Friday, December 29, 2006
For Margy and me, the last few days of the year have traditionally been all about cooking, and this year is no different.
Yesterday, we stocked up on supplies at the Asian market. We replenished some pantry staples, like green tea and mirin, and we got lots of fun produce -- long beans, Chinese leeks (the root ends look like garlic bulbs), insanely hot Thai chilies. We had a whole red snapper filleted, which I cooked last night, and we got a pork butt for this evening.
Boy, does that place have some good butt.
The fish and meat guys at the market really know their stuff. Over at the seafood counter, they clean fish quickly and thoroughly, and of course they sell good specimens. I never go to this place, Kam Man, without stopping in for some seafood. But I'd only bought meat a few times before today. That's going to change. Everything looked fresh and firm, and when I saw the pork butt I was hit by the thunderbolt. (The oxtails must wait for another day.) I asked the butcher for something around three pounds. He poked around for a second, grabbed a piece, and threw it on the scale: 3.00. Wow -- practically a parlor trick. I wonder if he does it at parties. "Gimme some meat, and I'll guess its weight within an ounce!"
I had to be sure to treat such a perfect piece of pork with the care it deserved, so, since I was going to braise it, I resolved not to cut corners during the browning process. With a decent-size cut that has many uneven surfaces, browning can take forever, and I've been known to lose my cool during this step and flip meat before its time. No, I wasn't going to do that today. Browning took 30, maybe 40, minutes, but when it was all over I had an even finer-looking butt on my hands than I had started out with.
By the way, pork butt actually comes from the shoulder. Go figure. According to the book How to Cook Meat, "It got its name because in colonial times this type of pork was packed into barrels called 'butts' for shipping and storage."
Meanwhile, I deglazed the pot with a splash of white wine, and then I gently cooked onion and, eventually, garlic until it was nice and soft. Adding a hint of Mexico to what I consider my all-purpose Italian-style braise, I tossed in one chopped canned chipotle and a spoonful of its adobo sauce. Then I put back the pork and covered it halfway with liquid -- canned tomato, white wine, and chicken broth. I covered the pot and popped it in a 325-degree oven, and we waited, less than patiently, perhaps.
Two hours later we had on our hands what seemed like something of a magic trick itself. I never tire of the wonder of slow-cooked pork, its formerly chewy meat now falling apart in tender chunks and strands, its ample fat melting into the other flavorings to form a rich and delicious sauce. In this case, the chipotle really made its presence known, adding a good holler of heat and just a whisper of smokiness.
It's a good thing we get such a kick out of stuff like this, because the butt will be feeding us for days -- and it may even taste better the next time around. I see a taco night in our immediate future...