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Passover Ends

April 23, 2014

A normal person would have just gone out for pizza. Without a doubt, that’s the best way to celebrate a week without leavened bread. Maybe even just a bowl full of cereal. Seriously, as dull as cereal can become when you eat it every day, try skipping it for a week. After a break, you’ll remember why you started to eat it in the first place.

But I make no claims to being a normal person. I’m very very lucky to be able to follow my bliss and see where it takes me. Yesterday, it involved six hours of cooking, only a couple of which were dedicated to the break fast dinner.

In the past I’ve mentioned my aversion to food waste. Well, I had recently picked up a few meaty treats from Whole Foods thinking that I would cook them for dinner on Monday night, the last night when kosher for Passover rules would be in effect. Mind you, these are different than the regular kosher rules which we never ever follow. I need to clarify this because both of the meat treats were pork. Pork sausage and pork belly, to be precise.

Well, I forgot that Monday was the whiskey tasting at the Institute for Advanced Study. Hopefully we’ll talk more about that later this week. But the tasting event posed a scheduling conflict that meant this meaty meal would have to be postponed until Tuesday.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you what I made.

What I’d like you to get out of today’s post is not a specific recipe, but rather an approach to cooking. The idea is to buy good quality meat and use it sparingly, more as a flavoring agent than as a giant hunk of protein in the center of the plate.

Are you familiar with the meat grading system at Whole Foods? They have a one to five scale of sustainability, and it’s really convenient. Anything that only meets the minimum standards is a one, and the best of the best–their platonic ideal for happy meat–is a five.

Well, when I saw a number five local pork belly in the butcher case, I just had to have some. Honestly, I wasn’t so sure what I would do with it, but I’d figure out something. Its a fatty cut, even after being well rendered, so I only got a quarter pound for our family of four. An ounce of delicious pork fat per person seemed like a moderate treat. I figured everyone could get a few slices on top of the main dish.

Didn’t you also mention sausage?

Well, I picked up four sweet Italian links for the family. One per person seemed sufficient for an earlier Passover dinner. They were intended to stud a root vegetable bake filled with organic yukon gold potatoes, organic sweet potatoes, organic carrots, organic beets and yellow onions. The funny thing was that when making that dish, I couldn’t bear to add more than two sausages to the entire baking pan. The third sausage was used in a sautee of the beet greens with garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes (served on top of polenta). So I had one more remaining.

I also have a refrigerator full of intensely aromatic olive oil that was strained off the leg of lamb braised in oil.

So, to break the Passover fast I made a mass quantity of French green lentils, and I finished them off with the reserved olive oil from the lamb. These were the heart and soul of the meal. A little Tuscan white wine vinegar brought them into balance.

The sausage was braised with dry vermouth, olive oil and onions. The pan drippings were deglazed with more dry vermouth and turned into a sweet and savory onion marmalade. The meat was sliced into rounds and served atop of the lentils.

The pork belly got a dry rub a few days ago, mimicking the seasoning blend of sausage. Sage, fennel and other seasoning were ground into a powder. The pork belly was rubbed with salt and pepper, and put into a vacuum bag to really press the seasonings into the meat. Then it went into the oven, first at 450, then at 350 until it turned into a succulent and crispy morsel. Coming out of the oven, the belly was sliced and served next to the sausage on the top of the lentils.

As a nod to the end of Passover, the whole thing was served upon toasted whole grain bread.

Was there a lot of meat on the plate? No, there was not. But did the meat make the meal? Absolutely. A little can go a long way, and lesser cuts are full of flavor.

At the end of dinner, I reserved the pork fat that rendered off the belly. I’ll find some use for that in the days to come. I also took advantage of the cool spring evening to reduce a batch of chicken stock. On top of it all, I also made a lamb stock out of the frozen leg bone I put away before the seder and the reserved water drained off the French lentils.

What can I say? Sometimes I get bitten by the cooking bug. Now I just have to figure out what to do with a couple liters of lamb stock.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bob W. permalink
    April 23, 2014 11:16 am

    Wow – sounds absolutely delicious.

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