Category Archives: Father’s Day

Asian “Carnitas” with Sesame-Shiitake Slaw

 Tony writes: What would “carnitas” be like if reimagined with an Asian pantry? Kogi has kinda already  answered this question, but  the technique is relatively intuitive, so you can trail-blaze your way through the method even without a trip to the West Cost (though  do, if it’s an option; I included a visit to Kogi on a recent L.A. tour and it was well worth the wait!!). Slow-cook a tough cut (pork shoulder is the thing for carnitas, but any hardy cut will do – even boneless chicken thighs) until falling-apart tender. Then shred, pair with an intense sauce and other interesting textures and flavors, and tuck into some sort of wrap. The whole thing, though slow cooking, is easy and hands-free and the best part is you get plenty of leftovers which keep in the fridge for 4 or 5 days and go well in rice, pastas, salads, or even vegetable-heavy re-braises. Here’s the basic set-up:

-Pork butt actually has nothing to do with the animal’s posterior; rather, it’s the front shoulder, a marbled, tough cut that’s traditional to braising (and shredding) in Southern pulled pork or Mexican carnitas. A full boneless butt weighs about 9 lb. (and feeds 12 to 14); for this method, a half butt suffices.

Balanced flavors: As tender as pork butt becomes with slow cooking, it’s got a slightly gamey flavor which you’ll want to match through a two-pronged effort. The first is a spice rub, a relatively simple one at that: a sprinling of salt, pepper, sugar, and 5-spice powder. The longer you let this mixture marinate the meat, the better (it will almost cure the pork the way you would with bacon). The second step is to create an aromatic – ie: really intense – braising broth: here, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns (if you have), fermented black beans, and a good splash of vinegar become the Asian heavies, mimicking what chiles and spices do with Mexican carnitas.

Season, sear, simmer, shred: Alliteration makes me happy; that and pun-y names for hairdressing salon’s.  Though the actual cooking in this recipe takes about 3 hours, each step in this process is relatively simple and hands-free. The further ahead you can season the meat, the better (shoot for 1 day). Sear the meat in a heavy pot (I use my Le Crueset) to get good color which, in turn, creates a rich, caramelized base for the broth. After adding some liquid (water, sherry, soy, and vinegar), cover and simmer gently until the meat becomes completely – and I mean COMPLETELY – tender. Let the meat rest for a bit and then shred using forks or tongs or whatever.

Recipe (Serves 8)

1. Season: Unfurl a boneless half pork butt (about 4 lb; Boston butt). In a small bowl, mix 5 tsp. kosher salt, 2 tsp. granulated sugar, 1 tsp. black pepper, and 1 tsp. 5-spice powder. Sprinkle all over the pork and let sit at room temp for 15 minutes or up to 2 days in the refrigerator; the longer it “marinates”, the more uniform its spiced flavor.



2. Sear and simmer:  Set a heavy-based Dutch oven over medium-high heat until a droplet of water instantly evaporates on its surface, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pat the pork dry (to remove any excess moisture that the salt rub might have pulled out), add 2 Tbs. canola oil to the pot, carefully set the pork in the pot, and cook without touching until an edge easily releases when lifted with tongs and the underside is nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip, reduce the heat to medium, and brown the other side in the same manner. Transfer the pork to a large plate. Add 1 Tbs. canola oil, 3 dried chiles (broken up), 3 garlic cloves (smashed), a 1-inch knob ginger (thinly sliced), 1 Tbs. fermented black beans (chopped), and 1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns (if you have, or are interested in making a trip to the Asian market). Cook, stirring, until the garlic browns lightly and all the aromatics become fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup  dry sherry (or Shaoxing wine) and cook, stirring to incorporate any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until it almost completely cooks off, 1 minute. Add 1 cup water (or chicken broth if you have), 2 Tbs. white vinegar, 1 Tbs. light brown sugar, and 1 Tbs. sesame oil. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer (about medium low). Add the pork, cover, and cook, flipping the meat every 30 minutes or so, until it’s completely tender (you should be able to easily break apart and shred off pieces of the meat), about 2 1/2 hours.


