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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Porkman Cometh

Super Maxi Royale Choucroute (image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

Stéphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons is big, squishy and pink: not unlike a pig. Which makes sense. The book itself is an ode to the honking Pork lifestyle, a mix of memoir, photos, drawings and recipes that leads readers through the slaughter, preparation and (most importantly) consumption of nature's tastiest white meat.

Reynaud, co-owner of the Montreuil restaurant Villa 9 Trois, comes by his love honestly. His Grandfather – a successful and serious butcher in rural France – brought the young lad to his first pig-killing at the tender age of 7. Now 40, Reynaud describes the event with mild nostalgia and brevity. Gory details are eschewed in favor of two “menus” (then and now) which demonstrate no matter the year or age, a 400 pound pig yields about 200 sausages, 6½ feet of boudin noir, 44 pounds of pâté, 18 pounds of roasting meat, 2 hams, 2 bellies, and one celebratory lunchtime fricassée. Apparently, the only thing that has changed is Reynaud’s drinking: out with the hot cocoa, in with the wine.

As far as slaughters go, this is about as inviting a description as I'd ever hope to read, and it speaks volumes on the book’s approach. Pork & Sons is noticeably light-hearted and non-threatening. There is nary a whiff of the moral gravitas you might find at, say, The River Cottage, nor even a speck of blood. Instead, we are treated to profiles of his relatives punctuated by José Reis de Matos' whimsical line drawings and Marie-Pierre Morel's fantastic photography. All of which suggests that for Reynaud & Co., pork appreciation is a family affair, one which merits unmitigated celebration.

To which I say, pork on. Reynaud's memoir provides flavor without overbearing, and his 150 recipes are concise, accessible and enticing. (Each, impressively, is accompanied by a full-page color photo.) As with Phaidon Press' other recent European import – Italy's highly-praised Silver SpoonPork & Sons has first-rate design. Yet it also shares similar foibles: occasionally awkward translation, notably minimalist instructions, and an organizational scheme that requires some patience to decipher. It's the cookbook equivalent of the French countryside: pleasant, meandering, casual, yet dead serious about food.

As for the recipes themselves? Here are a few that we put to the test.
First up: Pork Rilettes, shoulder meat slow-cooked in fat and bacon then mashed and chilled. This was a real pleasure to make, from the sizzle of the lard and onions to the smell of gently frying bacon.After about 4 hours, the pork will be shimmering, luscious and fork-tender. Can't you just smell the love? I did, especially while potting the meat for cooling and eating. The end result is a creamy and flavorful pâté/pig butter hybrid. Spread a little on bread, and your evening will sing.
The Pork Ragout with Sage and Brown Beans was even simpler, an Italian-styled stew of pork, beans, tomatoes, wine and sage. I liked the idea but the proportions were slightly off (the sauce was dominated by tomato). The recipe work better as a point of departure: a formula to tinker with and tailor to your tastes.
Far less user friendly? The enticingly titled Crisp Tenderloins with Carrots. In theory, this was supposed to be a pork loin wrapped in shredded potatoes and chives then fried to a golden crust. In practice, I ended up with a slightly overcooked piece of pork and a side of hashbrowns. Delicious hashbrowns, yet nothing worth the downright silly effort to follow Reynaud's “instructions” (brown meat, shred potatoes, wrap around meat, wrap in plastic, boil, unwrap, fry). In retrospect, this recipe promised more than I could deliver. That said, the accompanying carrots were easy to replicate and absolutely delightful: slow-braised in butter, broth and brown sugar, and a real crowd-pleaser.One of our favorite dishes was Reynaud's nod to the tajine, the Pork With Dates and Dried Apricots. Both his recipe and instructions were spot-on. The spicing was simple, aromatic and understated. And the flavors, fruits, and creamy cloves of garlic (baked in their own husks) blended wonderfully without overwhelming the meat's flavor. A keeper by any measure.
Eat Me! (image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

Much like the book itself. Since it arrived, I have repeatedly turned to Pork & Sons for inspiration and guidance. And I have only one real complaint: the lousy “resources” section at the book's end. I spent the better part of two days trying to track down a morteau sausage for a lentil recipe, only to discover that real French charcuterie is nigh-impossible to find in New York City. This after talking with everyone from a charming woman at the Alliance Francaise, to several restaurateurs of varying temperaments, to meat distributors and specialty producers. The only chap who did sell the morteau was an importer based somewhere near Virginia; but his bedside manner fell somewhere between John Cleese's Snooty French Waiter caricature (Monty Python) and a Naomi Campbell rage blackout. Nothing, in short, that made me want to drop $40 on links... so those lentils and the Super Maxi Royale plate (above) never came to be.

Still, don't be deterred. If you consider yourself a pork enthusiast and feel reasonably comfortable around a kitchen, Pork & Sons is just the book to start your summer off proper.

Pork Rilettes
Recipe adapted from Pork & Sons by permission
(image courtesy of Phaidon Press)

5½ ounces fresh pork fat or lard
generous cup of dry white wine
1 onion, sliced
fresh rosemary sprig
fresh bay leaf
generous pound of boneless fatty pork shoulder
3½ ounces smoked bacon
salt and pepper

Add the onions, rosemary, bay leaf and wine to a pan. Heat gently to melt the pork fat. Dice the pork shoulder and bacon, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add to the pot. Cook over very low heat for 3-4 hours (stirring frequently) until the meat breaks up.

When fork-tender, discard the herbs and remove the pork (with a slotted spoon). Meat should be mashed or shredded. Correct for seasoning, and spoon into three 9-ounce pots. Press down in pot, and cover with fat. Let cool before eating. Serve with baguette or crackers, and enjoy!



Anonymous Doug said...

great post - I love the pairing of pork and fruit - the dates sound perfect.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

That pork and dates dish tempts even me...xo Lis

3:13 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

yeah, the tajine is a terrific pork enthusiast recipe... but i think vegetarians would love it too, what with all the fruit. and the flavor.

11:13 AM  

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