Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Perfect dishes for Memorial Day weekend pot luck celebrations

My son and his family usually visit on Memorial Day weekend but this year they went to Mexico, leaving me to my own devices.  Luckily various of my friends put together pot luck dinners on all three nights of the long weekend so I got to cook (but not too much) and enjoy convivial gatherings.

On Saturday I made what has quickly become a classic, "Momofuko Bo Ssam," from the cookbook by super chef David Chang.  It's a pork butt roasted all day until it falls off the bone, served with a variety of condiments redolent of Korean cooking.  It's not only simple beyond simple, but after the first bite, everyone in the room is demanding the recipe.  It's become my friend Eric's go-to dish for groups over 4 or 5, and now it's mine, too.  You gotta try it soonest.  Perhaps July 4 weekend will work for you.

Momofuko Bo Ssam

Pork Butt
1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8-10 lbs)
1 c white sugar
1 c plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T brown sugar

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2 1/2 c thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
1/2 c peeled, minced fresh ginger
1/4 c neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1 1/2 t light soy sauce
1 scant t sherry vinegar
1/2 t kosher salt, or to taste

Ssam Sauce
2 T fermented bean-and-chili paste (ssamjang, available in many Asian markets and online) (I got something similar at Guido's)
1 T chili paste (kochujang, ditto above)
1/2 c sherry vinegar
1/2 neutral oil (like grapeseed)

2 c plain white rice, cooked
3 heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
1 dozen or more fresh oysters (optional and I skipped them)
Kimchi (if you can't find kimchi, try sauerkraut)

Place pork in large, shallow bowl.  Mix white sugar and 1 c of salt together in another bowl, then rub mixture all over the meat.  Cover it with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to cook, heat oven to 300.  Remove pork from refrigerator and discard any juices.  Place pork in roasting pan and set in overn.  Cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork.  (After the first hour, baste hourly with pan juices).  At this point, you may reove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.  (mine rested a bit longer than that with no ill effects)

Meanwhile, make the ginger-scallion sauce.  In a large bowl, combine scallions with the rest of the ingredients.  Mix well and taste, adding salt if needed.

Make the ssam sauce.  In a medium bowl, combine chili pastes with the vinegar nad oil, mix well.

Prepare rice, wash lettuce, and if using, shuck oysters.  Put kimchi and sauces into serving bowls.

When your accompaniments are prepared and you are ready to serve the food, turn oven to 500.  In a small bowl, stir together the remaining T of salt with the brown sugar.  Rub this mixture all over the cooked pork.  Place in oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, or until a dark caramel crust has developed on the meat.  Serve hot, with accompaniments.

NB:  You'll notice that the bottom of your pan is burnt.  A lot.  But have no fear.  Just soak it overnight, and scrub like hell the next day.

Okay, like I said, this dish evokes squeals of delight.  Not only is it a real crowd pleaser, but if you're lucky the crowd isn't too big so you get some serious leftovers to enjoy the next day.

So the Bo Ssam was Saturday night.  Sunday night a friend had a pot luck party where she grilled lamb and chicken.  She coated the lamb with a mixture of Dijon mustard, chopped anchovies, olive oil, chopped garlic, and rosemary (well, she was supposed to use rosemary but her brother hates it so she used something else but it was still delish). 

Years ago when I was taking cooking classes at was then the Peter Kump cooking school, a friend I'd met in class told me about a recipe she'd learned from the first woman to be appointed the chef to the French president.  Th chef coated the lamb with Dijon mustard, mixed with olive oil, chopped garlic, and rosemary.  Then she laid anchovies across the top on the lamb, so the anchovies melted, making the sauce a heavenly aromatic and taste sensation.  I tweaked the recipe a bit by chopping the anchovies and including them in the mixture I rubbed on the lamb. 

Okay.  So the hostess grilled the lamb and chicken, and made a delicious watermelon and feta salad (such a great combination!), along with a fresh green salad.  One of the guests brought phenomenally wonderful peach/strawberry pies.  And I made a potato salad I'd just read about on the long-running blog Smitten Kitchen.  OMG, it's divine! 

Tzaziki Potato Salad

4 lb potatoes (preferably Yukon golds)
1 3/4 c Greek yogurt
1/4 c sour cream
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T minced fresh dill
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 t kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 hothouse or English cucumber (1 lb), unpeeled but quartered lengthwise, seeds removed

More ideas for additions:  crumbled feta (yes!), chopped green olives (yes!), chopped fresh mint leaves or a minced hot chile

In a medium pot, cover your potatoes with cold water and bring them to boil over high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat to med-high and let potatoes simmer until tender enough that they can be pierced easily with a skewer or thin knife.  That's roughly 30 minutes, but might be shorter, depending on the size of your potatoes.  Drain potatoes and let them cool completely. 

Once potatoes are cool, cut tiny ones into quarters or large ones into generous chunks.

In bottom of a large bowl, stir together yogurt, sour cream, lemon juie, vinegar, dill, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add potatoes.

Grate cucumber on a box grater, and try to remove some of the excess by putting it in a lint-free dish towel.  Add to yogurt mixture.

Add any additional ingredients.  Adjust seasonings (mine needed more salt).  Either eat immediately (yes!) or keep in fridge for up to 3 days.

For the party on the third night of the holiday weekend, I brought a large green salad picked entirely from my garden, and several pounds of the first bing cherries of the season.  Yes, folks, summer is here!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Welcome spring! Asparagus and soft shell crabs

Thursday I cut about a pound of beautiful asparagus growing in my garden.  I chopped tthem up coarsely and boiled them in salted water (to cover) until they were tender, about 5-7 minutes.  When tender, I removed them from the pot and placed them in a blender, along with some of the water to thin it out.  I like salt so I added some, and then about a tablespoon of good olive oil.  That's it.  Three ingredients, four if you count the water, about 12-13 minutes and voila--you have a bowl of the essence of spring.  Inhaling asparagus is invigorating.  And eating the soup is a leisurely delight.  I heartily recommend it.

By the way, the recipe, such as it is, comes from "The Art of Eating," a splendid newsletter that's been published for 25 years by Ed Behr.  It's featured in his new cookbook, "The Best of The Art of Eating." 

Then yesterday I picked up some soft shell crabs at Rubiner's and headed to friends' house where we sauteed them.  Luckily Matt's crew executes the crabs and cleans them, so fixing them couldn't be easier.  I checked out a few cookbooks to see what the pros do, and mostly it's just dipping them into a plate of milk, and then dipping them into some seasoned flour (salt and pepper), and then sauteeing them in a large cast-iron skillet with the right amount of butter and a bit of olive oil.  They need about 4-5 minutes per side.  And that's it.  I mean, what could be easier?  And more delicious! 

Neither the asparagus nor the soft shell crabs will be around after a few more weeks, so I intend to keep making these dishes frequently to get my fill before they disappear again until next year.