When cold weather comes around I really long for some simple hearty one pot meals like braised pork with cabbage and potatoes. It’s got its northern European roots, Poland comes to mind, but surprisingly it’s a combination you will find, with regional adaptations, in northern Asian countries as well.
With a recent cold snap, well relatively speaking that is here in northern Thailand, my mind was made up. I was having a braising pot of pork, cabbage and potatoes on the stove steaming up the windows by sundown.
The recipe that follows is decidedly Asian in flavor but otherwise much like a traditional western version in that it embodies the idea of hearty cold weather fare.
Fennel Spiced Braised Pork with Cabbage, and Potatoes serves 4
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo pork tenderloin
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- water to cover
Place the salt, sugar, thyme, and bay leaves in a large non-reactive bowl. Fill the bowl about half full with warm water and stir until the salt and sugar has completely dissolved. Let the water cool to room temperature and then submerge the pork into the brine, adding more water if needed to completely cover the pork. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Fennel seasoning mix
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns)
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
Combine the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and sea salt in a small mortar. Coarsely grind with a pestle and set aside to use later.
Braised pork, cabbage, and potatoes
Needed: a large braising pan or Dutch oven with lid
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 rashers bacon, thinly sliced
- brined pork loin, patted dry
- fennel seasoning mix
- 2 cups finely diced onions
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 4 large heads Chinese cabbage, trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced crosswise
- ½ cup Chinese Shao Hshing cooking wine (or white wine)
- 1 additional teaspoons fennel seasoning mix
- 2.2 pounds /1 kilo small gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into bite size wedges
- hot chicken stock or water
- sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Place a large braising pan or Dutch oven on the stove top over medium heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the bacon. Stir and turn the bacon frequently so the fat is rendered and the bacon is evenly lightly browned. Promptly remove the bacon from the pan and set aside on a plate to use later. Lower the heat briefly while you season the pork.
Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
Generously rub the pork tenderloin with fennel seasoning mix, firmly pressing the seasoning mix into the surface of the pork on all sides, so it sticks to the flesh.
Turn the heat up to medium high. When the fat is hot add the seasoned pork and brown on all sides. When evenly browned remove the pork to a platter and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Stir frequently until the onions soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes.
Then begin adding the sliced cabbage by the hand full, stirring until it wilts before adding the next hand full. Continue adding the remaining cabbage until it is all in the pan and wilted. Stir in the Shao Hshing wine (or white wine) and the reserved cooked bacon. Fold the bacon into the cabbage until evenly distributed. Season the mixture with 1 additional teaspoons of the fennel seasoning and stir to combine.
Place the pork tenderloin loosely coiled over the cabbage in the center of the pan and tuck the potato wedges pushed in and around the edges and in between the pork loin. Add enough hot stock or water to reach the top of the contents in the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and transfer it to the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
Check the pan after 45 minutes and add more hot stock to again to reach the top of the contents in the pan. Cover and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and remove the lid. The pork should be very tender and easily pulled apart with a fork. Taste the broth and season with more salt and pepper if needed and stir to combine.
Set the pot aside, covered, for 10 minutes.
Spoon the cabbage and potatoes onto individual plates. Using two forks pull chunks of the pork apart and place them in the center of the potatoes and cabbage. Generously spoon both over all and serve.
Ajvar is a traditional roasted sweet red bell pepper relish from the Balkan Peninsula with many regional variations. In the south eastern Balkans roasted eggplant is also included in the ajvar. Adding dried ground red chile is customary throughout the region although more as a flavor note than adding a discernible heat. Ajvar is slathered on local flat breads or served with grilled meats, sausages, fish, or just about any other application that strikes your fancy. It is a real favorite of mine and easy to prepare. Well… that is when flame roasting peppers and eggplants has become second nature. The roasting process is really not that difficult and a ritual I quite enjoy while taking in the intoxicating aroma of roasting peppers. That little extra effort turns out beautifully sweet and smoky flavored peppers and eggplants for a multitude of applications. Ajvar is very similar to an Eastern Mediterranean roasted red pepper Muhammara with walnuts and pomegranate which you also might like to try. (See recipe here) It’s always a big hit when served with drinks.
Imported traditional Balkan Ajvar is available at some specialty food shops and online, but why not make your own with locally grown organic peppers. It really does make a difference and you are free to veer from tradition using various other vinegars and chilies. Try using a Jerez sherry vinegar and a smoked paprika paired with grilled Spanish sausages. It’s a flavor bite you will not forget!
Ajvar makes about 3 cups
Ideally, make the Ajvar a day before you plan to use it. This allows the flavors to develop.
- 3 large vine ripe red bell peppers, roasted
- 2 to 3 small long eggplants, roasted
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated (1 tablespoon)
- 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 to 2 teaspoons pure ground red chile powder
Blacken the red bell peppers and eggplant on an outdoor grill or over a gas flame on the stove top. For full instructions on flame roasting (click here) .
Once the peppers and eggplants are evenly charred and quite limp transfer them to a bowl and seal the top of the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Once the peppers and eggplants are cool enough to handle remove the charred skin and discard it.
