After visiting Fubonn, “The Largest Asian Shopping Center in Oregon”, a few weeks ago and seeing the overwhelming selection in their meat department, I knew one thing for sure: the hour was nigh that I would attempt to make my own bacon. The pork belly was abundant. I went back a week ago and picked up a 3lb slab or so for around $8.00.
Using Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie as a guide I set out to find some pink salt. It says in the book that you will likely have to order it and have it shipped to your home, but being in Portland, a culinary empire unto itself, I just new there had to be some about. I headed over to Pastaworks and looked around for some there, but they didn’t have any for sale. So, I asked their on-site butcher Dave if he might know where I could pick some up. He quickly asked me how much I needed. I said how much can you spare, and he replied, “About 50 lbs.” It turns out that he had ordered what he thought would be a small box, but ultimately proved to be a life-time supply. I left with about 8oz. The Basic Dry Cure in the book couldn’t be simpler. It consists of 1# Kosher Salt, 8oz Sugar, and 2oz Pink Salt. That’s it. You mix it up, then rub it all over your pork belly. For my first attempt I also added crushed juniper berries, garlic, and black pepper, thus creating a savory bacon. Most breakfast bacon, I believe is sweet cured, typically with brown sugar, so this turned out to be quite a departure from what I am used to.
To carry out the curing process the only equipment that is required is a 2 gallon Ziploc bag and a pan to place the pork belly in. Once the dry cure has been applied, you put it in the bag with the other ingredients (you can basically use anything you want to.) Then place it in the refrigerator, and flip it over everyday for 7 days, or until the belly feels firm at the thickest point. Effortless, really. Once it is done curing, take it out, rinse it off, and dry it. Then place the pork belly on a wire rack on a baking sheet, and put it in a 200º oven for 2 hours. Take it out and slice off the skin with a sharp knife, and there you have it: Bacon.
The Croque Madame is a decadent, luxurious sandwich which I learned about in Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon. This is indeed the preparation from that book. This sandwich is a grilled ham and cheese, with a fried egg on top, and smothered in Mornay sauce. Mornay is a basic traditional white sauce from French cuisine called a Béchamel with shredded cheese added to it—-essentially it’s a boojey alfredo sauce. Croque Madames are an addiction for me, and every time the urge strikes me to make them I simply go into auto-pilot and let the madness take over. I was inspired to make them this time during the course of our first visit to the Portland Farmer’s Market, where I came across a vender selling farm fresh eggs with his son, promoted as being no more than 4 days old. Now, I’m no egg expert, but that’s a fresh egg! I have read that eggs in the supermarket can be up to a month old before they are even put on the shelf, and those are mainly the eggs I use, because, well, they’re cheap! So I know about supermarket eggs: pale yellow yolks, and watery whites. These eggs from the farmer’s market were a different story with vibrant, deep orange yolks, and wholesome, substantial whites. The difference was palpable in every way, and it has to do with many more factors than shelf-life, but this is meant to be a post about a sandwich, so moving on. . . .
The Mornay Sauce
click on picture for weights and measurements
To make the Mornay Sauce you will need the following ingrediants: milk, heavy cream, onion, flour, whole cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, white pepper, a bayleaf, salt, and Comte cheese or a similar variety.
To begin, melt the butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan set on a diffuser. This is to prevent scorching. I don’t have a diffuser, so I set the saucepan over a second, larger pan.
Once the butter has melted, add the diced onion and cook until almost translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to fry them.
Next, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously to avoid burning, cook for about 3 minutes longer on low heat. This is called a ‘Roux’.
Up the heat and slowly add the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly, and bring to a simmer. Once the sauce begins to simmer lower the heat, throw in the bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves and allow to cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it reduces to a rich, creamy consistency. Move the saucepan around on the diffuser occasionally to prevent any scorching. If it does begin to scorch, transfer the sauce to a different saucepan, and continue to simmer.
Once the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, remove from the heat and add a few gratings of nutmeg, a pinch of white pepper, and salt to taste.
