Sunday, January 6, 2013

Warming winter spices! Recipes for pork belly and lamb shanks.

Happy Epiphany!

Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, or Dia de Los Reyes, is the twelfth day of Christmas. It is the day that, according to the story, the three wise men arrived and brought gifts to the baby Jesus. People of Orthodox Christian faiths give gifts on this day.

In my family, it marks the end of the holiday season. It's time to take down decorations, clean the house, and gear up to get back to regular old winter.

Earnest and I have been cleaning and organizing a lot the last few days, and the place is really shaping up! We're rearranging storage and figuring out where we can make more space. We're also finding all sorts of lost things! (Amos, your yo-yo is in the bookcase.)

It is traditional to eat foods with warming spices on this day. Remember a few days ago, when I made a dry rub for a piece of pork belly? The dry rub was made with sea salt, fennel seed, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, a pinch of clove, and black pepper, all finely ground. I wrapped it up tightly and cured it in the fridge for three days. Yesterday, I rinsed off most of the rub and braised it in the oven with some beef stock. (Soon, I'll tell you how easy it is to make your own broths and stocks!)

I braised it, covered, at 250 for about 5 hours, until very tender. You can go up to 300 for 3 hours, or down to 200 for 7 hours. It's all good - just cook it slowly and gently. I let it cool, then refrigerated overnight. Tonight, I scraped away the fat that had risen to the surface. If your pork is local or organic, you can use it to cook veggies. Otherwise, you can discard the fat. Don't throw away the lovely seasoned braising liquid, though! Heat that up and drink it! It will probably be all gelatinized in the fridge, but will melt into a nourishing, collagen-rich brew when you heat it up.

Anyway, tonight, I sliced off just a couple of pieces and baked them until brown and crispy. It's rich, so you don't want to eat a lot at once. At the same time, I tossed a whole big head of broccoli with just a little olive oil and sea salt and roasted it on another sheet pan in the oven.

Here is the result, after I couldn't resist eating half the broccoli:
This made a delicious side with some salad, and spaghetti squash scrambled up with egg!

For tomorrow, I have another warmly spiced dish going in the slow cooker. I chopped a whole bunch of carrots into bite-sized chunks, added some cinnamon, cumin, oregano, Aleppo peppers, both plain and smoky paprika, a pinch of allspice, the last of this batch of beef stock, some chicken stock from the freezer, a jar of tomato paste, a little sea salt, a bay leaf, and a little water, and stirred them all together in the bowl of the slow cooker.  I tasted it to make sure I liked the balance of flavors, knowing that the spices would become more intense during cooking.

I added some lamb osso bucco (the lower part of the shank - often a veal cut, but I prefer to use pasture-raised lamb) and set it to cook on low overnight. For deepest flavor, brown the lamb on all sides before adding to the cooker, and if you tolerate onions, sautee some onions in the same pan after the lamb. Deglaze with water, stock, or wine (if you're not doing Whole30) and scrape all that good stuff into the crockpot. If you don't have time to brown the meat first, I won't tell anyone! It will still be great! But browning the meat does add a depth of flavor that you can't get any other way.

If you don't tolerate onions, skip them. If you do tolerate garlic, add some finely minced into the cooker. If not, skip it. If you don't tolerate tomato, skip it. If you don't tolerate peppers, skip the paprika and Aleppo and use a different spice you do tolerate. Ginger and turmeric would be nice here - perhaps a curry blend that you like. Be creative! It's totally okay to be inspired by someone's recipe and make it completely differently. Want to use goat instead of lamb? Go ahead! Prefer turkey? That would be delicious, too. Want to make a rich vegetable stew with just a whole lot of nourishing root vegetables and squashes? Yum!

In the morning, I will skim the fat. Then I'll serve the lamb and braising liquid and veggies topped with fresh minced parsley. I'll probably make some cauliflower "rice" to serve with it, and sautee up some bok choy.

Have a lovely night, and I'll see you all soon!

Chef Mary

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