The title says it all. This is a page of “recipes.” “Recipes” in quotes because they aren’t really recipes but more like suggestions or guidelines. With perhaps the prime exception being baked goods, which require more specific amounts of certain ingredients in relation to others, most recipes, even those that call for 1/4 teaspoon of this and 3 tablespoons of that and so forth, are really just suggestions anyway and should be read as such. That, at least, is how we cook. If a recipe calls for something we don’t have, we don’t add it. We don’t measure spices but add what seems like enough. If we taste it and it’s not quite right, we adjust it. Simple as that. There is freedom and real value in being able to take what you have on hand and craft something edible from it. This is particularly the case when one is deriving a good bit of his or her diet from locally and seasonally produced foods. Without preaching too much, I would suggest this is how we should all eat. Rather than starting with a list of recipes and going shopping, go shopping for what is local and seasonal and plan your menu around that. Find recipes that can be tweaked and fiddled with until they work with what you’ve got. It is with that spirit that I offer the following.
(As an aside, I would highly recommend any of the River Cottage cookbooks by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. We make frequent use of The River Cottage Meat Book, The River Cottage Cookbook, and River Cottage Every Day, and I would fully expect the others in the lineup to be up to par. These are not just mere collections of recipes but are treatises on ethical food production and sourcing good wholesome food, and are written with an eye toward giving the reader and cook the confidence to try new things and to not be needlessly bound by ingredient lists. When I read these books, I am reading the writings of a kindred spirit.)
- Roast belly: The fattiness of pork belly makes it incredibly difficult to overcook and keeps the meat tender and juicy. Rub with salt and pepper and whatever else suits your fancy (herbs, other spices). Roast for 30 minutes at 425, then turn the oven down to 350 and finish cooking until the internal temperature of the belly is 160 to 170. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before carving. Serve with a sauce made from tart apples (such as Granny Smith), some lemon and/or orange juice, a little orange rind, and sugar to taste.
- Pork belly is popular in many Asian cuisines. This is not my forte, but I’m sure a bit of Internet sleuthing will provide you with some good examples.
- Belly is useful and delicious in many slow-cooked dishes that benefit from the added fat, such as cassoulet, beef stews of all sorts, even things like pot pies. Cut into strips or smallish chunks and add what seems like enough—it will vary depending on what exactly you’re making and of course depending on your own preferences.
- You can also cure your own pork belly to make bacon, smoked or unsmoked. There are so many options here that I can’t really begin to address them, but in general to the belly you will add salt, sugar, and black pepper, and perhaps another few herbs or spices. There are plenty of options of what to do from there and, indeed, you can even find recipes for sugar-free cured bacon if that’s your thing. We’ve had success using an overnight cure for pork chops and hog jowl that consisted of salt, sugar, black pepper, bay leaves, and crushed red cedar berries (most recipes call for juniper berries, which are expensive, but we substitute the berries from the ubiquitous eastern red cedar, a juniper relative). Make certain the meat is well coated with the seasoning mix and keep it in the fridge overnight, turning it a time or two. The key then is to rinse it well or you’ll end up with an unpalatably salty end product. It’s not bacon, exactly, and when fried it won’t render its fat and crisp up quite like bacon, but it’s good and nice for a bit of a change.
- A fresh ham roast can be used just like a shoulder roast, though it will be a bit leaner and needs to be treated accordingly. Pulled pork is a favorite. Put the roast in a crockpot or Dutch oven, cover with liquid (water or stock), season as it suits you (barbeque seasoning is common), and simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Pull apart with two forks and serve by itself, with other barbeque favorites, or on a bun for a pulled pork sandwich.
- Another method we make frequent use of is to rub the pork roast with salt and pepper and occasionally some dried herbs, place it in a cast iron Dutch oven over a bed of potatoes cut into chunks, pour in liquid or stock until it comes halfway up the roast, then put it in a moderate oven (350 or so) turning over every 30 minutes until done. The exposed part of the meat crisps up nicely and forms a bit of a caramelized crust while the submerged bit soaks up the delicious juices. This action is reversed every time the roast is flipped and the result is wonderful.
- Fresh ham can also be cured to make what most of us think of when we think “ham.” I cannot from experience give you any particular direction, but again the Internet is your friend here. Books are, too, for that matter.
- Pork hocks, cross-cuts from the lower leg, are usually cured like ham and used as such. Uncured hocks are great slow-braised in plenty of liquid (pork or chicken stock, or well-seasoned water if necessary) with hardy cooking greens like kale, Swiss chard, collards, or turnip greens. Throw in some barley or wheat berries or whole oats for a bit more heft.
- Ground pork is typically seasoned at the processor and turned into bulk sausage or things such as bratwurst, but with that you’re stuck with whatever the processor happens to use. We prefer to keep our ground pork unseasoned, and when we want sausage it’s a simple affair to mix in whatever herbs and spices necessary to make various sorts of sausages, from sage-heavy breakfast sausage to Cajun-inspired andouille to a bulk bratwurst mix and many more besides. For inspiration we turn to the Bruce Aidells Complete Sausage Book.
- Ground pork is also great in meatballs and meatloaf, often mixed with other varieties of ground meat. Our ground veal makes a great addition, adding a delicate flavor and wonderful tenderness; ground beef and ground lamb and even ground goat also work well.
