Monday, September 13, 2010

Memory & food, and Spaghetti Bolognese

It's that classic thing, the mix of food and memory. All it takes is a single taste and you can thrown back in time. Maybe it's a childhood memory, maybe it's the table and kitchen of an ex-lover. But food has an incredible power - it engages all the senses, so is a remarkable trigger for memory.

What's more, a certain dish can itself become a kind of history, combining a whole range of memories of people and places. When this happens, you're experiencing one of the most magical things that food can do.

It's the same for me, but the dish in question is arguably pretty bog-standard, so to speak. Regardless, it's power to take me back to the my earliest memories, and remind me of some of my most missed friends is amazing. And it doesn't hurt that it's a hearty feel good dish.

Spaghetti Bolognese
It's a classic, beloved of parents everywhere for how easy it is to prepare, and how filling it is. I'm sure most of my friends' parents were not unlike my mum in this regard - she had her own version of the dish that evolved from a Women's Weekly recipe to a standard dish that she could cook simply and easily after coming home from work to a hungry kid like me.

I loved any bolognese night. A good portion of the cooking when I grew up was handled by my Nan, and unsurprisingly (she lived through The Depression and a World War) her cooking was... frugal. Meat and three veg was the order of the day.

I don't want to sound like I look down on that, though - she was a remarkable woman. But I think the difference between that utilitarian style of cooking, which was more about feeding than enjoying, and the rich flavours of my mum's bolognese, is what first lit the foodie fire.

Bolognese was also the first dish I ever cooked by myself, like some kind of actual grown-up. Subsequently, it was a dish I would cook whenever I got the chance, so it also started to build up a flavour of independence, on top of that sweetness of memory.

Of course, my idea of the dish was blown out of the water... hell, blown out of the entire lake... when my good friend Helen cooked the dish for me.

This was many years ago now. I was still living at home, but would spend many nights around it Helen's house. Her brother had been a good friend, but Helen became just as important to me after he moved out, and I remained in the neighbourhood. She was of good Breton stock, from Normandy, and she (and her father) kept a killer table.

Man, if you could have her baby octopus... she has the unique status of being the only person who could ever cook an octopus dish that I liked. And her rabbit? Wow.

Unsurprisingly, her bolognese made mine cry. It picked on it, stole its lunch money, and generally made its life miserable. It was a full, proper, rendition of the sauce.

Now I'm going to sound like I'm dissing my mum's version - nothing could be further from the truth. Which is, that she, like me, like my Nan too, couldn't really help her upbringing. Which, to follow that line further, was not the best for a full and proper understanding of food. Mum's bolognese was informed by the spirit of convenience that summed up her own upbringing - it was a more imaginative take on it, but still shackled to that post-war austerity that seemed to infect the greater suburban mass of Australia well into the last century.

I mean... it didn't even have herbs.

Suffice to say that my time in Helen's kitchen opened my eyes to serious, European cooking. And hangovers, but that's neither here nor there. But, watch as I might as she mixed up thick, tomatoey magic, I could never replicate her efforts. My own bolognese sat, then, on the shelf of my mind.

Until a few years ago, that is. Of the many great things about my current relationship (See 'things, many (also great)) is the way it's pushed me to really become a better cook. I was pretty happy with my simple skills before then, but since we're both fond of good food, and I get an almost perverse sense of pleasure from presenting my partner with great food, the last almost a decade has been a real cooking renaissance. It certainly pushed me to rediscover the humble bolognese sauce.

The interesting thing about that initial effort, about three years and two houses ago now, was that it really wasn't too different from the recipe I used way back when inspired by Helen. But what was different was my knowledge of how to apply it, how to prep the food, and how to then cook it.

And it was great.

So, after all this faffing on, you're probably ready for how to make this, right? Right.

500gm lamb mince
500gm veal mince
two brown onions
stick of celery
Garlic clove
tin of champignon mushrooms
two tins of diced tomato
tomato paste
chicken stock
two bay leaves
salt & pepper
olive oil

Bolognese ingredients

And yes, this makes about six hungry people's worth of sauce - fiddle the ingredients down if you want to make less, or simply store in the freezer.

Anyhoo... first up, finely chop the onion, garlic and celery and saute in a heavy bottomed pot. Do your best not to let it burn - you want it all starting to turn clear, then dump in the mince.