Stir it up, and then strain it into a separate container large enough to hold at least 4 cups.
Finally, throw the cheese in and stir it up again, really well this time, so the cheese melts and distributes evenly.
And there you have it: Mornay Sauce!!
Putting It All Together: The Grilled Ham and Cheese and the Fried Egg
The cookbook calls for Brioche bread, boiled ham, and swiss cheese to make the sandwich, but realistically you could use any combination of similar items, and it would still be good. I’m pretty sure most every one knows how to prepare a grilled cheese sandwich, and fry an egg, but I’m going to do the rundown on how they do it at Bouchon, because that’s how I do it every time at home.
Here goes: Preheat oven to 375º. Heat a large skillet and a small non-stick frying an on the stovetop. Butter 2 slices of Brioche, place butter side down in the skillet, and layer as much or as little ham on the slices as you desire, then top with cheese. Once the bread has evenly browned to a golden crisp, place the whole pan in the oven and bake until the ham is thoroughly warmed and the cheese is melted. Next butter the fry pan and crack the egg. Cook until the white has set, and the egg can slide around freely, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking off the top of the white. The two should finish in the oven at about the same time. And that’s how they do it at Bouchon. I don’t know anyone else who’s doing it this way. I do it because they charge 17 dollars for this sandwich, and I want the full effect!
All that remains is assembly. Plate one half of the sandwich, and then flip the other half on top of that, top it with the fried egg, and cover it with the Mornay sauce, leaving the yolk exposed (obviously!) Finish it off with some fresh ground pepper and some parsley, and you’re good to go. I think Owen Lightly over at Butter on the Endive said it best when he called this a “fork and knife” sandwich. It is indeed. Dig in!!
The Fried Green Tomato Bacon Lettuce & Tomato with Goat Cheese Spread
One of my favorite sandwiches of all-time is the FGTBLT. I saw it for the first time on the menu at the Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC while my girlfriend and I were bicycle touring through the state, but I failed to order one then and there. However, the idea stuck with me, and once I was settled again (in a place with a kitchen) I endeavored to make this sandwich for lunch one day. It has quickly become an obsession, and I usually commit to making them whenever I see Green Tomatoes for sale somewhere, as they were at the farmer’s market the day before yesterday. My sandwich differs from most others that I’ve seen on menus here and there, including Hominy Grill, because I include fresh tomatoes, as well as the fried ones. Here I will describe how I make these giants of the sandwich world.
Ingredients: Green Tomatoes, Fresh Tomatoes, Thick-cut Bacon, Lettuce, A Good Loaf of Bread, Goat Cheese, a splash of heavy cream or milk, Flour, 2 Eggs, Panko (bread crumbs), Canola Oil, Spices
To begin, the Bacon:
When I cook bacon, I cook it in the toaster oven, and there are a number of reasons why. The first is because of the uniform nature this method facilitates. Each slice come out equally crisp, and shaped almost exactly alike from piece to piece. The second is because I always save my bacon fat, something I recommend that everyone who loves bacon do, and this method leaves the fat relatively clean compared with pan frying. Bacon fat is great for SO many things, including sautéing, biscuits and gravy, and if you save enough, confit. I could go on: Save your bacon fat! And the third reason is because it’s easy to clean up.
This is what you do: Turn the toaster-oven on to 375º, line the mini baking sheet included with tin foil (or if you don’t have one, just shape the tin into a pan), fit as many pieces as will fit or you want to make, and then put it in the oven and let it bake until it reaches your desired crispiness. This is how it comes out:
I know, it’s undeniable.
Now for the Green Tomatoes:
You will need one bowl with flour in it, a second bowl with the two eggs, lightly beaten, and a third bowl with the panko. If you don’t know what panko is, it is Japanese-style bread crumbs. They are the kind I prefer, but use whatever you like. I usually throw a bunch of herbs and spices into the panko, such as minced parsley, cayenne, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper–use whatever you like–and then mix it up really well. Another good addition is parmesan cheese. I use parmesan in this recipe, but it’s not essential.