3. Shred and slaw: Transfer the braised pork to a large platter and let cool for 10 minutes. Spoon off and discard the top layer of fat from the braising liquid. Then strain the braising liquid (through a fine-mesh sieve) and return to the pot; season to taste with salt, pepper, soy, vinegar, etc…. Using tongs or a fork, shred the meat and transfer to its braising liquid in the pot to keep warm. Meanwhile, make the slaw: Heat 1 Tbs. canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add  1/2 green cabbage (cored and thinly sliced, about 5 cups), 1 pack shiitakes (3 1/2 oz, stemmed and thinly sliced) and 1 tsp. each kosher salt, granulated sugarsesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Cook, tossing, until the mixture wilts and browns in places, 2 to 3 minutes.



4. Serve: Heat 8-inch flour tortillas in foil in the oven. Serve by topping the tortillas with a drizzle of hoisin sauce and sriracha and then the shredded meat and slaw. Have plenty of napkins on hand at the dinner table.


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Tortilla-Crusted Pork Chops with Pickled Red Onions and Jalapenos

My friend Hobie writes: My kids eat nachos frequently, so we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do with the crushed pieces at the bottom of the bag. Any thoughts?

Tony’s take: Hobie, these are the questions that keep me up at night. My normal solution to this specific scenario – to dig my fingers into the bottom of the bag and kinda cheez-doodle the last bits -robs you of your dignity (trust me). The good news is that tortilla crumbs do have quite a few culinary applications (see below),  My favorite entails coating them on pork chops and mixing them with quick-pickled jalapenos. Give it a whirl:


– Coat or sprinkle:  You can divide the repurposing of tortilla chips into two groups. You can crush them into small uniform crumbs,  pat onto chicken breasts, fish (mild, white-fleshed varieties like cod or tilapia), or pork chops, and pan-fry or roast in a hot oven (a modern riff on “Cornflakes Chicken”). Or you can sprinkle tortilla crumbs on tortilla soup, a black bean stew or white bean chili along with diced avocado, fresh tomato and chopped cilantro.

About the chops and chips: I tested both bone-in and boneless chops in this recipe: boneless are easier eating (and cooking), though I preferred the pairing of the hearty bone-in chops with the crisp crust. As for the tortillas, the goal is to make sure they become uniform crumbs (about the coarseness of Panko) so they coat evenly. If your chips have experienced a real storage/crushing problem, you might have enough (about 2 cups) from the remnants of one bag. Chances are, though, you’ll need to crush up some larger pieces to get to this amount. You can do so in a food processor, though I prefer smashing them in a zip-top bag, using a clenched fist and thinking angry thoughts:


The recipe: Serves 4

1. Season the chops:  Sprinkle 4 large center-cut bone-in pork chops (about 2 1/4 lb.) or 8 boneless chops (about  1 1/2 lb) with 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder (or pimenton de la Vera).


2. Crush the tortilla crumbs:  Add 3 cups tortilla chip pieces (about 3 oz.) to a zip-top bag, seal (this is important), and then pound away until the pieces become uniform (the size of Panko); you should get a yield of about 2 cups; pound another cup or so if  using boneless chops.


3. Coat the chops: To 3 shallow bowls, add 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 eggs (beaten), and the tortilla crumbs. Working one chop at a time, add the pork first to the flour (gently shake off any excess), then dip in the egg (here’s a good place to use tongs), and then drop into the tortilla crumbs (use your fingers to press and pat the tortillas onto the pork). Transfer to a large plate.


