Growing up on a farm in our country’s heartland was filled with many adventures for a youngster! There were always new things to do, see and smell as the seasons went from spring planting to fall’s bountiful harvest. I remember well the fragrance of the rich black topsoil as it would be prepared for planting corn, soybeans, oats and sorghum. Then the rains would come, watering the earth and providing the moisture those seeds would need to sprout. The air always smelled so fresh and clean following one of Mother Nature’s showers! The sun, of course, was an essential part of the mix. How wonderful it always was to be able to walk barefooted in the soil lovingly warmed by ol’ Sol! It was great fun, too, to walk shoeless through the mud puddles following a heavy rain, the warm mud squishing up between our toes. Mom always admonished us to “Wipe your feet off before coming back into the house!” after every rain. I suspect, however, that she had enjoyed doing the very same thing when she was a youngster… and that Grandma admonished her and her two sisters to do the very same thing!
Fields were planted, calves and piglets were birthed, baby chicks and ducks were hatched. Everything held the promise of wonderful fare for the table that would sustain a farm family of sixteen through the course of the cold, harsh Minnesota winters. I particularly remember tending to the baby pigs, feeding them and watching them grow, knowing that the day would come when there would be a succulent slice of roast pork or sumptuous pork chops on our dinner plates. The day would eventually come when Dad would say that the local butcher was on his way out to the farm with his specially equipped truck laden with sharp knives and a hoist to suspend the prized pig as he would begin the butchering process. The carcass was then taken to his shop where he would cut, wrap and freeze the freshly processed meat in freezer lockers that Dad would rent. It was always an adventure driving to the butcher shop in our small rural town to retrieve baskets of frozen meat to take home to replenish the emptying freezers at home. As the huge heavy commerical freezer door would open and we would walk through the ice cold air swirling around us to our designated compartments, I always felt as if we were walking through a secretive vault to collect our treasures!
Pork… a gloriously versatile white meat that we prepare in our kitchen often! A favorite cut of ours that is relatively inexpensive is pork shoulder, or butt. It is well marbled to lend incredibly fine flavor to any dish in which it is used, particularly Braised Pork Shoulder with Tarragon & Thyme…
Braised Pork Shoulder with Tarragon & Thyme
Prepare for marinating:
1 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder
Trim the excess fat from the meat and cut into 3/4 – 1-inch cubes. Place cubes in a bowl and add:
1 tsp (generous) smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 T tarragon vinegar
Toss to coat with two forks and allow to marinate up to 8 hours at room temperature, occasionally tossing the mixture. We marinate the pork for the full 8 hours for maximum flavor penetration. Also, if tarragon vinegar is not in your pantry or available in your local market, white wine vinegar is an acceptable substitute.
As cooking time approaches prepare the following:
1 carrot, finely grated
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
8-0z Crimini mushrooms (left whole if small or quartered if large)
2 leeks, cleaned and finely chopped
Chef’s Note: When trimming leeks trim each leaf separately, working your way towards the green leaves, rather than removing the green leaves with one cut, which wastes a lot of the usable portion of the leek.
Quarter each leek cutting through to approximately half an inch from the root end. This opens the leek up for thorough washing under running water to easily remove excess dirt. Since the end of the white portion is tightly compacted it is not necessary to quarter through to the end.
1 1/2 T minced fresh tarragon leaves stripped from the stems
1 1/2 T fresh thyme leaves stripped from the stems
Remove pork from the marinade and pat dry between paper towels to remove excess marinade. Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat and add:
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
When oil is shimmering add the pork:
Saute until meat is well browned:
Remove meat from pan and set aside. To the pan add:
extra virgin olive oil, one quick turn
Add the grated carrot, leeks, tarragon and thyme and saute until the leeks have softened. Make a well in the center of the pan, adding:
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Place the garlic slices in the well and saute until soft, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
When garlic has softened mix all of the ingredients together and add, to deglaze the pan:
1/2 C dry white white
When deglazed, add the Crimini mushrooms as well as:
1/2 – 3/4 C pitted mixed Mediterranean olives, whole (we suggest a combination of Kalamata and Mt. Athos green)
Saute for 2 – 3 minutes then add:
1 T tomato paste
Stir to incorporate, then add a slurry made of:
1 C chicken stock
1 1/2 T flour
Chef’s Note: To make a smooth lump free slurry, measure the stock into a 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl and whisk together with a small hand whisk, spinning it between your palms to create a smooth frothy mixture.
Stir to incorporate and return the pork to the pan. Stir, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and add:
3 T creme fraiche
Stir to incorporate and serve over pasta, steamed rice or as a stand alone in a heated dish garnished with an additonal dollop of creme fraiche. The addition of a salad makes this a very complete and satisfying meal. We last enjoyed this ladled over whole wheat pasta and found the combination to be delicious… Bon Appetit!
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