How the staff eats at restaurants.
Ned Baldwin, sous chef at Prune Restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan, writes about one of his more successful family meals. I've eaten this stewed pork a few times, and let me tell you, it's amazing. Best served over white rice, to soak up all the delicious sauce, it's rich and hearty. -Helen
There is little creativity in the world of the line cook; mostly the work is about rendering someone else’s vision as accurately as possible. However in making family meal— the food cooked for the staff before service—the line cook has the opportunity to work out their own ideas, flex their muscles and if they’re lucky, impress colleagues and even their bosses.
There are guidelines to family meal that are the same nearly everywhere: ingredient costs must hover somewhere between free and very inexpensive, the dish must come together quickly and it must be delicious. In these ways, it’s not unlike an impromptu meal made by a resourceful home cook. Of course, sometimes family meals fall flat (even literally in the case of more than one family meatloaf) but a little serendipity can lead to an excellent meal. What follows was one of my better efforts.
At about this time last year, Prune was serving rabbit that was cooked in an acidic braise with lots of cornichons and sliced shallots. It occurred to me that pork shoulder, aptly priced for family meal, could be delicious if cooked in the same way. I had little more than an hour to pull the braise together so I cut the shoulder into chunks to radically speed up the cooking. It worked- the pork was tender, and after cooking it down, the sauce was glossy and rich. Cooking cornichons renders them soft and mild, and the shallots practically melt, even in an hour. Serve over rice, to absorb every bit of sauce.
Ned Baldwin's Stewed Pork
* 5 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes
* 1 cup shallots in 1/8" rounds
* 1 cup cornichons, slice in half lengthwise
* 1 cup white wine vinegar
* 1 cup white wine
* 4 cups chicken stock (low sodium if not homemade)
* 1 bunch thyme (a small bunch)
* 6 tablespoons butter, in cubes
* splashes blended or olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper. In a wide pot, heat the oil just until it begins to smoke. Brown the pork on all sides (working in batches if necessary)- you really want to generate nice caramel colored matter on both the pork and the bottom of the pan (but not black! Don’t burn!) Remove the pork, set aside. Drain excess oil.
2. Add the butter, shallots, and cornichons to pan. Using a wooden spoon, sauté the cornichons and shallots, all the while scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all brown bits. Add the vinegar and reduce it completely. Then add the wine and reduce by half. Finally, add the chicken stock, thyme, and reserved pork. Bring the liquid to a boil, and put the (uncovered) pot into the oven.
3. After 20 minutes, start checking the pork for doneness. It should be tender but not dry. When it’s finished, strain out the meat and solids, and reduce the cooking liquid over a medium high flame until thick and unctuous. Add the pork and solids, and season to taste. It can be served right away, but would be even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two.
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