I still see many young starry eyed people wanting to join in on the culinary profession with the express desire to become one of the very few famous chefs. I blame all the food TV shows for this unrealistic expectation. The reality is far from the glossy cover of a magazine with your name on it, or your own brand of olive oils with your scary bleached white toothed smile. The reality is that this industry is hard. No, I take that back, it is really FUCKING hard . It is hard on your body, it is hard on your relationships, it is long grueling hours in a dangerous world of knives, meat slicers, steam, fire, and hot oil, it also doesn’t pay very well, women are still a minority and deal with sexual harassment; even so it can be rewarding and fulfilling given the right environment that nurtures growth to striking it on your own under the title of Chef, and if you are lucky enough to know the right people, or you are really superb at what you do famous will be tacked on to your title.
The aim of this column, Forks & Knives, is to share musings, rants, commentary, and recipe guides from seasoned professionals. Food and the culture around it is every much as socio-political as it is a way to strengthen the human bond we all share. Many gatherings are done around food and drink as a catalyst for some bond we have for the people we are sharing our time.
If there is one thing that I feel is the single most important part about being a good cook or chef is to have three knives (Chef, Boning, and Paring) kept sharp. Buy a whet stone and learn how to sharpen properly, or if you are not confident in yourself to keep your blades sharp take it to a professional. A sharp knife is a much safer knife because it will slice much easier through material, and if you cut yourself it will be a clean cut. I know that is not much of a condolence to some of you, but hear me out. A dull knife requires that you push and work harder for the cut to be made, this extra muscle work puts you at greater risk that if you were to cut yourself, you would mangle the cut. The fact is that a clean smooth cut will hurt much less because less nerve endings have been cut or bruised, where as a mangled cut is quite painful and takes longer to heal.
I would also like to mention that even if you have no interest in becoming a professional it is a wise idea to find good teaching sources on how to properly hold your knife and how to properly position your fingers. This will make your life much easier and less scary when it comes to cutting, also allowing for more stamina and speed to develop in preparing your meals. I cannot describe enough how poorly some culinary schools teach students in these areas, and if I could I would tell that student, or former they got ripped off and demand some of that money back I would. Holding, finger position, and sharpening are fundamentals as far as I am concerned, and when I teach others “how to cook” I always demand that the lesson begins with this core, if I don’t, I am not a good teacher.
So you all know this is often how I work on my own blog postings for my site A Saucerful; I start out with some musings or a rant and then I get into what I call “The Meat” of the post which is some “Food Porn” that I capture myself and often a recipe guide. This will probably be pretty common for my postings here on Gonzo Times.
“Banh Mi” Lettuce Wraps
- Pork Jowl, cleaned of all the “bubbly” stuff attached on the inside of the jowl, keeping the top fat
- Enough to cover, Coconut Aminos, or Gluten Free Tamari sauce
- 2 TB Fish sauce, Gluten Free
- 1TB+ fresh Ginger, minced or grated
- 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced or grated
- 2-3 Serrano or Thai chillies, minced (or as hot as you like it)
- 1-2 sprig scallion, sliced thin
- 2 TB fresh coriander/cilantro, minced
- ¼- ½ tsp ea. cinnamon, anise or fennel seed, coriander, fresh ground spices are best (depending on how much you like these spices and how big the meat)
- Black Pepper, fresh ground, a good 6-8 grinds
- 1 TB honey, optional
Place all ingredients in a zipper bag and mix together, add the jowl and press out most of the air leaving the marinade to surround the meat. Allow to marinade for 12-24 hours.
Remove jowl, reserve marinade for basting if desired, and roast fat side up on a low temperature (about 250-270) for 1.5-2.5 hours, or until tender. Depending on the size of the jowl it may take longer or less time. Remove and allow the roast to rest before slicing into thin slices.
Serve in large butter/bib lettuce leaves with mayonnaise (home-made is best), thin sliced radish (if desired), thin sliced cucumber, carrot, fresh cilantro leaves, and your favorite Thai or Vietnamese chili sauce.
Because jowl has a similar meat to fat ratio to pork belly it is a very satisfying and inexpensive cut of meat to use, and I may be a little blasphemous in saying that it might be better than pork belly even if by a small margin.
You may notice that I call recipes guidelines instead, and that is because I generally do not believe in some sort of “exact” measurement for most food preparation because there are a lot of variables to consider that can alter the result of a recipe, and so I write out guidelines almost never stating an exact. One needs to learn how to tap into their intuition and learn the concepts of fundamentals to guide a desired outcome, plus following recipes is a sure way weigh down the creative process in a lot of ways.