Take the tomatoes, core them, and slice them very thin, say a 1/4″ or so. Next is the assembly line process: 1. Dip each slice in the flour, shake off the excess. 2. Dip the slice in the egg, shake off the excess. 3. Cover and press the panko mixture into the tomato slice. 4. Set breaded tomato slice aside. Repeat until you lose your mind, or you run out of slices, whichever comes first.
Next, heat a large, heavy skillet on the stove at medium-high heat with about 1/4″ inch of canola oil. A good way to gauge when the oil is ready for frying is to place a couple of un-popped popcorn kernels in the pan and wait for them to pop. When they pop, the oil’s ready. Start frying! Place the tomato slices around the pan, but don’t crowd them, stick to four at a time. This is to insure that the tomatoes don’t reduce the temperature of the oil. Check to make sure they are frying evenly, and if not rotate them, and if they appear to be cooking too fast, reduce the heat a bit. Once they are golden brown on the one side, flip them over, and do the same on the other. Add more oil as needed. Lay the cooked tomatoes on a paper towel to soak up some of the excess oil. When they’re all done they should look something like this:
Making the goat cheese spread is a breeze. Simply take a good portion of soft goat cheese, add a splash of heavy cream or milk, and whip it together until it reaches a smooth consistency. Don’t buy goat cheese spread! It costs twice as much, and this is just as good! You can even mix in herbs to your own liking.
Finally, all you have left is assembly. Toast the bread if you like it toasted, slice the fresh tomatoes, tear off a couple pieces of lettuce, spread the goat cheese on the toast, and stack it as high as you dare!
Collard Greens and beets are two of my favorite vegetables. I swore up and down that I hated beets for years and years until I decided to buy some fresh ones at the market and try them out again. Both of these are cheap, and simple to prepare. One bunch of collards is enough to feed a family of four. I bought the bunch (about 5lbs) I used here for $3.50 at the supermarket, but they sell them at farmers markets for as little as $2.00. Beets are a great anytime snack, especially drizzled with olive oil with salt & pepper, or with, my favorite, rich goat cheese. I bought 5lbs of these for $3.00 at the farmers market–that’s 60¢ a pound! I do not recommend buying these in the supermarket, as they are usually exceedingly overpriced. This is how I prepare each of these:
Ingredients: 1 Bunch Collards, 1 Onion, a few cloves garlic, Salt Pork or anything with fat including just fat, bacon fat for instance, or to keep it vegetarian, about half a cup of Olive Oil, Chicken or Vegetable Stock or water, Vinegar, Salt & Pepper
Heat the Oven to 300ºF. Take one bunch of collards and trim the stalks from the leaves, then cut them up into about 2″X2″ pieces or smaller, and set aside. Peel and thinly slice an onion, and peel and mince some fresh garlic. Today we had some chorizo that we needed to use, so that’s what I used for the fatty pork. Cook whatever you have, or just heat the fat or oil, in a dutch oven or any large pot with a tight fitting lid. Once the pork is cooked and all the fat is rendered, you can either remove it and add it back in later, or leave it in the pot. I opt to take it out. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and quickly sauté and then start adding the collards. They won’t all fit in at once, so add as much as will fit, and stir until they cook down, then add some more until they’re all in there. Season with salt and pepper as you go. Add a cup of stock, give it a stir, and put it in the oven for an 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven, stir in a tablespoon or two of vinegar. This will yield a massive quantity. Be careful, it’s hard to stop eating them.
Ingredients: As many beets as you want to make at once, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper
Heat the oven to 425ºF. Take the beets (do not peel), and coat them in olive oil by mixing them around in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, then wrap them up in tin foil, either individually or in groups of two or three, so long as they are completely wrapped up. Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, place them on your charcoal grill when you have to let the coals burn down. They taste awesome off the grill, and it’s a great way to save yourself the guilt of losing so much charcoal. When they are cool enough to handle, peel, slice and serve.