Heritage breed pork in New Jersey: at B&M Market, Park Ridge, NJ

Heritage breed pork NJ (1 of 3)

Look at that marbling!!!!!

In much of America, your food options are painfully limited to absolutely unexceptional meat (and cheese). Nothing like Europe and other parks of the world, where animals actually have flavor. We've bred all of the character and fat out of our meat, and the crap that we feed them doesn't help.

Good-quality and interesting beef is becoming more the norm, with dry-aging coming back into vogue, and grass-fed meats hitting the markets. And that's great. But quality pork hasn't gotten much traction. We are still largely stuck with mass-produced, factory-farmed, bland, unexceptional pork chops.

There are a few farmers who have taken to the heritage breeds (the ones with flavor), and are giving them the diet that they need to yield a tasty product, but they are few and far between. Retailers who carry that stuff are even more difficult to find.

Thankfully B&M Market in Park Ridge is carrying some excellent heritage breed pork (from Ossabaw Island in Georgia).

As soon as I heard about this, I ran over to the place, and picked up two gorgeous pork chops. I could hardly wait for dinner. In my mind it was going to taste like the exceptional pork I've had in Spain and Italy. With tons of flavor, fat, and character. While it didn't quite hit that mark, these were some of the finest pork chops I've had in the states. 

I set the sous vide device to 140 degrees, and let 'em rip. After an hour or so, I put them in a screaming hot cast iron pan with some butter and olive oil to get some color and sear.

Heritage breed pork NJ (3 of 3)
Heritage breed pork NJ (3 of 3)

The pork ate like steak. It was tender, it was juicy, the fat actually had flavor. It was an eye-opener.

There is simply no reason to eat supermarket pork again. This is my new spot for pork. Now, if I can just get them to dry-age the beasts, I'd be getting closer to what I've had in Europe. That would be sweet.

B&M Market : 192 Kinderkamack Rd : Park Ridge, NJ : 201.391.4373


Sous vide steak: at home

Sous vide-5

I'm about 15 years late to the sous vide party,  but if you know anything about me, you know I stay really really late at parties, so it all balances out.

The big benefit of sous vide is you can cook a piece of meat to the temp you want from crust to crust. None of that band of gray, dry meat with just a little m/r in the middle. This appeals to me, and it should appeal to everyone.

Curiosity got the best of me, and I figured I'd sous vide a steak. I didn't have one of those fancy devices, but I did have an instant read thermometer, a pot, and a stove.

I got myself a beautiful piece of beef tenderloin from Sal at Westwood Prime Meats, threw that in a vacuum sealer (these things are great and every cook should have one), and got my situation situated.

Sous vide-3
Sous vide-3

The challenge of sous vide cooking without one of those fancy devices is keep the water at a constant, and correct, temperature. After some fiddling, I found it was quite easy to dial in the temp. While you might be tempted to rely only on the knob of your stove to nail that temp, you might have an easier time using the combination of a very low flame, and moving the pot off the flame a bit. This way you can just nudge the pot back onto the flame a tad, or off, if the temp starts swinging.

Heck I had good results at a friend's house with a pretty crappy electric cooktop and an old analog thermometer.

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Dry-aged cheesesteak sandwich: you heard me

Dry-aged steak-5

You heard me, you people.

Every time I walk away from Westwood Prime Meats, I take with me some additional knowledge and appreciation for a part of the animal I likely never knew existed.

During this conversation with butcher extraordinaire Sal, the subject of the piece of meat that was on the butcher block came up. The meat on that block was a huge piece of various muscles and fat from a dry-aged rib section. Stuff that never makes it to your average butcher or supermarket.

Sal figured he'd give me a nugget of beef that was tucked within, so I could savor that funky, crazy flavor, and he proceeded to tear apart this enormous mass of flesh. Out came this unassuming little piece of beef.

Dry-aged steak

Here's where this piece of meat lives, if memory serves. Photo courtesy of Pasquale DeSalvo.


He told me that he'd advise using it like London Broil. "It's not about the texture, it's about the flavor." Indeed this wouldn't be the most tender piece of meat from the steer, but it was sure to be flavorful, what with all of that dry-aging that's going on here.

Dry-aged steak-3
Dry-aged steak-3

We had plenty of food that night, since I had picked up a beautiful dry-aged t-bone. So I sat around for a few days, wondering what I could do with this piece of meat. It occurred to me that it might make for a very good cheesesteak. A dry-aged cheesestak. And you know what? I was right.

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Are you cooking your turkey whole? Why?


Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 11.59.30 AM

I don't see much of a need to cook a 12-20 lb bird whole. In fact it makes little sense to me. Unless you do that whole 1950s magazine cover thing of surrounding the cooked bird with parsley and stuff and presenting the whole turkey to the guests before returning to the kitchen for 20 minutes to carve it. Which, of course, you don't do.

Even spatchcocking doesn't make much sense to me.

The goals of any method should be maximize the skin's exposure to the hot air, and, ensure the white meat doesn't overcook while waiting for the dark meat to finish.

