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Italian Braised Pork Steaks: Blogging on a Blog Wasn’t the Plan

5 Feb

Carey! So glad I’m finally getting this to you because it will surely add to your gluten-free repertoire of recipes! It does involve handling a bit of meat, which isn’t my favorite part of cooking, but compared to other dishes, its relatively hands-off when it comes to that part.


So why braised pork steaks? Well,there are two reasons: first, a couple days prior, Aleks came home with two bags full of meatsies he got at a serious discount at SuperValu. Like giant cuts for $3! This rampage at SuperValu also meant that neither Aleks nor I had any experience in some of the cuts. Time to experiment!

Second, because eating well-prepared, irresistibly delicious food with well-loved, irresistibly fun people is my favorite thing to do, I often accept Aleks’ requests to commission me to make dishes he discovers, and he always finds amazing recipes. Usually, however, I put my own spin on it, and that was supposed to be the case here. I was going to use different spices and some sauerkraut to make it a little more Eastern European; our condo-owners recently gifted us some homemade sauerkraut!

However, it truly is incredible what stress does to memory retention and attention skills. Once I got into the kitchen, my original plan to modify the recipe completely fell out of my head. Auto-pilot was turned on without my consent, and it wasn’t until the damage was done (delicious damage albeit) that I realized I deviated from our Eastern European vision. Italian it was then!

The original recipe is from this blog, and after trying this dish and browsing through some of his other recipes, I would probably try another. It was quite good.

I modified the amounts in the original blog to the ones below to suit my tastes and added a reduction process at the end and made a sauce from the yummy bits left after browning the steaks. I put that sauce over EVERYTHING. Sauce it up, dammit. That’s what I say. So mouthwatering.

2 pork shoulder steaks 
6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for searing
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
3/4 cup chicken stock
3 bay leaves (mine was old so I used more..)
1 onion, quartered
4-5 Yukon gold potatoes, quarter or halved if they are small

First step…rub it down.

First step is to get those spices mixed and mashed up good. On your cutting board, run your knife through the garlic, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper. The juices of the garlic will make all the other spices stick together a little, and once it’s minced, you can run the sides of your knife over the mixture to make a kind of paste.

Whisk this paste with the olive oil and vinegar, and using only half of the mixture, rub the spice mix on both sides of the steaks.

Second step…brown and braise it up.

Now we’re are going to brown the meat just enough to bring out some flavor, but not enough to cook the inside of it just yet.

Ideally you want to use an over-safe dish that can also be used on the stove top. If not, you can certainly use whatever pan you like for this first part and then a baking dish for the oven portion of recipe. Either way, you want to put about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan as it heats up on high. Once it’s hot and ready, place the steaks in the pan to sear on each side for about 3 minutes.

They should look nice and brown when you turn them over and then take them off the heat. (Hang onto the frying pan and the brown bits left at the bottom – we’re gonna need that! Rub the remaining garlic-spice paste on each side and place them on a plate for just a couple minutes while you prepare baking dish with the other ingredients.

Place the onions, celery, potatoes, bay leaf and chicken stock in the baking pan. Place the seared pork steak on top of the vegetables and cover the dish with foil if it doesn’t have an accompanying top.

Place in a 350 degree oven and braise for 1  1/2 hours. Check after 1 hour and add more liquid if necessary. The meat should be fork tender when it’s ready!

With the brown bits left in the pan used earlier, you can add a little red wine and boil it down while scraping the bits and mixing them around the wine with a wooden sp0on. If it feels right and you want to thin the reduction out a little (if it gets to thick), you can add a little broth if there is any left over from earlier. Drizzle this sauce over the veggies and steaks once they are plated and enjoy!

Fish Tacos My Way

17 Jan

Despite my love of this compact sea food treasure, I don’t know much about fish taco history or its origins. I’ve enjoyed many a fish taco in Los Angeles, at taco trucks, mexican food stands and restaurants (most frequently at Senor Fish in Eagle Rock outside of Occidental College), but in Wisconsin of all places, a chicana  once checked me at a festival for wanting to grub on some “made up Mexican food” at the fish taco stand. Apparently she believes that this form of taco merits poser status, created only to please gringo sensibilities? Detracts nothing from its deliciousness to me…Although I have a rather uninformed understanding that tacos and burritos originated on the border, other sources say that fish tacos come from the Baja region of Mexico for salt-water fish or from the lakes that once completely surrounded Mexico City during pre-colonization times for fresh water fish.

In my unapologetic food adventure from last Friday night, all this matters not. I did not follow a recipe – I just made this up.

