Gumbo with Ham Hock and Shrimp
I was lucky to be involved in many projects when I was teaching requiring travel to many areas of the U.S. and what I enjoyed about each experience was that after a brain draining day of work — often dealing with a three-hour time difference — we’d wander in small groups to shop, take a tour of something interesting if it was available, and most often enjoy local cuisine. Although it has been many years, I was able to visit New Orleans twice for two different projects, and on one of the trips happened across a tiny red book called The Little Gumbo Book by Gwen McKee.
I took my Mac to the Apple store recently because I was notified that its serial number was one marked as having a hard drive that could potentially fail. I dropped it off, a new hard drive was installed free of charge by the next day, and I was able to restore all the data I had conveniently backed up on an external hard drive. It sounds like not much effort was made on my part to get things back up and running, but I spent the better part of several days organizing what was in my files, reviewing my ridiculous number of photographs, and making sure I had them backed up in several different places. As much as I could tell the young man behind the counter at the Genius Bar that, yes, I’ve got everything backed up, I still worried.
I made it back from my trip to the East Coast safe and sound and will share my experience after it settles and I’ve had time to savor it all. In the meantime, I have many recipes to share and ideas for more. I guess there’s nothing quite like time away to clear my mind and realize again that inspiration lies in unexpected places. I need time to process that as well which makes me envious of those of you who can seize an idea in no time and move to the next while I’m still mulling over the inkling of my first. It’s a good thing I enjoy process, I suppose. What is it they say about the sum of parts being greater than the whole?
That would be me.
Speaking of parts, today a book caught my eye that comes as close to my philosophy about food as I’ve seen. It’s called Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy and Really Well. And no, this isn’t a review, because I haven’t read it yet. But Barry Esterbrook’s review provides me enough information to agree that flavor above all else is what helped me lose weight earlier this year. Good, fresh ingredients with excellent flavor always work for me. Long after I’ve enjoyed something tasty, I think about it and realize the satisfaction of a good meal without having to ingest portions well beyond what someone of my age and size should — or anyone for that matter — is perfect. Cost comes up in this matter, and it should. My family roots are meager at best, and so the cost of anything will never be taken lightly. But I’ve learned that when something is just right, when it satisfies without over indulgence, the memory lingers without having to deal with a full stomach.
It sounds like I’m selling something and that isn’t the case. I just love it when I find a perspective that makes me feel as if I’m not alone. Doesn’t everyone?
With that in mind, this recipe for Spice-Rubbed Pork Shoulder with Radicchio and Balsamic Vinegar is so very good. It’s not a challenge to prepare if you spend some time ahead to prepare the pork — but that’s the best kind of recipe. Do a bit ahead of time for enjoyment later.
And if you’re not familiar with radicchio, then know that it has a lovely bitter taste to it. I enjoy bitter “greens” quite a bit, but understand that others don’t. I usually enjoy radicchio in salads — it adds a different flavor and color. But if you’re not sure, then use red cabbage instead. The flavor will not disappoint.
You may recall I purchased an entire pig last December and split it with a good friend. We each ended up with 100 lbs. of fresh, locally loved and raised, lean pork and have been busy enjoying every bit of its truly incredible flavor. So where are my posts about this first time ever foray into purchasing locally raised meat? Outside of my initial experience making a Chilie-Brined Fresh Whole Ham, I haven’t written about any of it.
Call me lazy. Go ahead.
But you know I’ve been avoiding sitting here to avoid thinking about food in general, so I hope that helps explain my lack of motivation. I’ve been keeping myself busy with spring cleaning by reorganizing my kitchen and sorting though dishes and things I rarely use so I can donate them along with the several bags of clothes I’ve weeded from my closet that no longer fit. I’ve saved one pair of slacks so I might hold them up at some point and take a picture, showing just how far I’ve come so far, but I’m not quite ready for that. I’ll get there. I will. Soon.
In the meantime, I can’t put off writing any longer because the recipes are piling up waiting to be shared, and there’s no better place to begin than with a cut of pork I’ve prepared many times: the shoulder. That would be from the front portion of the pig as opposed to the rear where the “ham” comes from. Although most shoulders are purchased sectioned into either what’s often called a picnic roast and a Boston Butt (which seems confusing considering the cut is from the opposite end of the animal), I happened to have the entire shoulder — about 10 lbs. of pork.
The shoulder is much more fatty than the ham, so cooking it slowly over very low heat allows all that fat to melt into the meat, creating amazingly tender pork perfect for pulling. I’ve prepared a much smaller cut from the shoulder using a slow cooker to make one type of pulled pork for sandwiches, braised it on the stove top in this recipe with Guinness and dried cherries, or in the oven using lots of garlic and chardonnay for this recipe, and have often used the indirect heat method on the grill — especially in warm weather when I don’t want the house to heat up. This time, we slow roasted it in the oven over a nine hour period of time until it was dark and crispy on the outside, and fall apart tender inside when two forks are inserted and pulled away from one another.
Not much is better if you love pork.
And although you’ll be tempted to eat it all by itself like we did late one evening just to try it, it makes the most amazing pulled pork sandwiches when you have just the right slaw to go with it.
Last November when I was trying to make a decision about the turkey we’d prepare for Thanksgiving, quite by accident, I saw a news segment about a local turkey farmer. In San Diego? I immediately researched to find that yes, we really did have someone who raised turkeys in Valley Center, just north of San Diego. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and ended up not only with an excellent organic turkey, but I was able to meet the farmer, Jack Ford of Taj Farms who delivered the bird to my kitchen. We had a great talk about how he started raising poultry and other animals on a farm that actually began as a hobby. But this isn’t about the turkey.
It’s about pork.