Mix this up with a sturdy wooden spoon, breaking the mince down into mincey goodness. It's good muscle-building work. Keep stirring and breaking up the mince as it browns; once browned through and starting to properly cook, add a cup of chicken stock, herbs, mushrooms (the champignons always make me think of Helen) and salt & pepper. Let this bubble up to a boil, reduce the heat, and let reduce.

Once you're back to a more or less meaty mix in the pot, add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and the bay leaves. A pinch of sugar doesn't hurt at this stage either, but that's entirely optional. Again, bring the mix up to a boil, then reduce heat, cover the pot, and let simmer away. It's a pretty liquid sauce at this point, so you want to reduce it down again.

Bubble, bubble etc

Reduced sauce
After. With a mess of steam.

What you should end up with is a lovely red, meaty sauce. As you let the sauce cool, boil a pot of salted water for the pasta. I like it just al dente, with just a hint of crunch still there, but that's just my taste.

To plate, I think coiled pasta with a dob of sauce looks best, but you can just as easily mix the pasta through the sauce before serving. Add parmesan, pour yourself a glass of red, and enjoy.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Monday, August 30, 2010

Super fresh seafood goodness

Our latest batch of market freshness arrived over the weekend, and it was a real seafood special. On top of a pretty excellent veg selection and a tonne of blood oranges, it included fresh whole snapper and about well over two dozen mussels.

Our mussels disappeared in a frenzy on Saturday night, and then we had the fish and more mussels (courtesy of some Feedbag friends who felt compelled to share, bless 'em) again on Sunday night.

It was a big seafood weekend!

Mussels in white wine and tomato
I've never cooked mussels before. To be honest, I really don't care for them that much - I tend to find them a bit too seafoody, and often rather too chewy. But these mussels were sublime. I've never seen fresher, and these were a true pleasure to prepare and cook with. When it comes to seafood, you really want the freshest you can get.

Two dozen mussels
Brown onion
Garlic clove
Two tomatoes
Continental parsley
Two bay leaves
Sea salt
Olive oil
White wine

Ingredients o' the sea!

You'll also want some fresh crusty bread for this one - trust me.

First order of the day - get your water on to boil. This dish requires tight timing and you'll want to let the pasta be nearly done before you get the mussels going. While waiting for the water to boil, though, you'll need to get to cleaning them, though.

Scrubbed, clean and ready to cook
Mussels, pre-cleaning.

We were lucky - our mussels were mostly beardless and not to encrusted, but your mileage may vary. Debearding is simply a matter of taking the hair-like fringe some mussels have tearing it off; removing any barnacle-type beasties requires a bit more scrubbing. Be careful during the cleaning - mussel shells have been used by coastal peoples as cutting and scraping tools since the dawn of cutting and scraping, and you can easily discover just why when you're scrubbing them clean.

And this learning will sting like a motherfucker. At this stage you also want to get rid of any mussels with broken shells, and any dead, open ones. Do check the deadness, though - rap the shell against a hard surface (without breaking it!) and see if the shell closes. If it does, the tasty mollusc is still good. If it stays open, bin it.

At the end of the process, you should have a bowl of shiny, clean soon-to-be-noms.

Your water should be well and truly boiling, now, so add about a third of a pack of spaghetti. Finely chop the onion, garlic and parsley, and heat up some oil in a large heavy bottomed pot. With the oil hot, melt some butter in it, and add the chopped ingredients and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, and add roughly chopped tomatos, bay leaves, and bacon.

Timed right, as the tomato is just starting to soften, your pasta should be just about ready. At this point, toss the mussels into the pot, and splash in the wine - about a glass or two, depending on how boozy you like your food. Put a lid on the pot, check the pasta, and - if ready - drain it.

Now, peer at the pot. You are, effectively, waiting for the literal watched heating device to boil. When you get that first gout of steam from around the lid you want to wait maybe a minute or so - what you're doing is steaming the mussels, and being tiny delicate little things it won't take long to cook them. Take the lid off, and if they're ready to go, they'll have all opened up invitingly.

Open sesame!

Toss the pasta into the pot and stir through, then plate up as you wish. Butter some fresh crusty bread, top up your wine (we had a lovely pinot grigio), and get ready to slurp and make a mighty mess.

