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.
As you know I’m mad for anything Sichuan and this time around it’s Sichuan Pork Tenderloin.
A recent post on Sichuan Chicken Wings (see here) was a big hit. All due to the fiery spiced Sichuan marinade my friend from Shanghai passed on to me which I now consider a building block of Sichuan cookery. It not only works beautifully with chicken, but with pork, beef, and fish as well.
Rather than resorting to the usual wok stir frying that tends to turn even the tenderest of meats into rubbery strips I opted for the western approach of high temperature roasting that produces a succulent tender juicy flesh. The pork Tenderloin is roasted along with cabbage and apples and sauced with a marinade reduction that delivers an easy Sichuan meal with all the refinement of a Michelin starred restaurant in China coming right out of your own kitchen.
A friend of mine who had tasted the Sichuan chicken wings at a dinner party at my house was all ready to try making the wings at home until he read the recipe and decided “it was just too complicated.” Actually it is not at all complicated and I urge you not to be discouraged by the list of perhaps unfamiliar ingredients. With the ingredients on hand the marinade can be made in five minutes. All the ingredients are available in your nearest Asian market and in some cases supermarkets. Once the ingredients are stored in your pantry you are ready for an extended adventure with Sichuan cookery.
Sichuan Pork Tenderloin – East meets West serves 4 to 6
- 2 pork tenderloins approximately 16 0z/450 g each
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted
- 5 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 4 tablespoons Chinkiang black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon red chile oil (see note)
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried red chile flakes
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- cabbage and apples (recipe below)
- Sichuan pepper sauce (recipe below)
Lightly toast the Sichuan peppercorns and cumin seeds together in a small pan over low heat. Once aromatic remove from the heat and promptly transfer to a mortar and set aside to cool. When cool coarsely grind and set aside.
In a bowl combine the ground Sichuan pepper and cumin seed mix, soy sauce, Shaoxing cooking wine, Chinkiang black vinegar, red chile oil, garlic, ginger, white pepper, and chile flakes. Whisk the ingredients together and stir in the 5 spice powder.
Set aside half of the marinade to use later to make the sauce.
Select a bowl large enough to hold the pork tenderloins snugly. Pour the remaining half of the marinade into the bowl and add the pork tenderloins. Press the tenderloins into the marinade while massaging the marinade into the flesh. Turn the tenderloins over and press them firmly into the marinade until they are completely covered, stirring in a little water if needed. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for several hours.
Remove the marinated tenderloins from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 475 f/245 c with the rack set to the second level from the bottom of the oven.
Select a roasting pan large enough to hold both the pork tenderloins and the cabbage and apples.
Place tenderloins in the center of the roasting pan lengthwise without touching. Place the cabbage and apple mixture around the tenderloins and spoon marinade over and around the tenderloins. Place the tray in the oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the tenderloins reaches 140 f/60 c. Do not over roast! Promptly remove the tray from the oven, loosely tent with foil and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Cabbage and Apples:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- 4 firm apples
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the head into quarters lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl.
Peel the apples and quarter lengthwise. Remove the cores and slice each quarter into very thin slices then divide the slices in half and add to the bowl of cabbage. Toss together until the apples are evenly mixed into the cabbage. Drizzle the olive oil over the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the lemon juice over all and toss until well combined. Set aside until you are ready to place it around the pork tenderloins for roasting.
Sichuan Pepper Sauce:
- reserved marinade
- 1 ½ cups stock
- 2-3 small dried red chilies
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cold water
Place the reserved marinade in a saucepan and add the stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a rolling simmer. Add the dried chilies and simmer until reduced by about a third.
Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and stir into the cold water until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
While stirring the sauce slowly start adding the cornstarch mixture and continuing to stir. The sauce will begin to thicken within a minute or so. When the sauce has the consistency of thin glaze you can stop adding the cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir another minute.Then remove from the sauce from the heat and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Reheat over low heat jut before serving.
Transfer the roasted tenderloins to a cutting board and using a very sharp knife thinly slice each tenderloin diagonally across the grain of the meat.
Spoon portions of the cabbage and apples onto individual plates and lay 4 to 5 slices of tenderloin overlapping atop the cabbage.Spoon the warm Sichuan sauce over the tenderloin slices and garnish with the red chilies if you like for visual effect. These chilies are very very HOT and should only be eaten by those are fearless chile fiends.
