Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Pork Stew

Okay…I’m not a cook.   Right now, I have about a dozen meals in my culinary repertoire.   I make a mean spaghetti and meat sauce…and Aunt Nancy’s chicken (recipe coming soon) is always a hit.   I chatted with my best friend last week.   He is quite the gourmand and was putting together a pork stew to take to a wine tasting party the following day.   He said it was awesome and assured me I could do it…even with my limited culinary skills!   Game on!

The Recipe:

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. each kosher salt, black pepper & dried thyme
  • 2 lb. pork stew meat or shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes (“huh…2 inches”...I don't think so!)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrot
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ dry white wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth (32 oz. Box = 4 cups!)
  • 1 ½ cups of peeled and cubed sweet potatoes (that’s about one large sweet potato for us non-cooks).
  • 1 ½ cups peeled and cubed russet potatoes (that’s about one large russet for us non-cooks).
  • 1 cup of diced turnips
  • 1 cup diced parsnips (turned out to be about two “carrot sized” parsnips…see comment below
  • 2 Tbsp. Unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

The journey:
I wanted to prepare this as a surprise for my wife…before she got home from work (I’m unemployed)!

For starters…if a recipe has more than 6 ingredients…it’s not for me!   However, in this case, my friend, once again, assured me that I could do it.   He told me that it was the chopping, dicing and cubing…more than anything else!   My first dilemma was…what’s the SIZE difference between cubed, chopped, and diced.   After a google search I found a definition for the latter two…diced (about the size of a pencil eraser) and chopped (about 5/8” square).   I never did find a definitive answer for cubed! (see epilog).

Now it was time to go shopping for the ingredients.

Before leaving I had to google an image of parsnip.   I’ve never had parsnips before!   Seriously!   I found out that they look like white carrots.   OK…this is an x-rated version of parsnips!

I called my friend for the 4th or 5th time asking a few more questions…many of which still had to do with diced, versus cubed, versus chopped.   He asked if there was a Williams Sonoma nearby.   There was!   He then recommended that I go and buy this!   He assured me it would be quite the time saver!   I left the house and took a side trip to the local William Sonoma…and then proceeded to my local supermarket.

During my search for parsnips (the white carrots) I passed an aisle and low and behold…right before my eyes were packages of “chopped waxed turnips” and “chopped” sweet potatoes.   Of course they turned out to be more than I needed and twice as expensive of doing it myself…but I snatched them right up anyway!   Then I proceeded to the butcher counter and asked for the pork.   I wound up with a piece weighing in at about 2 ½ pounds…bone in!

The process:
Combine ½ cup of flour, salt, pepper and thyme in a re-sealable plastic bag.

Add “cubed” pork, toss to coat, then shake off the excess.   Brown ½ the meat in 1 Tbsp. of oil in a Dutch oven (fortunately I know what that is…and we have one!) or large pot over medium high heat, 7 to 9 minutes.

Transfer (the browned pork) to a plate.   Brown the remaining pork in the remaining oil and remove.   Reduce heat to medium.   So far so good!

Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaf to the pot; “sweat” for 5 minutes.   (WTF is “sweat”?)

Deglaze (google it...I did) the pot with wine and simmer until (the wine) is nearly evaporated.

Then stir in the broth and the “reserved” pork (aka…the pork you’ve already cooked!).   Bring the stew to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer (covered) for 30 minutes.

Stir in sweet potatoes, russets, turnips and parsnips.   Cover and cook for 30 minutes more.

Combine butter and 2 Tbsp. flour.   Add to the stew.   Simmer 5 minutes to thicken.   Remove bay leaf and season stew with salt and pepper!

“Wha la!”

  • Later that day…after all the chopping and dicing and cubing, my wife informed me that if a recipe calls for cubed…it usually indicates the size of the “cube”!   This recipe didn’t!
  • For this recipe…I think the suggested “2 inch cubed” PORK would have been too huge and I suggest (and opted) for 1 ½ inch or slightly less pieces.
  • My wife also let me know that, if I had asked, the butcher at the supermarket, he would have “cubed” the pork for me!!!
  • The last sentence in the process said to add salt and pepper “to taste” (whatever “to taste” means)!   I didn’t!   After the first bite…my wife and I looked at each other…and although we agreed it was delicious…it seemed sort of bland…to which my wife said…”it needs more salt and pepper’!
  • More wife advice.   “Did you season the pork first” (with salt, pepper, etc.)?   My response…”No”!   The recipe said to add salt & pepper (along with the thyme) to a re-sealable bag and shake!   The Mrs.’ advice is…always…and I repeat…ALWAYS…season the meat first!   Lesson learned!

I can’t wait until recipes tell you the number of pieces versus the number of cups! This would eliminate the guesswork!   For example, 1 ½ cups of sweet potatoes wound up to be the equivalent of one large sweet potato!   Same for the russet potato!

Bottom line?   This is a keeper!   Live and learn!   Thanks to my best friend…and my wife!   Served over broad egg noodles!   Bon Appetite!

ps.   Didn’t take a picture of the final outcome.   It didn’t look like the first picture (above)!   But again…it was damn good!

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