We Who are About to Die(t) Salute You

This is the typically time of year when everything breaks down.  The bold promises I’m so cavalier about making on New Year’s Eve survive on hubris and momentum for a few weeks, and then I hit snags. It’s still too cold for my lust for jogging to overcome my wimpyness.  My budget is derailed by Emergency Cookbook Purchases.  Valentine’s Day gives way to Easter candy displays and my personal blood-sugar kryptonite – the Cadbury Mini Egg. Things happen.   My steam fades, my new routine falls flat,  and my new-found resolve fades into the ether.

That said, there is much I want to accomplish this year. In fact, I’ve never been in a better position to “work on myself.”   I continue to have a group of supportive and feisty friends, and a few concrete, positive goals to aim for.

So, with that, very belatedly, a few food-related resolutions for what’s left of 2011.

1. Not unlike Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart, I got a thing about chickens. Someway, somehow, I will  resurrect my Fool’s Dream of Crispy Skin and succulent-while-thoroughly-cooked flesh.  As many of you know, my typical chicken method is effective, but a cheat.  I cut up a whole bird, season it, sear it in cast iron, and finish it in the oven.  To be candid, it’s a bit of a pain.

I pride myself on being a good cook.  But this is indeed painful to admit: hard as I might try, I cannot seem to insert a whole bird into the oven and remove it at a point where I obtain tender white meat, fully cooked dark meat, and crispy skin.

Ina gets me close.  I promise to keep trying.

2.  Bread.  True Story: I haven’t bought a loaf of bread since President Clinton wagged his little finger at us on national television.  And while the bread I’ve made almost every Sunday afternoon for the past 15 years has been good, I’ve decided that I’ts time to do better.  You know, overnight Starters, special kneading, the actual, you know, MEASURING of ingredients, stuff like that.

About twenty loaves later, I am still struggling with ciabatta, which along with a passable baguette, a tasty rye, and some kind of wild-yeast sourdough, represent the four breads that I’d like to master this year, and I have to admit that it doesn’t look good for me. While my efforts look good, taste great, and deliver a wonderful crispy crust… It’s nowhere near a ciabatta. I want “the holes.”

3. Two. Hundred. Smoothies. This may be the most important thing I do for myself all year.  The energy boost in the morning makes it possible to give up pop,  and thanks to my new blender, they only take a second to blitz up.  More on this soon.

MOST importantly.  I’m going to cook pernil.  A LOT more often.

My birthday last month fell on a Thursday, so I had to wait until the weekend to celebrate properly.  I can’t think of a better way than “pork, low and slow and spicy.” to eat on a wintery January evening.

Pernil is a traditional Puerto Rican preparation of pork shoulder, centered around a spice rub often called a sofrito) and the liberal use of garlic.  Its method is straightforward, by cooking a pork shoulder over low, slow heat, the tough, sinewey meat breaks down into something sweet, unctuous and irresistible.  This is how I wound up doing mine.

First, a spice rub. (Feel free to play around with this.  I was winging it)

1 Onion, chopped
2 t kosher salt
1t cumin
1t oregano
1/2t chili powder
1/2 t espelette pepper or cayenne
1/2 t chipotle chili powder
Olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulverize, adding enough oil so that the mixture turns into a paste:

This rub will cover one 5lb pork shoulder (with plenty of fat)

1. Preheat your oven to 275.

2. Take one head of garlic, peel the cloves, insert into the pork all round, as best you can.

3. cover the pork shoulder with the spice paste, let the meat rest until it is roughly cool room temperature.

4. Place in a roasting pan, and cook in the oven for 5-6 hours, until the outside is dark and the flesh is well done and tender.  *Check the meat every hour or so*

5. ALLOW THE MEAT TO REST.  Devour.

Anyway, it never ceases to astound me to what degree our decisions about what we eat shape the trajectory of our lives, whether we admit it or not.   Anyway, long overdue Happy New Years to all of you!

6 thoughts on “We Who are About to Die(t) Salute You

  1. Pernil? Leave it to you to make my mouth water over a pork variety. Sounds great. I’m also super impressed you make bread every Sunday. For the past 15 years? Nice.

  2. how i’ve missed your posts.

    1. happy belated birthday Jeff.
    2. happy new year, the asian & western ones.
    3. the Bread Bible. i’m on a break from bread baking right now (we got into a tiff) and even then, i still swear by this book.
    4. pernil. i mean really, you amaze me.

  3. Lan,

    Thank you – I’ve been horrible about catching up lately, and one of my NON food-specific resolutions is to be a more upstanding Citizen-Food Blogger.

    I finally broke down and bought “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” (after a few bad incidents with the library copy) along with his other one, “Crust and Crumb.” I’m fairly certain at this point my problem is more about ciabatta technique than recipe – I’m manhandling the dough and not getting “the holes.” I’ll keep trying.

    Again, seriously, Thanks. Missed you, too.

  4. Courtney – Thanks. I suppose it’s a cheat, though – pig over low heat is ALWAYS mouth-watering. Nothing to do with me at all :)