Recommended: serve with Thai Jasmine rice scented with kaffir lime leaves.
Note: Red Chile Oil:(hong you) which means red oil in Mandarin is sometimes available in Asian markets, but if not you can easily make your own.
Place ¼ cup of coarsely ground dried red chile flakes or small whole dried red chilies in a small stainless bowl. Heat 1 cup olive, peanut or corn oil over medium heat until nearly smoking. Turn off the heat and let the oil cool for a couple of minutes and then pour the oil over the chilies, which will sizzle at first. Stir and set aside to cool. Once cool transfer the mixture to a bottle or jar and seal with the lid. Store in a dark place for a week or so to infuse the oil with the essence of the chile. Refrigerate for long term storage.
Gong xi fa cai (Mandarin)…Kung hei fat choi (Cantonese)….a happy and prosperous lunar new year from my kitchen to yours!
The recipe that follows is probably more a figment of my imagination or a recreation of a dish I vaguely recall from the distant past. I am of course not Chinese and make no claims for the authenticity of this recipe other than than to say it is one of my favorite Chinese inspired cold weather quick meals using lap cheong (Cantonese)/ la chang (Mandarin)/ Gun chiang (Thai), a dry Chinese sausage with a sweet and spiced flavor as the main ingredient. The aroma and warming flavors of this dish are sure to sooth away any of winter’s biting chill.
Braised Chinese Sausage with Glass Noodles serves 4
Have on hand a lidded ceramic baking casserole.
Preheat to oven to 350f/180c
- 3-4 dry Chinese sausages
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced batons of young ginger
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 cups thinly sliced bok choy (or green cabbage)
- 2 ½ cups chicken broth (heated)
- 6 oz/180g dry glass rice noodles (rice vermicelli)
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder (wu xiang fen) (see note)
- fresh ground toasted Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) to taste
Prick the sausages all over with a wooden skewer and place them in a large skillet along with about a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove the sausages and set aside to cool. Discard the cooking water.
When the sausage is cool enough to handle thinly slice it on the diagonal and set aside.
Return the skillet to the stove set over medium heat. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the onions, garlic, and ginger and saute while continuously stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the Shaoxing rice wine and saute until it is nearly evaporated. Add the bok choy (or cabbage) and the sliced sausage and cook until the bok choy is wilted. Promptly add the hot broth and stir in the rice noodles. Then stir in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, 5 spice powder, and Sichuan pepper to taste. Cook until the noodles are wilted, about 1 minute.
Transfer the mixture to the baking casserole and cover with the lid. Place in the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until most of the broth has been absorbed and the noodles are lightly browned around the edges.
Remove from the oven and serve in individual bowls!
Note: Five Spice Powder (wu xiang fen) is a seasoning mix of ground star anise, ground cassia bark (cinnamon), ground Sichuan pepper corns, ground fennel seeds, and ground ginger. There is no set recipe but equal parts of each ingredient works well. You can adjust the mix to suit your own tastes as well.
Curry is not something that comes to mind when you think of Japanese food nor are you likely to come across a recipe for curry (kare) in a Japanese cookbook. That said, curry is so popular in Japan it is “unofficially” considered a national dish. You will find curry shops in train stations, on the high streets, and instant curry products on endless shelves in supermarkets and 24 hour shops. Japanese curry houses abound outside of Japan as well, branding if you will, Japan’s “modern” fast food cuisine!
“Modern” denotes Japan’s transition from an insular agrarian island nation into an international industrial economic powerhouse. Curry was introduced into Japan via the English Raj colonial rule during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Following WWII Japan refocused it’s trajectory towards rapid modernization and everything that went with it. With the new fast and hectic lifestyle home cooking transitioned with modernity. For better or worse fast food had arrived!
I’ve tried Japanese curries over the years with mixed feelings. In its simplest form udon noodles are napped in a thick, sometimes almost custardy, curry sauce. Not so appealing I have say. On other forays curries were more like a vegetable stew, sometimes with meat or chicken, that were served with noodles or with a side of rice. These were far more appealing and I felt well worth trying at home.