Note: Do not be tempted to peel off the charred skin under running water. It may seem like a good idea, but you will be rinsing away all the flavor you developed during the charring. Better to rinse your hands instead.
It is fine if there are some bits of charred skin left behind here and there. It will add a nice smoked flavor to the ajvar.
Open up the peppers and eggplants and remove the seeds and membranes and discard. This will reduce the volume of the eggplant considerably but you should still end up with about a cup of flesh.
Tear the peppers apart into bits and place them in the food processor or use a mortar and pestle if you want a truly authentic ajvar. Add the eggplant, garlic, and salt and pulse or grind until the mixture is broken down. Add the vinegar, ground pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and pulse or continue grinding until the mixture is to the texture you prefer, either coarse or quite smooth. Then stir is the ground red chile powder and pulse or mix until combined.
Taste and make any adjustments needed. Transfer the ajvar to a glass jar and add a little olive oil to just cover the surface. Seal the jar with the lid and refrigerate.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.
I am still surprised when I offhandedly mention ham loaf to friends, even American friends, who more often than not look puzzled and ask “what is ham loaf?” I always just assumed ham loaf was standard American fare, but I have been duly enlightened.
In actuality ham loaf’s roots reach back to various German speaking religious groups, including Amish and Mennonite farmers, who emigrated to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe. They, as farmers, chose to settle in Southeastern Pennsylvania with its rich fertile soil that was ideal for their old world farming methods. The area became known as Pennsylvania (Deitsch) Dutch country which is where I grew up. These pristine family farms have been passed down for generations so a good bit of the rural countryside has remained, thankfully, mostly untouched by modernization.
Pennsylvania Dutch cooks have probably been making versions of ham loaf for a couple of centuries. The recipes have been passed down and have remained pretty much unchanged over the years judging from recipes I have looked at. The recipe here I found in one of my mother’s handwritten recipe notebooks to which I have added a couple of optional seasonings. The resulting ham loaf is every bit as comforting and scrumptious today as it was when we were kids back in Lancaster county.
Typically in Pennsylvania farm communities the big meal of the day is still served family style around noon during the busy summer months. Ham loaf would most likely be served along with several homegrown vegetables and potatoes freshly plucked out of the garden. Nothing fancy mind you, just a beautifully fresh and hearty meal that mirrors the balance of a considered way of life.
As pictured, the ham loaf is served with steamed young Brussels’s sprouts, including the outer leaves, spritzed with olive oil and lemon juice. Boiled potatoes are tossed with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. The horseradish cream is my own choice for an accompaniment as horseradish is also locally grown in Lancaster county and adds a refreshing flavor note.
Ham Loaf serves 6
Equipment: 1 loaf pan: approximately 10” x 6” x 3”
- 1 ¼ pounds ground ham
- 1 ¾ pounds ground pork
- 1 cup finely diced onions
- 2 finely minced garlic cloves
- 1 cup tomato sauce ( pureed tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or sage leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder (optional)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- milk to soak bread crumbs
- 2 large organic eggs
- 3 bay leaves (optional
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried mustard powder
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup water
It is best to marinate the seasoned ham and pork mixture overnight to develop flavor.
In a large bowl combine the ham, pork, onions, garlic, 1/3 cup tomato sauce, thyme or sage, marjoram, ground clove, 1 teaspoon salt or more to your own taste, pepper, and chile powder if using. Knead the mixture with you hands until the ingredients are well combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.
The following day remove the ham pork mixture from the fridge. Briefly soak the breadcrumbs in milk. Squeeze out the excess milk from the breadcrumbs and add them to the ham pork mixture.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add to the ham pork mixture. Using your hands kneed the mixture to completely incorporate the breadcrumbs and eggs into the ham pork mixture.
Lightly oil the loaf pan and fill it with the ham loaf mixture evenly without overly compressing the meat into the pan. If the meat is too firmly packed the meat will tend to be dense and rubbery rather than soft and tender when cooked. Press bay leaves into the top surface and set aside for baking.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
While the oven is heating you can prepare the glaze for the ham loaf
Combine the brown sugar, mustard powder, cider vinegar, and water in a small stainless saucepan. Set the pan over medium low heat and bring the mixture to a boil while stirring. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook a couple of minutes until the glaze thickens slightly. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Brush the top of the ham loaf with the glaze and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Open the oven door and glaze the top of the loaf again and bake for another 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes remove the loaf from the oven and once again glaze the top of the loaf. You will notice the loaf has separated from the sides of the loaf pan leaving a small gap. Spoon tomato sauce (puree) into the gaps around the loaf until nearly filled. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.Remove the ham loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Keep in mind you do not want to over bake the loaf as it will tend to dry out!
Once the loaf is cool enough to handle, pour out excess liquid in the loaf pan into a small bowl and set aside. Run a knife around the edges of the loaf. Place a sheet of parchment over the loaf and invert the pan onto a cutting board. If the loaf is sticking a bit, grip both the cutting board and the pan together and give the pan a firm downward thrust. This should release the loaf.
