Say hello to a Berkshire pig, one of many heritage breeds people are seeking out for that old-fashioned fattiness and flavor that is typically missing from the average supermarket pork. In case you've been asleep for the last 35 years, pork has become a commodity product, raised literally cheek-by-jowl on huge, stinking factory farms and bred to be lean, lean, lean because of our misplaced abhorrence of fat (we should be more worried about the calories we consume in that chicken-pasta salad, people). I've mentioned Niman Ranch pork, sold at Whole Foods, at least a zillion times already. In the Washington, D.C. area, also check out Eco-Friendly Foods at http://www.ecofriendlyfoods.com/, or your local farmer's market. More and more local farmers are offering naturally-raised pork, beef, lamb, etc. (Suggested reading: The Ominivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan.)
If you do decide on Niman Ranch pork, you can throw your meat clerk for a loop by asking for the name and contact information of the farmer who raised it. This was suggested to me by the founder of the Niman Ranch pork cooperative and although I had to work my request up the chain of command at my local Whole Foods, and although it took the meat manager a few hours to track down the information, I indeed got an e-mail address for a farmer in Nebraska and I did send off a note. The return e-mail I received from the farmer and his family (complete with family photo) was so gracious and thankful, it almost brought a few of us to tears. So do try it.
And that brings us to today's mission: Step II of our three-day Provencale pork stew or daube, courtesy of Paula Wolfert in the February 2007 edition of Food & Wine.
If you've been following along, now would be the time to remove the bowl or pot of pork that has been marinating in the refrigerator since sometime yesterday. Today we're going to be browning the meat and putting the stew in the oven for the first of two cookings.
What I do at this point is place a large baking sheet on the kitchen counter and cover it with paper towels. Uncover the marinated pork. Most of the bright pink color will have changed to a dull tan. Use a pair of tongs to lift the pieces of pork out of the liquid. (Save the bouquet garni and the marinating liquid, but discard the spice bundle). Shake the liquid off the pork pieces and place them on the paper towels. Use more paper towels to blot the meat dry. You want them good and dry before you brown them. Now, season them aggressively with kosher salt and ground pepper. To proceed, you will need:
1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in a bowl of hot water until soft
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 ounces fresh pork skin with a thin layer of fat, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips (optional)
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
10 crushed juniper berries
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it starts to smoke. Reduce heat to medium-high. In batches, brown the pork pieces all over, then set on paper towels to drain. (This would be the point where my wife has a meltdown, pleading, "Do you have to cook like this? Can't you see you're getting grease all over everything?") Look extremely contrite and promise to clean up. Then return all of the pork to the pot and over moderate heat sprinkle meat with flour. Stir until flour is completely dissolved. Pour brandy over meat and use a long match or lighter to ignite the brandy. Shake the pot occasionally until the flames die out.
Remove the pork to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and, over moderate heat, add the onion and carrot. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally to incorporate the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot, until onion is soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Lift porcini mushrooms from the soaking liquid and chop roughly, reserving the liquid. Add mushrooms to pot and cook another 3 minutes, stirring.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
Remove pot from heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove onion, carrot and mushrooms. Reserve. If using pork skin, cover the bottom of the pot, fat-side down. Spoon 1/3 of the pork, 1/3 of the vegetable mixture, 1/3 of the garlic clove over the pork skin. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a few juniper berries. Repeat this layering process 2 more times, until all of the ingredients are used up. If not using pork skin, forget the layers: just mix the pork and other ingredients in the pot.
Pour the reserved marinating liquid and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid into the daube. Tuck the reserved bouquet garni into the meat. If necessary, add enough water to just barely cover the meat. Place a round of parchment paper over the meat. Over moderately high heat, bring the daube to a boil. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Remove pot from oven and allow to cool. Discard parchment paper and bouquet garni. Refrigerate daube in its pot overnight.
Tomorrow, we remove the fat from our daube, add sauteed mushrooms and cook one more time...Are you hungry yet?