Mussels in white wine

Like I said - I'm not usually a fan of mussels. However, after these mussels... all bets are off. These were practically falling out of the shell during serving, and were not at all rubbery; instead of being overpoweringly seafoody in flavour, were simply rich and full of freshness. And for all that it's a little tricky in the timing department, and takes a bit of time when it comes to the cleaning, it's another quick meal - a real good one to do for a crowd, too.

And boy, oh boy, is that sauce tasty - you will go through a whole loaf or baguette, and you will stand greedily over the pot sopping up all the juices you can...

Bready noms

... and you'll be happy. In your mouth.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's odd that it's nearly three months months into this blog and have only written up one pasta dish - and a non-typical one at that!

My pasta habit, however, isn't what it it used to be. Time was, practically every second meal I cooked was pasta (and there was even a time where it alternated between pasta and risotto... ), but these days, especially with the excellent driver that is our Feedbag allocation, I cook much more widely.

But if there's anything in my repertoire that I would have to call a 'signature dish', it's pasta with any kind of red sauce. In particular, my evolution of Puttanesca.

Penna alla Puttanesca
Technically, this is not, in fact, a Puttanesca. Also known as Whore's Pasta for wholly historical and rather practical reasons, my version swaps out a few key ingredients based on the taste-buds of various flatmates. A proper Puttanesca features generous amounts of anchovies, and even capers. I omit the capers and add tuna instead of the furry fish.

And yeah, if you're thinking this is a backwards step out of flavour country, you're right. But anchovy isn't for everyone, and if you nail the other flavours you still get a good dish. I do make a proper Puttanesca when I can, however. Hmm... salty...

Tin of tomato
One onion
Two cloves of garlic
Tomato paste
Tin of chilli tuna
Sea Salt
Cracked pepper
Olive oil
Penne pasta
Parmesan to taste

Ingredients, plus my new favourite knife.

Couple of things to note. Take out the olives, tuna, and chilli and you've got an excellent base for a red sauce - in fact, ignore them completely in this recipe, or substitute for something else (like chorizo or mushrooms or... whatever) and that's what you'll get whatever kind of red sauce you want.

Secondly, the tuna. There's nothing wrong with good tinned food, and it can be a Gods-send to always have a couple of packs of pasta, tins of tomato and tuna in the cupboard. Of course, there's a mess of brands to choose from, but I find you can't go wrong with La Gina tomatoes(crushed, preferably) and Sirena tuna with chilli in oil. Saying it's arguably the best tuna in a can may not sound like much, but this is really good stuff, and going with the chilli variety makes this meal even simpler to cook, and provides two lovely chillis and a measure of oil suffused with that great flavour.

Chilli, oil, fish. Nom.

So let's get cooking.

First up, get a pot of salted water boiling for the pasta, and then slice up the garlic and onions. Add goodly splash of oil (I like oily pastas) to a pan and sauté until turning clear. Pop the tin of tuna, fish out the two chillis, and chop these up - add to the pan. Also add in some basil now - in this instance, I've used a jar of dried stuff.

Take a handful of the olives and either chop or add whole at this point. I prefer juicy kalamata olives (and, if you're interested, my favourite brand is Sandhurst), but this dish works just as well with green olives. Saute a touch longer, then drain most of the oil off the tuna, and flake out of the tin with a fork.


Saute a little bit more, and it's time to make this sauce start working. Add the tomatoes - take the tin, and half fill with water, adding it too. You can if you want substitute a measure of red wine if you want a punchy, boozy sauce - and there's nothing wrong with that! Add about a desert spoon of paste, stir it all up, bring to boil, and then let simmer away until the pasta's ready, and the sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. Add a bit more basil to the mix (adding herbs at different stages of cooking means you get that deeper flavour through all the ingredients, I find, while still keeping that fresher, stronger flavour hit).

Finally, drain off the pasta when ready, stir the sauce through, nom it all up.

Penna alla Puttanesca (kinda)

This is flavour country right here, even with the most basic, "I have nothing fresh and must eat!" version of the dish. And if you think it's good as is - and it is - with a little planning this can be a real winner. Get good fresh olives from the local deli; use fresh chopped basil, lovely and green and fragrant. Use the good olive oil you save for special occasions.

