Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cooking Without Cookware: It’s In the Bag

Linda C. (full name not given to protect the semi-senile) has lost this recipe again. Her solution was to email me (the nearly fully senile) and ask that I send it to her a third time. I couldn't even remember ever publishing such a recipe. But the meal is a memory as clear as the sound of a bell. (But, of course I am nearly deaf.)

If you’ve never made a turkey in one of those translucent Reynold’s Oven Bags you don’t know the pleasure of a basting-free Thanksgiving. You get less drudgery, plenty of crispy skin, and very little risk of the turkey drying out. I’ve cooked my turkey this way twice now, and both times it was delicious and even moister than with my basting-every-15-minutes method.

Now I’ve applied the same basic method to cooking pig, and was it ever good!.This recipe for pork shoulder may seem like a lot of work because it has a lot of steps, but look more closely and you’ll see that it will only take you 10 minutes, three times, followed by several hours in the oven completely unattended. Then all you need to do is cut it up and chow down.

What we’re doing in this recipe is getting the maximum amount of flavor into and out of a very cheap cut of meat. We’re brining it and then dry marinating it (think of it as aroma therapy), and then essentially braising it with the same aromatics that it chilled with overnight. The result is a large, very tender, very juicy piece of meat with crispy edges that give it a little bit of crunch in places, plus lots of delicious stewed carrots and light gravy. I served it with boiled potatoes browned in duck fat. I assure you nobody would have complained if I had browned them in butter instead.

Unless you have 16 at table you’ll have plenty of leftovers. Lucky you! Fry some of the leftover meat (no fat need be added) and top it with Curtido, a tangy Salvadoran cabbage salad. I first had this slaw in a little hole of a restaurant, served over crisp fried yuca and “oven-fried carnitas,” of which my pork-in-a-bag could be called a variant. Served this way, the leftovers are almost better than the original dish.

Pork Shoulder Braised in a Bag with Carrots

8-10 pound pork shoulder, bone in
generous ⅓ cup salt
2 quarts water
1 bunch thyme
1 head garlic, peeled and crushed
1 extra-large Reynold’s Oven Bag
2 tablespoons flour
8 carrots, peeled and diced or cut in chunks
1 leek, washed and sliced, white part only
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup white wine

1. In the morning the day before serving, trim the skin off the pork shoulder but leave on some of the fat. Dissolve the salt in the water in a large glass or food-grade plastic container. Add the pork shoulder. Refrigerate until the evening.
2. Discard the water. Dry off the pork and place in a glass dish with thyme and crushed garlic under and over the meat. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until four hours before dinner.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
4. Put the flour into the bag and shake well. Add the remaining ingredients and then the pork, fat side up, with the thyme and garlic. Seal the bag according to package instructions and cut 6 small slits in the bag.
5. Roast in the bag for 3¾ hours.
6. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Carefully open the bag, slice the meat, and serve.

(Salvadoran Cabbage Salad)

boiling water
½ head cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, grated
½ onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons grated red bell pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
red pepper flakes , to taste

1. Pour the boiling water over the cabbage and carrot. Drain immediately.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.