If I’m searching for a new recipe, I always seek out the best versions from professional chefs. That pretty much guarantees a better-than-average result. During the holiday season, most of us are cooking special meals for our family and friends. That’s why I called on two passionate local chefs and asked them to share their favorite recipes they serve during their holiday meals. Interestingly, both chefs sent me pork recipes, which means that you can make an outstanding holiday meal and it won’t cost you nearly as much as it would for a prime rib roast. Not only are these recipes easy enough to be reproduced by a novice, you’ll want to repeat these dishes again and again.
Chef Jensen Lorenzen, owner of Cass House Restaurant in Cayucos, discovered this unforgettable dish while dining in a restaurant in Barolo, Italy. He asked for the recipe and although the staff spoke little English, they provided enough information for him to recreate it when he returned home.
“I managed to get a broken explanation of the cooking method: ‘Pork, salt, milk, lemon, slow.’ That was it, simple as it could be. I have cooked it on special occasions at home for friends and at the restaurant, and I’ll be cooking it for my wife Grace again this Christmas,” Lorenzen remembered. “I won’t bother with exact measures or ingredients, that’s not the point of this type of dish. It’s the method and, most of all, the outcome. It’s pork, it’s fatty, and it’s glorious.”
To find the best quality pork, the chefs recommended always going to a good butcher, like Arroyo Grande Meat Co., New Frontiers in SLO, or J. & R. Meats in Templeton. Lorenzen recommends pairing this with Sinor-LaVallee Pinot Noir, or an Alsatian Gewurztraminer like Domaine Weinbach if you’re making sweet side dishes like yams, sweet potatoes, or glazed carrots.
Chef Shaun Behrens of Luna Red in SLO suggests pairing the succulent pork dish with pickled persimmon and toasted baguette slices. He noted that his favorite beverage pairing for it is apple brandy, but it would also pair nicely with a Central Coast Viognier or an Alsatian white blend.
“This is so delicious and easy to make,” Behrens noted. “I make this every year for my home, and it keeps 30 days so whenever I need a snack I’m good to go.”
I recommend joining the e-mail list of subscribers for both of these fine restaurants for information about upcoming dinner events year round, both of which I enjoy receiving, at casshouseinn.com and lunaredslo.com.
Chef Jensen Lorenzen’s Braised Pork
Buy the highest quality pork shoulder available—de-boned, bone-in, or tied into a roast, it doesn’t matter. It should weigh about three to five pounds. Rub the pork with sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and chopped thyme, and let it sit uncovered in your refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove it from the refrigerator and let it rest in the kitchen for at least an hour while you preheat your oven to 325 F. Place what should by now be room temperature pork in a deep casserole or Dutch oven. Add in two heads of garlic sliced in half crosswise to expose the core, a head of roughly chopped fennel, a few slices of lemon, a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf or two, and then pour heavy cream into the casserole until approximately half of the shoulder is submerged. Place it in the preheated oven and let it braise uncovered for about four hours. Every 30 minutes turn the shoulder over so that the surface that was exposed to the heat is now submerged in the cream, and baste generously afterward.
It doesn’t start out as much, but by the fourth or fifth flip something glorious happens. The cream will eventually break, and the meat will start to caramelize. Because the cream separates into fat and solids, the shoulder basically slow cooks itself in flavored fat. I recommend about four hours for cooking time because it will be slightly different depending on your oven, but the best way to make sure it is ready is to pierce the roast at the thickest point with a sharp knife and the knife should slide in and out without resistance. If the knife gently glides in and then easily out, your work is done. Roasted quince is a great side for this dish, as are figs, fennel, potatoes, or sunchokes. Bon appetito!
Chef Shaun Behrens’ Pork Rillettes
2 teaspoons allspice berries
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 lbs. boneless pork butt, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
10 thyme sprigs
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 quart rendered pork or duck fat, melted
In a spice grinder combine the allspice, peppercorns, and coriander, grind to powder, then stir in cinnamon and salt. Place pork in a large bowl and toss with spice mixture until well coated. Add the thyme and garlic, kneading it into the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Bring seasoned pork to room temperature, place in slow cooker, and add melted fat. Cover partially and cook over low heat until the pork is quite tender, anywhere from four to six hours. Let cool slightly, then transfer meat and garlic to a large bowl (discard thyme). Mash garlic and shred pork (discard any gristle) then stir in 1 cup of the fat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pack the meat into a ceramic bowl or individual crocks. Reheat the fat and ladle a half-inch-thick layer over the pork. Discard any remaining fat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The rillettes can be refrigerated for up to a month, but keep them covered with a layer of fat.
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cups dried persimmon (1 lb.), available seasonally at the Farmers Market, or substitute another dried fruit such as apricots or apples
1/4 cup dark raisins
1 bay leaf
In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and mustard seeds, bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar, remove from heat. Place dried fruit in a heatproof bowl or jar, and pour hot brine over it. Allow to cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate overnight. It saves 30 days refrigerated. Just before serving, coarsely chop the pickled persimmon.
Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at email@example.com.