- Of course one can make burgers out of ground pork just as well as ground beef. They’ll be a little fattier but that’s no particular worry of mine. Or mix with ground beef for a more traditional approach.
- Inspired by The River Cottage Meat Book, Ame recently made a raised pork pie (pictured above). It was delicious. This is a concept that can be quite flexible, though there were some particulars (like a hot water pie crust) in this specific recipe that certainly worked. Basically it’s a pie filled with seasoned meat and baked as you might expect. At the end of the baking a collagen-rich liquid (such as good stock or fatty leftover pork cooking liquid) is piped in, where it turns to gelatin as it cools and binds the filling together. Meat pies are traditionally eaten cold with accompaniments like pickles and a good grainy mustard, but we had it warm the night of and it was just as good.
Don’t forget to keep the bones from your pork chops, shoulder roasts, ribs and such as the base for a great pork stock! We keep a gallon-sized Ziploc bag in the freezer and add bones and meat bits from various meals until the bag can no longer be closed—this is our signal that it’s time to make a stock.
Heritage Chicken “Recipe”
This is perhaps even less of a recipe than the pork ones above. Really the point here is just to define how we suggest roasting your chicken whole should you choose to prepare it such. Of course, cutting it up before roasting, or frying, or braising, or any number of other preparations, are just as good. It’s just that here we tend to roast the birds whole. Rotating the bird is important, as it allows direct heat on the dense thigh meat to ensure even cooking. The following is assuming a bird in the 3 to 4 lb. range; if larger or smaller, make adjustments accordingly.
- With the oven at 425 degrees, roast on one side, with the thigh facing up, for 15 minutes.
- Rotate the bird onto the opposite side and roast for a further 15 minutes.
- Place the bird breast-side up and roast for a final 15 to 30 minutes until done.
- Always check the internal temperature of your chicken before cutting into it. A digital instant-read thermometer is your friend. Insert the probe into the thick part of the thigh, avoiding the bone; we usually shoot for 160 degrees (if it’s a few degrees shy this is fine, as the temperature will continue to rise a bit as the bird rests). If you’re the belt-and-suspenders type you can follow the USDA’s suggestion and take it to 190 degrees, though we don‘t recommend it. This will tend to take a fast-growing hybrid chicken into unpalatably dry and chalky territory, but the time or two that we’ve accidentally left one of our birds in the oven that long the results have been just fine; another reason to opt for heritage birds.
- When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the oven and place it on a wire rack or wooden cutting board and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. This is absolutely vital. Resting allows the internal temperatures of the bird to even out and to allow the various juices to evenly distribute. Plus, it’ll be too piping hot to eat right away anyway, so you may as well wait. Gives you time to finish up the roast potatoes. It bears repeating: let the bird rest!
- Ground veal is a traditional component of meatballs and meatloaf. It is typically mixed with one to two other ground meats, such as ground beef, ground pork, or ground lamb. The veal will make the finished product meltingly tender.
- There’s no reason you can’t make good ol’ fashioned hamburgers with our ground veal. Season like you would beef, throw ‘em on the grill or in the frying pan, and there you go. They’ll be a bit milder in flavor but loads more tender.
Veal chops (loin and rib) and sirloin steaks:
- Treat these like any good beef steak. I’m not much of a griller, so I tend to cook mine in a cast-iron frying pan. I season rather liberally with salt and pepper (good kosher salt or sea salt, not iodized table salt, please, and fresh-cracked pepper), let sit at room temp for a little while (say, 30 minutes or so), then put them in the hot pan. It’d be a shame to cook these much beyond medium, so I aim for about 4 minutes on the first side, then I turn the heat down to medium-low and finish them on the other side.
- Veal cutlets are not in my repertoire, so all I can do is give general guidelines. Cutlets are cut thin (ours are ¼”) and are traditionally used in French dishes such as veal scaloppini and the German wiener schnitzel. Because it is such a small and thin cut, they need to be cooked hot and fast.
- For a nice stew, take any veal roast (chuck, arm, round, or rump) and cut into cubes approximately 1” across. We like to start by sauteing some onions, carrots, and celery, then a bit of garlic. Gather the veggies onto one side of the pot and add the veal chunks, cooking until just browned. Then pour in a good measure of stock (water will do, if necessary), depending on how much liquid you like, and as many potatoes as you want. Season however you like and simmer slowly until the potatoes are done. This is a great meal for a rainy fall day, and the chunks of veal will be unbelievable tender.
- An unexpected way to use a veal roast is to cook it hot and fast rather than low and slow. Specifically, we have done this a few times with the veal chuck roast. If you cooked a beef chuck hot and fast, leaving it pink in the middle, it would be unpalatably tough and chewy. But because veal comes from a younger animal, this is something you can get away with. I chop up some potatoes and carrots and put them in the bottom of a cast-iron Dutch oven (this is to catch the juices from the roast and prevent them from scorching). Then I put a wire cooling rack on top of the Dutch oven, and onto this I place the roast, which has been liberally rubbed with salt and pepper. Put in the oven at around 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees until done (the exact amount of time will depend on the size of the roast and how well done you like it, but figure for a further 10 to 15 minutes per pound). When it’s done, take it out and let it rest. Don’t even think about cutting into the meat until it has sat at room temp for at least 10 minutes, and 15 won’t hurt.