Or, assuming you've got anchovy-friendly people around, make the real thing. With some fresh crusty bread, oil for dipping, and a bright combat Shiraz, this is about the best way to spend an evening with friends.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Not dead yet, plus loving pork

I do kind of wish I was, though.

Dead, that is, not pork. We'll get to pork later, but for now, I'm stupidly, fiendishly busy. In fact, I've nabbed this time only because I'm waiting for a flight overseas (to Germany, where there will be beer - and sausage!). So yeah, dead - because I figure at least then I could fit in some time to write a bit more.

I've got a backlog of something like... a lot of meals to write up. But life's kind of kicking my arse at the moment, so things are going to be a little slow.

That said...

Two tasty things with pork mince
I'm enjoying bit of a pork renaissance* at the moment. After the last pork dish, I've really been hankering for that typically full and salty flavour, while at the same time wanting meals which are a) easy to cook, but b) still tasty and exciting enough to be worthwhile.

Combine simple Asian flavours with pork and you get exactly that.

First up, we have a very simple Pork and Green Bean stirfry, and then a special bonus round!

Two handfuls fresh green beans
Handful of pork mince

Stirfry ingredients

Dead simple, and as you'll find out, dead tasty.

First up, get the rice going in the rice cooker, and then heat up some vegetable oil in a pan. Saute, while stirring frequently, the pork mince. It may not seem like much mince, but it's not really the bulk of the dish - that's the beans. When the mince starts to cook, pour on a couple of tablespoons and soy, add in the garlic, ginger and shallots, and reduce while keeping on stirring.

When it's starting to cook down, throw on the beans.

Lovely simmering mince and crunchy beans

Stir through and just let sit simmering as the liquid reduces. You're kind of steaming the beans more than frying them - you want them to still have crunch, but to also pick up the flavours of soy and ginger.

You'll note I'm using a flat-bottomed pan, but this would really be best done in a wok. The pan works, though, so don't be worried if you don't have the right bits.

So with everything all nice and reduced, you should end up with a nicely sticky, almost caramelised sauce on the beans, and lovely, tasty bits of mince to add bite and flavour. Serve up the rice, toss the pork and beans on, and you're in happy town.

Pork and green beans stirfry

Soy and pork is a lovely combination, a double threat of salty goodness. And with all those beans and plain white rice, it's a pretty healthy meal too, for all that tastes quite serious. Even better, it's a fast cook - the stirfry takes about ten minutes tops. If you want a bit of bite, just add some sliced chilli.

Of course, the issue with using such a small amount of mince is you have most of a packet left over. Simple: get a nice fresh head of lettuce, some bean sprouts, onion and more shallots. Ideally some water chestnut too, but we didn't have any and things worked out fine.

Prepare the mince in much the same way, but add in a less soy, along with some oyster sauce. Add onions, water chestnut, and finally the bean sprouts (which should still have some crunch to them when done), and saute away.

Wash the lettuce, and slice the bottom off, then carefully peel away individual leaves. Place a pile of leaves in a bowl, put the mince mix in a bowl, and put on a bib.

Sang choy bow - which you've just made - is a messy but delicious dish. The crunchy lettuce makes a great partner to the pork, all clean and fresh and salty and rich all at once, with that great crunchy mouthfeel as well.

And, again, it's really easy to make - and technically, you don't even need plates to eat it off! The ultimate in convenience food.

One packet of mince and a handful ingredients - two quick and easy meals.

* You, in back - no sniggering at my pork renaissance!

Monday, July 26, 2010

One pot cooking, good prep, plus hearty (vaguely Greek) beef casserole

One pot, slow cooking methods are an odd mixture of convenience and time-commitment. It's not the kind of thing you can really do in a hurry, obviously, and once you start cooking you're kind of stuck with dinner plans from about three in the afternoon.

As someone who has been known to decide on a dish to cook only about half-way through cooking it, it's a very different way of looking at food.

But, on the other hand - the whole one pot thing. Small inner city kitchens do not lend themselves to extravagant meals that require a stock to be bubbling, sides cooking, mains in the oven, and another two or three stations of prep. Oh for one of those Hollywood room-sized kitchens with a chopping island the size of a... well, island.

