While most people travel to escape from the pressures of home and work, chefs tend to relish the opportunity to experience new flavors. A trip to Oaxaca, Mexico can be a gustatory lesson in moles and chiles. A week in Tuscany can be spent savoring olives, tomatoes, pastas, and wines. As Americans, we can take in domestic culinary pleasures, too—cioppino in San Francisco, jambalaya and crawfish étoufée in New Orleans, fish tacos here in San Diego, and, well, pretty much anything in New York City.
The point is that as personal chefs we should include travel in our lives as part of our professional development. It brings new flavor combinations into sharper relief. It refreshes our recipe development muscles. And, it enlarges our perception of how to use ingredients—even expanding our repertoire of ingredients.
No budget or no time to travel? Then make a point of visiting local ethnic markets. You’d be astounded at what you’ll find in Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian, African, and other markets. And don’t let yourself be intimidated by the idea of unfamiliar ingredients. Take a page from Evie Golden, our friend Caron Golden’s mom. (Caron works with us, managing our social media.) One of Evie’s favorite strategies for shopping at a market with intriguing but mystifying products—especially produce—is to simply stand in front of the display and wait for someone to happen along who picks it up and seems to know what he or she is doing. Then she’ll ask questions. Before long, she not only knows how to select the best quality, but she also winds up with a recipe.
Last November Dennis and I traveled with Caron to Chicago to attend a social media conference and we had lunch at the marvelous The Purple Pig on The Magnificent Mile. Dennis ordered their Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes. We enjoyed several dishes from the menu (be sure to try the Charred Cauliflower, House Cured Lardo Iberico, Taramosalata, and amazing “JLT”—Pork Jowl, Tomato, Frisee and Fried Duck Egg), but that milk-braised pork was so tender and luscious we couldn’t shake the memory of it. And, naturally, it inspired me to try to recreate it back in San Diego.
I’ve made it a few times now, each time trying to refine it and I’m getting close. I’m sharing it with you here in the hopes that you’ll enjoy it as well—and think about how your own travels can inspire you to cook with new ingredients and create new recipes for both your clients and your own family.
Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder with Creamy Gravy
Inspired by Chicago’s The Purple Pig
It takes two days to prepare this dish, although the actual work time is minimal. On day one, you’ll make the pork stock. You can trim the bone from the pork shoulder you’re going to braise and use that with the rest of the pork stock ingredients listed below. Tip: if you want your stocks or soups to be clear instead of murky, never let them reach a hard boil (like what you want when cooking pasta). Instead, keep to a gentle simmer—low and slow.
For Pork Stock:
2- to 3-pound pork shoulder or shank and any pork bones you may have stored in your freezer for stock
1 ½ gallons water
1 head garlic, whole and unpeeled, halved through its equator
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 to 3 carrots
3 stalks celery
4 to 5 bay leaves
6 black peppercorns
For Braised Pork Shoulder
1, 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder
2 onions, peeled and quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 to 3 stalks of celery, chopped into large pieces
1 bunch of fresh thyme
6 large bay leaves
1 ½ gallons milk
1 ½ gallons pork stock
¼ cup Marsala
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Cooking liquid from braised pork
Salt and pepper
1. To make stock: Brown the bones, meat, onion, and garlic in a roasting pan. Cover with water, bring to an active simmer, and skim off any scum as it appears. Add the carrots, celery, and spices, reduce the heat, and allow to simmer at least four hours, adding water to cover as needed. Strain stock. Allow to cool and refrigerate, leaving layer of fat intact.
2. The next day, break down the pork shoulder, removing the bone and cutting the meat into 6- to 8-ounce servings. Tie them with string. Season generously with salt and pepper.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a large roasting pan and sear the pork pieces. When all sides of the meat have been browned, add the vegetables, fresh herbs, milk, and pork stock to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Season with salt and pepper again, and place the covered pan in the oven to braise for two to three hours.
4. Remove the cooked pork from the pot. Cut off the string from each piece. Cover and let rest. Strain the braising liquid into a bowl and discard the solids.
5. Place the pan on the stovetop, add back the braising liquid, and reduce by half. Add the Marsala and cook for a minute. Mix cornstarch with cold water and add to the hot liquid to thicken the gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve pork on a bed of hot, creamy mashed potatoes, cover with gravy, and top with sautéed or roasted asparagus.
What have been your most enlightening food travels? Please leave a comment and let us know.
Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.