January 12, 2008

making some favorites: oxtail soup, chilaquiles and pork rillettes

One of Lav's favorite soups his her mom's Chinese oxtail soup. Full of collagen that converts to gelatin when boiled in water, oxtails make an amazing soup base, full of rich flavor and body. The traditional Chinese oxtail soup, with its carrots, potatoes and tomatoes, is the kind of hearty meal that's perfect on a cold winter day.

For brunch this morning, Lav went for the oxtail soup. I'd been wanting to make one of my favorite bruch dishes, chilaquiles. Chilaquiles were originally created as a way to use leftovers, which worked out nicely as a way to use some of our roast pork shoulder and fromage blanc (which turned out to be a surprisingly adequate subsitute for queso). I like mine with an oozing poached egg.

I've also been meaning to try making pork rillettes. Rillettes are similar to confit in that they are made of slowly cooked rich meat preserved by being packed in its own fat. Really well-made pork rillettes spread on toasted slices of baguette (with some stone-ground mustard and cornichons) are one of the great pleasures in life... a perfect mid-afternoon snack to have on the weekend with a glass of wine. Cafe Prese has a fantastic version on their menu, but even though it'll only set you back $6, that's still off limits for this month. So it seemed like it was finally time to try making it. My cure for the slab of pork belly consisted of salt, coffee grounds (Tully's dark roast), cinnamon, allspice, clove, cayenne, star anise, peppercorns and a crushed bay leaf.

Slow braised overnight in a 235 degree oven for 8 hours with two cups of water, half a red onion, a shallot and 4 smashed cloves of garlic, the pork belly fell apart into a mound of tenderness when shredded with two forks. I remoistened the meat with a bit of the braising liquid, then pressed it into 4 ramekins and topped each off with the separated rendered pork fat from the braising. The "fat cap" serves to preserve the meat from spoiling. As a result, most recipes recommend waiting 2 days with the rillettes at room temperature before eating it. Left undisturbed, the rillettes should last at least a week at room temperature, or two weeks in the refrigerator. I'll break into the first ramekin in a day or two; the rest are going into the freezer.

Total cost of ingredients for 4 ramekins of pork rillettes: $2.50. Not bad.

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