A lot of the one-pot cooking I do tends to be on the faster side - chop vegetables, throw into large pot with oil or goose fat, saute for a metric bit, then cover with stock and simmer for an hour. But just a little more time spent on prep, ingredients and cooking time can deliver a fantastic dish.

Beef casserole
As usual, our Feedbag delivery came through with some great stuff, including a chunk of sirloin roughly the size of my girlfriend's head. It was a lovely, marbled piece of meat. There was also the usual selection of market fresh veg, and the Feedbag run before, which my girlfriend went on (note, girlfriends are tetchy that time of a morning), we scored a huge bag of 'souvlaki mix'.

We've had this stuff before, and it's an awesome pre-mixed herb and spice powder. The only thing - no one's quite sure exactly what's in there. Undoubtedly there's salt and oregano, and some debate over pepper, lemon or lemon pepper. I think there's more to it, though - the flavour is a touch more complex. Maybe some thyme, or onion powder, it's hard to tell. Regardless, it's extremely tasty, so it seemed the perfect compliment to the beef.

Chunk of sirloin
green beans
tinned tomato
bacon bones
chicken stock
goose fat

Beef stewing bits

In terms of directions, it doesn't get simpler. There is, however, one complication to be mindful of - the state of your meat.

If you've ever wondered why beef dishes can be so tender and wonderful in a restaurant, but so chewy and disappointing at home... it's all in the prepping of the meat. More specifically, it's in the removal of connective tissue.

Not all connective tissue, however. Good connective tissue, the stuff that surrounds each muscle fibre, is made from collagen. Collagen breaks down with slow heat, and adds that silky fattiness that makes a real gourmand water at the mouth and go weak at the knees. The bad stuff, though, is made from elastin, and this doesn't break down. In fact, it gets tough and will actually curl and warp the meat as it cooks.

So how do you tell the bad stuff?

Well, it's usually the very obvious silver membrane running through a cut of meat. This is the stuff that connects two different muscle groups - it has to be tough stuff, to stop muscles from separating. Good for walking around without tearing yourself limb from limb, bad for cooking. Thankfully, it only takes a bit of effort to remove, and when you get really good at it, you won't waste a bit of meat.

I'm... not that good at it yet. You need a really sharp knife, too, but the trick is to part the two layers of meat gently apart as you stroke the edge of the blade along the grain of the meat. If you've a cut of meat with the membrane running through the center, you'll need to trim twice - once to halve the meat into a good bit and a membraned bit, and then trim again to remove the membrane altogether. Yes, there will be a bit of wastage, but practice will make perfect.

More importantly, a bit of wastage is worth it for the end result. So, with the dreaded silver membrane removed, what do you do for this stew?

Simple. Cube your sirloin into good sized chunks, and lay flat on a tray or pan. Sprinkly with your souvlaki mix - or whatever herb-spice combo you want, really - pat the mix into the meat, then turn the pieces. Repeat - spices, pat etc - and then let sit while you get chopping the veg. Chop roughly and not too small, otherwise you'll end up with beef in vegetable soup. Do chop the bacon bones carefully, though - relatively small, and be careful to avoid too much bone.

With everything chopped up, get a tablespoon or so of goose fat melted in a heavy bottomed pot, and brown the beef. And since we're being all educational, no, you don't sear or brown meat to "seal in the juices" - cooking meat actually cooks the juices off! The reason you do brown is to caramelise the beef, adding an important flavour element.

Once all the beef is nicely browned (it should be rare at this stage, and you'll need to make sure by popping a piece into your mouth - you like rare beef, right?) take the pot off the heat, and add everything else. You don't want to cover the ingredients with the stock, but add just enough liquid that you can see it just below the uppermost layer of ingredients. Give it all a mix, then bung in an oven pre-heated to about 170 degrees.

Cooking for a few hours. Stab a carrot to test if it's ready. If not, up the temperature and cook for a bit longer. Once it's ready, plate in a bowl by itself, or add to a plate of boiled white rice, or even a nice creamy mash if you're really feeling like a lot of potato.

Beef stew

Okay, not my best photo. But man, it was a very good bottle of wine.

My hazy focus aside, this is serious business. This is cooking at not only its simplest and most basic, but also illustrative of the simple tricks you can use to really lift a dish. Cooking something like this in goose fat delivers a triple-threat of culinary oomph: it's flavoursome, silky from the goose fat, and silkier again from the broken down fat in the beef.