4. Sear-roast the chops: Heat the oven to 425F. Heat 2 Tbs. canola oil or vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based skillet (I used my cast-iron which fit 4 bone-in chops) over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering hot, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the chops (or half if cooking the boneless), evenly spaced, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the crust browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for 1 minute (If using boneless, transfer the cooked chops to a plate and cook the remaining chops with 1 Tbs. oil). Transfer the pan to the oven and cook the pork until it becomes mostly firm to the touch and registers 145F when temped with an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 8 minutes depending on thickness.

 5. Serve (with pickled red onions): You could serve the chops as is with a wedge of lime, though I chose to up the tang quotient with some quick-pickled red onions (see below). However you serve the pork, make sure to let it rest for a minute or two before eating so the juices redistribute (ie: the pork stays juicy).


Spicy Pickled Red Onions: There really isn’t much to these, just wilt some sliced red onion and jalapeno with a little salt and sugar and then marinate in red wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 week: Add 1 sliced red onion (cut in half, peeled, and thinly sliced) and 1 sliced jalapeno (sliced in thin rings crosswise…with the seeds) to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. sugar and let sit for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and let sit for another 15 minutes before serving or cover, refrigerate, and hold for up to 1 week.

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Grilled Spice-Rubbed Chicken with a Honey BBQ Glaze

Michel writes: What am I missing with barbecued chicken?  It’s always been my favorite, but every time I grill it, I burn it and not from not lack of attention. Should I just bake it? I’m thinking the oven might be the way to go. Agreed?

Tony’s take: Happy days….first grill question of the season! And make no  mistake, Michel, this is a grill question. Baking bbq chicken is, at best, a compromise: no smoke, no fire, no fun. Yes, grilling bbq chicken can go wrong, but it goes wrong for the same reason folks burn campfire marshmallows or roll solo through HOV lanes or wear shorts in April in New England: not enough discipline (or a plan, as it were). And here’s the thing: a simple method can get you there. Just divide the technique into two stages: first, grill the chicken sauce-free until cooked through and crisp (but most definitely not burnt); then, finish grilling the chicken with a couple of minutes of controlled basting to achieve the desired glazy/gooey crust, but still without crossing into charred or burnt territory. Go to the grill with this plan (and a quick, but intensely flavored homemade bbq sauce), and you’ll forever solve your bbq chicken conundrum.

The technique: I like chicken parts for grilling, preferably from a whole bird so you get a nice mix of white and dark meat (after cutting it up). The bones help maintain moisture and the skin offers crisp possibilities. Break the whole bird down into 10 even pieces, then hit it with a double dose of flavorings: a spice rub to start and a quick bbq sauce/glaze to finish. Grill the spice-rubbed chicken over a moderate fire, flipping often, until it browns and cooks through. Then start basting with the sauce and flipping until it, too, browns and caramelizes. Serve with vegetables or something else kinda good for you and start stretching for a summer full of grilling.

IMG_0004 1. Prep and spice rub the chicken: Cut a whole chicken (4 lb.) into 10 pieces (or buy 3 lb. chicken parts). Rinse well and then pat dry. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. pimenton de la Vera (or chipotle powder), and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sprinkle all over the chicken along with 1 Tbs. olive oil and then marinate the chicken for up to 2 days (in the refrigerator) or let sit at room temperature while the grill heats.IMG_0006 2. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup honey, 2 Tbs. ketchup, 1 Tbs. cider vinegar, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 tsp. Sriracha, and 1 tsp. Worcestershire. Reserve or refrigerate for up to 1 week. IMG_0008   3. Grill: Heat a gas grill to medium or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Rub the grill grates with oil. Grill the chicken, covered on a gas grill or uncovered over a charcoal fire, flipping every couple of minutes, until browned and crisp and completely cooked through, about 20  min.; cut into a thicker piece or check that the chicken hits 165F on an instant-read thermometer. If there are flare-ups, move the chicken to another part of the fire. If the chicken begins to burn, reduce the heat to medium or transfer to a cooler zone.


4. Glaze and serve: Brush both sides of the chicken with the bbq sauce and cook, flipping, until the sauce browns all over and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.





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