your hash. Sleep all day. Done and done.