It's like eating... something really expensive and melted.

But the real star, the Jewel in the Silky Crown, is that beef. Tender. Fall apart on your fork. Melt in your mouth.

Happy. In your pants.

And that's the whole point of taking the time to properly trim your meat. That investment pays fucking dividend's when it's on the plate in front of you or your guests. Especially your guests. They'll ooh, they'll ahh. They'll ask how you did it.

"It's all in the prep," you'll say. Cool, just like that. When you'v cooked a great cut of beef to perfection, a cook deserves some cool.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The simple things, plus Chicken and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce

One of the things that's guaranteed to get me in a rage are sauces in jars. Chicken Tonight, Leggo's pasta sauces, or any of a million other varieties - with very few exceptions, these are all sauces that are so damn easy to make that it's criminal that these things are so popular. They take up so much space on supermarket shelves that it's easy to believe some people must east nothing else.

That said, I can see the reasoning, at least in terms of the time-poor. It's not everyone who has the time to come home and make a proper meal accompanied by a freshly made sauce and sides. And for a lot of people, cooking is a chore (gasp!), not something to do because you like it.

And let's be honest - I like cooking... and sometimes even I fall back on the one-bottle solution.

Chicken and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce
The other day while shopping a bottle of Oyster Sauce caught my eye. It's a vegetarian one, made from aged mushrooms, and a dingy plastic bottle, with the usual scrawl of Chinese characters that I've often assumed say "The one who purchases this cannot cook".

But I picked it up anyway, because it's always handy to have a selection of good Asian ingredients on hand. It is, after all, a region that really understands fast cooking. And that's what this meal is all about - it's quick, stupidly versatile, and as I've been having it, loaded with good fresh veg, a really good hang-over cure.

It's also, in my opinion, barely cooking, but it's still so damned tasty it's worth sharing.

Chicken thighs, sliced
Red capsicum
Oyster sauce

Simple noms

Start off by tossing two cups of rice into a rice cooker. We only recently got one of these heavenly engines of cooking, and they are a true Gods send. You could add something like finely sliced water chestnuts or shiitake mushroom to the rice, but it's fine just plain - but then again, I loves me rice in any form.

Slice up your chicken thighs, trimming off any excess fat (I'm picky - sue me), and then toss into a pan with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil. I've been meaning to get some sesame or peanut oil for this, but vegetables been working fine. I've also been meaning to get a proper wok, but again, am making do with a simple pan.

When the chicken's starting to cook all over (and keep stirring, you don't want it to stick and burn, or overcook), add in the chopped veg. Stir for a few minutes, add the garlic and ginger (which I just slice), stir again, then stir in a mess (a very precise measurement... ) of the oyster sauce.

Enough to give it that takeout Chinese shine.

Keep stirring, add a bit more sauce if it looks as though it's cooking off, and by about now the rice should be done. Rice in a bowl, food on rice, eat.

Chicken and vegetables in Oyster Sauce

Like I said - it's really not cooking, really just assembly. But it's very tasty, highly nutritious assembly. And, possibly as importantly, it's really fast, maybe twenty minutes all up to cook.

As to the versatility, well, you can pretty much cook it with any ingredients. Bok choy or other Asian green are a no-brainer, and I've done a purely vegetarian version with just that. Carrots and broccoli are another option... basically, pretty much anything fresh will cook up really well.

A rice cooker and a good oyster sauce - essential tools in any lazy cook's arsenal.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Getting excited about food, and côte de porc à la charcutière

As I've mentioned, I recently had a short trip overseas. It's kind of messed up my joy for cooking - I guess getting waited on for a week and a half spoils you somehow.

Who knew?

But the latest Feedbag box has come in, and it had some lovely pork chops. I rarely cook with pork, so I wanted to do something special; something that would re-ignite that passion for cooking and good food. So where do you turn to when you need that kind of kick in the pants?

The Les Halles Cookbook.

Gods, how I love that book. It's essentially the bible to Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles restaurant, containing his philosophy for cooking, signature dishes, and some truly awesome food writing. I only own a handful of cookbooks, and this is the one I refer to almost as much as Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Companion (the true "If you only own one cookbook" cookbook).

