Judy Rodgers was cleaning the kitchen of a restaurant in Paris. It was midnight. She was "tired and uncomfortable from a day working in duck fat." But when she heard the formidable chef tell a line cook to salt the fresh sea bass left over from that day's service, and it would not only keep perfectly but be even better, she was stunned. Because the chef's food was so succulent and because it was this chef's daughter who just months before had surprised Judy Rodgers by sprinkling salt into the chicken stock (with good results), she took note. And what she has discovered over the years is that contrary to the dictum "always salt at the last minute so you don't dry things out," adding a little salt early often makes "for better results than the same amount, or more, later." So another one of Judy Rodgers' principals of cooking, which she goes into as a concept in detail in Zuni and with specificity in individual recipes is
The Practice of Salting Early
Where meats and poultry are concerned, I sometimes use the word "cure" to describe the early salting process, whether it is a dry-salting or wet-brining operation, although I caution that these lightly treated foods are not preserved for the long term. The goal of our "preseasoning" is to manage and improve flavor, succulence, and texture; any resulting "keeping" ability is the nice by-product. In practice where most meat and poultry is concerned, we plan ahead and buy early - one to five days in advance - so we have time to lightly cure them. (Fish is a different case; freshness remains imperative. When I preseason fish, it is for a few hours at most.)
Judy Rodgers, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Page 37.
Page 408, Beef, Lamb, Pork, & Rabbit
In Tuscany it is the fashion to roast a whole, often highly-seasoned, pig. To simulate that feast "This diminutive porchetta is made with a small piece of pork shoulder, an inexpensive, underappreciated cut. Its mosaic of muscles provides plenty of places to stuff the seasonings, and it has enough internal fat and connective matter to self-baste and stay juicy as it slow-roasts." (Zuni, Page 408.)
You remember when I made pork stock I showed you a picture of my trusted butcher, Jeffrey, with the pork shoulder he split in two? Well, half was used to make the stock, and the other half was used for this recipe.
The recipe calls for the pork shoulder to be boned, seasoned, and tied prior to cooking. I got the seasonings all together at home to bring to Jeffrey so he could show me how to do it so I could do it myself next time.
There were capers, rinsed, pressed, and dried; ready to be barely chopped.
There was garlic to be coarsely chopped.
There was sage to be crushed and coarsely chopped.
There were springs of rosemary, from which to strip leaves to crush.
There were fennel seeds, barely crushed.
I mixed this all up, put it in a baggie, and headed down to see Jeffrey.
This is the piece of pork shoulder to be used for this recipe.
This is it cut to the right size for the recipe, ready to be boned. It weighed 2.84 pounds.
You can see how wide it is here.
Here is is boned. The bone is what what cut into three pieces and used for the pork stock.
All the seasonings were ready when I realized I forgot to bring salt. No matter. We were in the Essex Market after all, so we tooled over to the Formmagio Kitchen, where a lovely lass hooked us up with what she had - damp, grey French sea salt, a little coarser than I would have brought.
Jeffrey lightly sprinkled the salt on, crushing it as he sprinkled.
He added the rest of the seasonings and rolled it up and tied it
and sent me on my way.
I got home, put the porchetta on ice, and took it upstate. I refrigerated it to "cure" for two days before proceeding with the recipe.
The recipe calls for a combination of root vegetables. I used 2 large peeled carrots, a large onion peeled and cut into wedges, 2 small peeled turnips, 3 peeled parsnips, and 3 small unpeeled waxy potatoes. I barely coated the vegetables with olive oil and tossed them with a little salt. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. I put the pork roast, which I had let come to room temperature into a Le Creuset braising pan, which I had lightly heated on top of the stove. The roast sizzled as it was supposed to. I surrounded the roast with the vegetables, all ready to place in an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
After 45 minutes, I checked the roast to see if if it was colored. It was, so I didn't have to raise the heat 25 degrees but left it at 350 degrees. I cooked the roast for 15 more minutes, turned it over, and rolled the vegetables around in the rendered fat.
After another hour of cooking I added 1/3 cup of the pork stock I had made. I put the pan back in the oven. After 20 minutes more it was done, as fragrant and golden as the description in Zuni.
I transferred the meat to a platter
and put the vegetables on a separate plate.
I removed the fat from the pan and added French dry vermouth and another 1/3 cup pork stock. I stirred the pan to dissolve all the drippings on the bottom and sides, adding the juice that had trickled from the roast to make a pan sauce. I sliced the pork, topped it with a spoon of the pan sauce, and served it garnished with the vegetables. It was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s.
I know it was a long time between posts. I apologize, and I owe you one. But this recipe was worth waiting for. It's a real keeper, and one I highly recommend you make. I will add one caveat. I think it's because of the root vegetables, but I am sure this dish would be best served when the weather is cool, not high summer. I'm thinking fall with a dessert made from apples. I'm planning to make it over Columbus Day weekend when my cousins are visiting.
Thanks to Sylvano man who kept me company as I wrote.