First Steps: Lots of Chopping, Mixing and Blending

Because the fish and tortillas must be hot when served, they come last – first, the salsa and other toppings are prepared while drinking a good lager. My drink of choice while preparing this meal: Brooklyn Lager. Bought three cases of it at ridiculously low cost so that’s actually all I’ve been drinking lately…nothing special about it tonight.

I always prepare salsa first since I believe that the longer it marinades, the better. In a food processor too small for any of my needs, I threw in:

3/4 inch of a serrano pepper (could have used more though)
1 1/2 tomato
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 bunch of cilantro
Juice from 1 lemon 
Lots of salt

All of the above should be altered to your taste – I like a lot of lemon and salt, but that’s just because I’ve been  eating raw, whole lemons with salt on them since I was 5 years old. I’ve not only scorched my taste buds into needed these ingredients in excess, but I’m sure I’ve eaten away most of the enamel off my teeth. Refridgerate mixture until ready to serve.

Next, shred some cabbage. You better have some alternative plan for your left over cabbage (e.g. cold slaw, sauerkraut, solyanka), since a little shredding goes a long way. I don’t peel off the leaves – instead I cut into the cabbage head and slice off maybe a quarter of it, leaving it rounded. I put it on its flat side and make 1/8 inch semicircles good for taco stuffing. Then I wash it.

Now, although you have a good salsa at this point, I always like a little creamy sauce to go with it. A little more fat isn’t going to hurt you right? It’s fish taco night. Let loose. Mix together:

Juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime (at least! maybe more…)
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp mayonnaise
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
Couple pinches of cumin 
A little salt maybe…excuse my obsession.

Whisk away until combined and not too viscous. You want it a little runny so it can be somewhat drizzled over a taco. If you like it thicker like I sometimes do, you can put it on the taco first when assembling so that the following ingredients stick to the tortilla well. Mmmmm…so what I’m saying is add lemon as necessary.

Now if you have some extra lime or lemon, you can chop an avocado up next. Sprinkle some lemon juice (and salt, if blood pressure isn’t a concern…) over it to prevent browning and oxidation while you prepare the fish and tortillas. If no lemon, do it last. Go ahead and get the radishes washed and sliced up too while you are at it. I don’t really care for them unless pickled, but some folks (ahem…my partner…) do.

Business Time: Battering and Frying the Fish, Heating the Tortillas

I’ve fried up fish several ways, and often times the delicate meat of this aquatic animal is too prone to flaking and sticking to the pan to produce any decent outcome. However, I’ve worked through a battering method that has proven to strengthen the cuts of fish I’ve used, in addition to adding flavor. Although I’ve heard tilapia has a tendency to come out a little fishy, that’s what I most often use since I can get it cheap and in bulk, frozen packs at Aldis. I haven’t had a problem with fishiness yet. One day, I’m sure I will be able to afford to purchase my goods at a bougie fishmonger who can help me select the animal most suited for my needs. Until then, frozen tilapia it is. Ok, fish batter includes:

1 egg
1 cup flower
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp oregano
2 tsp cayenne pepper
some salt

Side note: all proportions above are an estimation on my part.

In one dish large enough to lay one filet flat, crack and beat the egg until mixed well. In another dish of similar size, combine the rest of the dry ingredients.  After the oil (canola) is hot in your pan (on medium to medium low heat), get both sides of a couple fillets drenched in the egg and hold them upright over the dish to let excess egg drip off before coating both sides of the fillets in the flour mixture. Place in oil and check on them in 3-4 minutes. At some point in the frying, you may have to reduce the temperature depending on your pan and how it distributes heat. While that first side is browning, get two other fillets ready and coated in egg and then the flour-spice mixture.

When the first side is golden brown or colored to your liking, gently flip your fish and cook the other side. Again, check on that in another 3-4 minutes and when it is golden brown, remove from pan and fry up you other fillets, placing cooked fillets on a plate with a couple sheets of paper towel and tented with foil to keep warm. Repeat all these steps for frying until all your fillers have had a go in the pan. You will probably have to add more oil the more you fry since the fish and batter mixture absorb a good amount of the oil.

If you have time in between frying you can start warming up your corn tortillas. I like to heat them up directly on the stove top, no pan, no oil, over low heat for 1-2 minutes each side, but there are other options. If I am short on stove top space, I sometimes roll them up in a moistened paper towel and microwave them for 10-15 seconds. The paper towel keeps them moist and you can do more than one at a time. Excellent time saver. Place them in foil or a tortilla warmer so that they keep toasty.

Taco Assembly: Do what you feel

Here is where you can just go crazy. Lay out your spread (as illustrated in the photo at the top of this entry), and get your goods in your tortilla! Aside from the radishes, I put it all in. Oh, and did I mention more lime on top of it all?

Enjoy!

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