So back to the pork, and the recipe at hand. If you google côte de porc à la charcutière the top four or five results refer directly to the Les Hallse recipe. The rest are in French. So now I'm going to add my take on this great dish to the Google Gods.

côte de porc à la charcutière
For all that this sounds rather fancy, what it essentially translates to is pork the way the pork butcher prepares it. So you've got to guess these butchers know their job, more or less. It's also a fiendishly quick meal to cook, which means it's an ideal dinner party meal that you can cook in twenty minutes or so, and then casually mangle some French as you serve the meal.

It's the little things, really.

Please note: my recipe does deviate a touch, thanks to not having the right range of cookware or proper stock on hand. Which... yeah. Bourdain would kidney punch me for a crime like that.

Two pork chops (about 300gm each)
Small onion
White wine, the drier the better
Beef stock (which is not only the wrong stock, but is store-bought - egads!)
Dijon mustard
Half a dozen cornichons
Sprig of flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Pork and bits

See? Simple! To accompany the dish, I also prepared some cabbage and apple in butter.

First up set your oven to 190 degrees Celsius, and season the pork with salt and pepper - just pinch of each, on each side, and quickly rub into the meat. Heat up the oil, and then add the butter - about a tablespoon of each - in a non stick pan. Throw in your pork, and cook for four minutes a side. Then transfer the pan to oven... assuming you have an oven-safe pan, which I foolishly don't.

So what I did was simply pour the pan's contents into a glass roasting dish, and then put the pan aside. Cook the pork in the oven for eight minutes, which is about all you need for the rest of the prep.

Finely chop the onions, the cornichons (or baby gherkins, if you don't want to fancy about it) and the parsley. Chop the cabbage and finely slice up small apple. In preparation for the cabbage and apple, melt some better in a pan, with another pinch of salt and pepper.

Right about now, your pork should be done. Ideally, you'd remove your pan, set the chops aside under some foil, and put the pan back on the heat. In my case, I reserved the chops, and simply poured off the baking dish into the pan. I don't think it hurt the dish any, but I bet this will taste better once I get the right cookware.

Anyway, with the pan back on the heat, it's time to work on the sauce. Add the onions, and sauté until golden. Add the flour, and stir for a minute. Then half a cup wine goes in (and you'll need a refill by now, too, if you're a cook after my own heart). Reduce this by half, then add a cup of stock, again reducing it by half.

While working on the sauce, you can easily knock off the cabbage. First, toss the apple slices into the butter, toss a couple of times until coated, and then add the cabbage. Toss and stir, and let the cabbage wilt slightly - but not too much. Take off the heat and plate.

The sauce - which you've been stirring and paying loving attention to, right? - should be about done. Remove from the heat, whisk a teaspoon of the mustard through, then add the gherkins and parsley. Stir, and admire the lovely colour, and the rich, mustardy aroma. Take your two well-rested chops, place on the cabbage and apple, and then pour off any juices into the sauce. You do not want to waste good pork fat.

Then simply pour the sauce over the chops. Jobs a good'un.

côte de porc à la charcutière

And man... for one thing, I think we really lucked out with the pork. It was sublime; and pan frying and then finishing in the oven really does a great job of producing a tender bit of meat. To be honest, this would have been great just with plain three veg, but with the sauce...

Sweet fuck, that's a helluva sauce. Rich, creamy, and full of sharp flavours from the cornichons and the mustard. In combination with the pork - well, it made me very happy in my mouth.

I was pleased with the cabbage and apple, too. It's a classic accompaniment to pork, but you really don't need to do much to it. The apple sweetness and crunchiness is a great offset to the heavy textures of the meat and sauce, while cabbage is a much needed concession to a reasonable vegetable intake.

All up, it was so good - especially with a New Zealand Sav Blanc - that I felt compelled to take an 'after' shot of the plate...

All nommed up

What you need to know about this image, is that I am fiendishly picky when it comes to finishing a bit of meat on the bone - gristle, fat, finicky stuff... I usually can't be arsed. After this dish, though, I gnawed the bone, cleaned my plate with a bit of bread, and then set to the saucepan with another piece of bread.

So here's to you, Anthony. To your words, your passion, and most importantly your food. I raise a glass... once I refill it, of course. Anything else would be rude.