Breaking down the turkey does exactly that. You cook the parts as long as you need to. If the breast is done, pull it out. If the wings are done, pull them out.


You're also getting rid of a large amount of mass and fat. The more mass that's in that oven, connected to that bird, the longer it has to cook. The longer it cooks, the more it dries out. This is one of the reasons you should never put stuffing in a bird. Why increase its mass? It'll just have to cook longer--not to mention there are some safety risks associated with putting that stuffing in the bird. And you don't need all of that fat from the back and other parts dripping into your pan. There's enough fat from the rest of the bird for your roux.

Another benefit is the carving. I really don't enjoy wrestling with a big, slippery, hot, round ball of bird while I'm trying to carve breasts off of it or remove legs. It's a hell of a lot easier to do that when the bird is cold and raw. I also take the opportunity to remove the bones from the thighs. Who wants to carve around those things? I then roll them up into little logs, which yield a lovely presentation once sliced.

And as a bonus, you can bang out some turkey stock with that back right out of the gate. I'll use it instead of chicken stock in the coming months because, quite frankly, it don't matter.

So break down your bird, you glorious freaks.

Rare spicy tuna: sandwich

Rare spicy tuna sandwich

Some years back, I would often find myself eating lunch at Riingo. Riingo was a restaurant off the lobby in the now defunct Alex Hotel in midtown Manhattan (now called the Wyndham Midtown 25). Marcus Samuelsson was a co-owner, and presumably had a hand in the operation.

I suppose you'd describe the place as "Asian-fusion," but I never gave a description much thought until now. What I did give thought to was the pleasant, bright bar area, where after-work drinks often went down (along with the occasional during-work drinks).

Riingo was a friendly place. One of the bartenders was an interesting fella. A bit of a screenwriter and actor, with a quick and sharp wit. We'd spend the time trying to out-clever each other, and he was a formidable opponent. And a pretty good bartender overall. This was certainly at the beginning of the cocktail revival, and while he didn't seem much interested in bartending as a vocation, he did spend a good amount of time thinking about cocktails and coming up with new ideas. It's hard to believe now, but, back then, finding a bartender who knew his ass from his elbow, at a hotel bar no less, was not the norm. It was exceptional.

But I didn't call this meeting to tell you about that bartender or my hobbies. I called it to tell you about this silly tuna sandwich that they had on the lunch menu. It was a standard order for me (often paired with a crisp, acidic white or hoppy beer). The sandwich was essentially seared tuna, served on ciabatta, with spicy mayo. That's it.

It almost sounds like a waste of perfectly good tuna. Or, it sounds like the world's greatest tuna sandwich.

I haven't had this sandwich in almost eight years. Gosh that seems like a very long time. I fixed this situation the other day, when I put my own together.

Salt and pepper the tuna and sear for 10 seconds on each side. Slice, across the grain as much as possible. Mix mayo and sriracha to make spicy mayo (this is essentially what the "spicy" is in spicy tuna rolls that you'll find at sushi places). Slather a baguette or other suitable bread with the spicy mayo, put the tuna in there, and that's it.

I decided to throw some thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions in as well, because why not.

Now get back to whatever it was that you were doing.




Chinese salt and pepper scallops: over yellow chives

Salt and pepper scallops

The daily question of "what's for dinner" is often answered with the help of a stroll through the supermarket. Not the regular supermarket, but good supermarkets. Like Asian supermarkets. These are the places you'll see items like snow pea leaves, or Thai basil, or a tongue. Like when I checked out H&Y Market in Ridgefield a while back. I saw some cow bones and that planted the seed for making pho. And then I used that broth to make an excellent fish dish.

Recently I found myself at King Fung, in River Edge, NJ. Surveying the produce aisle I noticed bright yellow chives, staring me in the face. I've never cooked these things, but I do know I love them in a dish I've had at Chengdu 23, in Wayne, NJ. The dish is very basic, and very elegant. In fact it seems to be not much more than shrimp and yellow chives. Although now that I look at the picture I see it has chunks of garlic and pickled red chillies. So much for my memory.

Chengdu 23 shrimp yellow chivesShrimp with yellow chives at Chengdu 23 in Wayne, NJ. Aparently more yellow than mine.

The subtle flavor of that shrimp/yellow chive dish never ceases to amaze me. But, I wanted something with a little more kick. I figured I'd give some scallops a very simple salt & pepper treatment, not much unlike the salt and pepper shrimp I often make.

The scallops were dusted with the mixture of white pepper, black pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, and salt, and seared briefly. The yellow chives were very simply sauteed in a wok with some peanut oil, along with some scallion for color contrast, and pickled Sichuan chillies (see, I actually got that part right!). A touch of soy and and black vinegar and sesame oil and a potato starch slurry and bing bang boom done. Here's what I did:

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Vietnamese grilled pork with rice noodles: Bún Thịt Nướng

Vietnamese grilled pork

The satisfaction I get from preparing a simple dish, with (largely) standard supermarket ingredients, with little effort, that ultimately blows me away, is unmatched. Here's another one.