Instant packaged curry sauce mixes (roux), which I had never tried at home, are the most popular quick and easy base for Japanese curries made both at home and in curry shops. Curiosity sent me off to find Japan’s most popular brand S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix. The resulting curry was indeed tasty, but unfortunately it left an unpleasant grease slick on my lips and in my mouth. After reading the label I discovered the mix had a 20% saturated fat content (palm oil), as well as MSG, disodium guanylate, and disodium nosinate. Obviously making a “slow” Japanese curry at home had to be a far better option.
So it was into to the kitchen to make a Japanese curry from scratch. Yes, a little more time and effort was required, but the result was as delicious as it was nutritional. I did away with the roux (fat/ flour thickener), which is contrary to everything I know about Japanese cooking anyway. Instead I used cornstarch which is commonly used in Japan to thicken curry, soups, and sauces, eliminating fat content entirely. I also used a traditional dashi broth for the recipe which added a supporting umami flavor and nutritional value to the curry.
I have to say, as skeptical as I was, I’ve been won over by Japanese curry. An aromatic bowl of piping hot udon noodle curry can be a heartily satisfying experience, including noisily slurping up those saucy noodles as they do in Japan!
Japanese Udon Curry serves 4
- 9oz/250g chicken, pork, or beef, cut into bite size slices (Optional)
- 2 tablespoons light vegetable oil (olive is fine)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- ¼ cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
- 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 2 tablespoons curry powder + more to taste
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
- 5 cups/1 ¼ liters dashi (see recipe here), stock or water heated to a near boil
- 1 plump carrot, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 6oz/175g green beans, steamed al dent and halved
- 5.3 oz/50g shimeji mushrooms (enoki or shiitake/sliced) separated
- pinch of cayenne (optional)
- 1.5 pounds/ 675g pre-cooked udon noodles or 12oz/350g dried
- 4 green onions, thinly sliced (garnish)
Place a large deep skillet (or wok) on the stove over medium heat.
If you are using chicken, pork, or beef, when the pan is hot add the oil and the chicken or meat and saute until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Otherwise heat the oil in the pan and add the onions and lower the heat. Saute the onions until they are very soft. Then add the garlic and ginger and saute for 2 minutes while stirring. Add the sake, mirin, and 1 teaspoon sea salt and continue to saute until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Then stir in the curry powder, garam masala, soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon sugar and stir until combined.
Promptly stir in the hot dashi (stock or water) and stir to combine. Once the liquid is simmering return the browned chicken or meat (if using) to the pan and simmer for 15 minutes stirring from time to time. Then add the carrots and continue to simmer another 20 minutes.
While the curry is simmering set a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. If you are using dried udon noodles plunge them into the boiling water and cook at a rapid boil until al dente as you would pasta. Promptly transfer the noodles to a metal strainer with a handle and drain. Rinse the noodles briefly under cold tap water and set aside to drain.
Keep the pot of water at a simmer for reheating the noodles just before serving.
Place the corn starch in a small bowl and add the cold water. Whisk until the corn starch is incorporated into the water and there are no lumps. Promptly stir the mixture into the simmering curry and continue stirring. The curry broth will thicken as the curry returns to a simmer. Simmer for another minute.
A word of caution. Corn starch thickened sauce should be kept at a very low simmer and only cooked for a few minutes. A rapid boil or extended cooking time will cause the sauce to thin out.
The thickness of the curry is up to your own preference. You can thin the sauce if you like by adding hot dashi, a little at a time while stirring, until you reach the consistency you like.
At this point you can set the curry aside to reheat later, or refrigerate for up to four days.
…or continue to simmer the curry for another minute and then add the steamed green beans and mushrooms. Once the curry returns to a low simmer cook for another minute. Taste and adjust the curry by adding more salt, sugar, or curry powder to taste. Additionally add a pinch of cayenne if you want to punch up the heat a little bit.
To reheat the precooked noodles, place a portion of noodles in a metal strainer with a handle and lower it into the pot of boiling water for about 45 seconds. Lift the strainer out of the water and give the noodles a shake to drain off excess water. Repeat for each serving.
Promptly place the hot noodles into individual serving bowls and ladle the curry, including ample sauce, over the hot noodles. Using chopsticks, give each serving a gentle stir to evenly distribute the sauce and garnish with sliced green onions and serve.