Once the loaf is released, place a serving platter over the loaf. While gripping both the cutting board and the platter together, turn the loaf upright. Remove the parchment and discard.
Slice the ham loaf into generous portions crosswise. Spoon reserved pan juices over the slices of ham loaf and serve along with horseradish cream at the table.
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Hellmann’s)
- 2 tablespoons prepared mustard (Dijon)
- 2 tablespoons fresh prepared horseradish
Combine all the ingredients in a stainless bowl and whip until combined and smooth.. Chill until serving time.
Maiale al Latte is a traditional northern Italian dish that has been passed on for generations by everyone’s Nonna (grandmother), and where their collective cookery savvy is all gloriously revealed. By slowly braising the pork in milk, not only is the meat tenderized, but the milk is transformed into a beguiling lemony caramelized sauce that defies everything you thought you knew about sauces. This is truly Italian comfort food at its very best!
The dish originates from the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy that is considered by Italians to be where you will find the best food in all of Italy. The region’s products are a testament to its reputation and known the world over including, Balsamic vinegar from Medona and Reggio Emalia, cured hams from Parma, and of course Parmigiano Reggiano.
This all came to mind while reading a New York Times article The Secrets of Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk by Sam Sifton. Jamie Oliver’s recipe was inspired by a Maiale al Latte that he tasted while on a trip to Tuscany. His Chicken in milk recipe, published in his cookbook Happy Days with the Naked Chef in 2002, went viral and has since inspired home cooks around the globe.
Maiale al Lette is simple in concept, relatively easy to prepare, although a little time consuming, but well worth the effort. I have to say this is a recipe that is down right exciting to cook as the dish transitions into unfamiliar territory as it braises.
This is a dish that you are unlikely to find on any restaurant menu anywhere unless you happen to be traveling through the northern Italian countryside. This is, in Jamie Oliver’s own words, “a slightly odd but really fantastic combination that must be tried”.
Maiale al Latte serves 6
- 5 pounds/2 kilo pork loin with some fat attached, shoulder, or rib roast (ribs removed)
- flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
- 12 garlic cloves with skin on
- a handful of fresh young sage leaves (20-30)
- 2 ½ liters/2.6 quarts whole milk, heated to a near boil
- zest of 2 lemons cut into long strips with a vegetable peeler
- a small knob of nutmeg or ½ teaspoon grated
In the recipe that follows I have started the braising on the stove top and finished the braising in the oven. However, braising entirely on the stove top at a gentle simmer will essentially produce nearly the same results less a crusty finish on the top of the pork.
Equipment: cast iron Dutch oven or heavy bottomed casserole dish with lid
Bring the pork to room temperature. Season generously with salt and pepper on all sides.
Place the casserole on the stove top over medium high heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the butter and stir until the butter is melted. Promptly add the pork and sear until nicely browned on all sides; about 2 ½ minutes per side. Transfer the seared pork to a plate.
Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the fat out of the casserole and discard. Don’t worry about the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the casserole. They will add a nice caramel flavor to the dish as it cooks.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Return the casserole to the stove top set over medium low heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Then add the garlic cloves and about a third of the sage leaves. Saute for several minutes until the garlic begins to color and the sage is wilted and dark green.
Move the onion mixture to the sides of the casserole and place the seared pork in the center. Then add enough hot milk to come about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the pork. Turn the heat up to medium and once the milk is boiling lower the heat to a simmer. Add the nutmeg, lemon zest, and the remaining sage leaves and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Then turn the pork over, give the sauce a stir, and transfer the casserole to the preheated oven. Partially cover the casserole and braise for 30 minutes.
Note: Braising times in the oven will vary depending on the cut of pork you are using. Pork loin will take about 1 hour braising time, while shoulder or rib roast will take up to 2 hours.
Remove the casserole from the oven, turn the pork once again, and give the sauce a stir. Add a little more hot milk if the sauce is looking rather depleted. Return to the oven and braise without the lid another 30 minutes.
Once again, remove the casserole from the oven and turn the pork over. You will notice the milk has reduced with a light caramel color, and the sauce may have started to curdle, looking like caramelized ricotta. This is what this sauce is supposed to do, so don’t be alarmed thinking things have all gone terribly wrong.
If using pork loin, at this point the pork will need about another 20 minutes in the oven. Add a little more hot milk if the caramelized sauce is looking a bit thick.
If you are using pork shoulder or rib roast you will have to repeat the turning process two more times and adding hot milk as needed at 30 minutes intervals.
When the pork is cooked to perfection remove the casserole from the oven and transfer the pork to a plate to rest.
Spoon off as much fat as you can from the surface of the sauce and discard.
Return the sauce to the stove top over medium low heat. If the sauce is a bit soupy reduce until the sauce holds together. Or, if the sauce is too dry stir a little hot milk into the sauce to loosen it up a bit.
Slice the pork loin into ½ inch slices across the roast. Fan out on a platter or individual plates and spoon the sauce generously over the pork and garnish with fresh sage leaves.
If you have used shoulder or rib roast simply pull the meat apart and serve topped with the sauce and garnish with fresh sage leaves.