It had been quite some time since I made anything vaguely Vietnamese. For no good reason, really. I mean, we love Vietnamese food, and go to Vietnamese restaurants pretty regularly. Vietnamese food hits lots of marks. It's salty and sweet and filled with different textures. On top of that, it has lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, making it a seemingly guilt-free and healthful affair. Even when you're chomping on pork belly.

Grilled pork belly is one of our favorite dishes at Vietnamese places. It's often served with small bundles of rice noodles and vegetables, with a fishy lemonade dressing. Who doesn't like fishy lemonade? Barbarians, that's who. Of this you are assured. The fishy lemonade dressing is, of course, nuoc cham, the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce/dressing that I could drink for breakfast.

The dish, served as salad of sorts, is called Bún Thịt Nướng, if the internet doesn't lie. The grilled pork can also be served as bánh hỏi, when served with little bundles of rice noodle--as opposed to free-flowing rice noodle--which is meant to be wrapped in lettuce with the pork and eaten with your damned hands.

As I do, I googled the recipe and came up with a few that looked reasonable. I'll generally ignore any recipes that don't seem to be using traditional ingredients, and then sort of take the parts that make sense to me from the others.

The meat should sit in the marinade for at least an hour. I've done it over night, and that's just fine. This isn't an acid-based marinade, so the meat won't get mushy. As far as the cooking device, I highly recommend an outdoor grill, because shit's gonna get smoky. I also insist that you cook the pork on a grill pan like this one from Brinkmann.   If you cook the meat directly on your grill, chances are it's going to stick. These grill pans allow the flames to kiss the meat, while giving you a preferable cooking surface for this sticky, fatty meat.

The ingredients are very straight forward and widely available, with the possible exception of lemongrass (available near me at Whole Foods and Fairway and of course at Asian markets). Pork belly can be found at just about any Asian market, and also at Whole Foods.

Here's what I did...

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Salt and Pepper Shrimp: Chinese-style

Salt and pepper shrimp chinese recipe

Salt and Pepper shrimp is an addictive dish of deep-fried crispy shrimp, spicy peppers, salt, and ground pepper. One which can be made with no special skills or equipment or nuthin'. Just regular stuff from the supermarket. Many Chinese dishes call for ingredients that are often hard-to-find. This ain't one of them.

If you google recipes for this dish, you'll see many variations on the same theme. Some call for a flour-based batter. Some call for egg whites to help the cornstarch stick. I'm sure they all have their benefits, but I couldn't rationalize the extra work. I knew exactly what I wanted this dish to taste like, since I've had it many, many times at various restaurants, so I didn't need to use any specific recipe. I googled recipes purely for confirmation bias purposes. i.e., tell me what I plan on doing is right.

A quick deep-fry of cornstarch coated shrimp yields a stupid-crunchy creature. An even quicker stir-fry of some garlic and scallions and hot peppers, along with salt, white pepper, and Sichuan peppercorn (if you have it), and you're done. This dish takes about 5 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of active cooking time.

Here's what I do...

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Tuna and watermelon: ceviche

Tuna watermelon ceviche_edited-1

Ceviche is like the margarita of food: bright, acidic, crowd-pleasing, intoxicating, just exotic enough, simple to make, and perfect morning noon and night.

It's also a super-fast and relatively inexpensive meal to pull together. I don't know about you, but I usually have a bunch of limes and a bit of red onion and herbs on hand, so my shopping list for ceviche is usually pretty short.

I've got this great ceviche book called The Great Ceviche Book, which I've thumbed through hundreds of times, yet never thought to use for a recipe, until yesterday. Watermelon was calling my name, and I figured this book found a use for that magical melon. It sure did. With tuna

The recipe called for some stuff that I couldn't be bothered with, like lemon oil and yuzu juice. And tarragon. And candied kumquats in syrup. Good grief. Let's not make this too complicated, ya know? It's ceviche for fuck's sake.

My version went like this:

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Black Stone Pizza Oven: serious pizza-making at home

PizzaPancetta, sauce, mozzarella, olive, thyme, peppadews. 100 second cook.

The Black Stone Pizza Oven is a somewhat inexpensive, high-heat cooking device, which many pizza-obsessives are going nuts over--especially those who want to produce Neapolitan-style pizza at home, but who don't have a wood-burning oven.

My first few cooks on the Black Stone yielded decent enough results, but it did take some time to learn how to manage its heat. What I found is that a few quick mods help me produce the style of pizza that I'm looking to make--Neapolitan.

The main mod, called the "chauflector," directs the flame more to the rim of the pizza. This helps the crust cook while ensuring that the toppings aren't burning. I think it also helps cook the pizza more quickly, which means the bottom is less likely to burn. I find the results with the chauflector are more to my liking than without, although many people aren't using one and producing fine looking pies. Cutting the sheet metal to make this thing, I should note, was not pleasurable.

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