American

Southern-style Pulled Pork

It may seem like a classic overshare, but I recently had a brief (but torrid) romance with a slow cooker that I bought online. Alas it really didn’t end well, but in the three and a half days we were together we did manage to make one great thing – pulled pork.

Ah, pulled pork, how we all love thee.

Arguably the reigning darling of the slow cooking movement, pulled pork is America’s Deep South’s gift to the culinary world. Traditionally slow-cooked and smoked for hours on a barbeque, pulled pork can in fact be cooked in a number of waysSouthern-style Pulled Pork including in a slow cooker or even in a conventional oven. I’ve only ever made pulled pork in a slow cooker and its always turned out great, but no matter which method you favour the key word is always SLOW – there is simply no rushing pulled pork.

Although most commonly made with a shoulder of pork, recipes for pulled pork vary wildly from region to region and state to state. Many recipes use a dry rub before cooking, whilst some just use a ‘wet’ recipe where a BBQ sauce is simply slavered over the meat before it’s cooked. Personally I prefer the dry rub method as it most definitely adds more flavour and complexity to the final dish. I also like to leave the skin on the pork as it just offers that extra assurance that the meat won’t dry out – simply peel it off and throw away once the pork is done.

When it comes to the actual “pulling” of the pork many recipes suggest using a couple of forks, but I like to get in there and use my hands. It may be a whole lot messier, but doing it by hand gives you more control over the texture of the pork and it makes it easier to identify any fat or gristle that you may want to remove.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to serving pulled pork I’m a bit of a traditionalist – it can be served with any type of white bread (any burger bun, bap, pita or pretzel will do), but it should always come with a generous heap of coleslaw on the side (I’m obsessed with Asian Coleslaw at the moment) as well as some extra BBQ sauce.

Note: pulled pork freezes brilliantly

Click here for the recipe

Classic Hamburger

Burgers are, without doubt, this year’s sushi.

Yes it is official, the Foodie Overlords have decreed that burgers are just too cool for school and I am, quite literately, lovin’ it. I’m not sure what the exact reasons are for this up-swing in the humble burger’s popularity, but it is way overdue and long may it continue! So to whomever designated 2015 the Year of the Burger, I just want to say a hearty thank you!

So okay yes I am supposedly avoiding carbs these days, but burgers have always been my Achilles Heel and, as such, one of my favourite cheat-meals…but I know I’m not alone. In terms of Western food, there is nothing quite as satisfying or as iconic as a good burger. Their popularity is almost universal and enduring, in spite of fast-food’s attempts at turning us against them (no, I don’t consider a Big Mac a real burger – I scarcely consider it food)! Classic HamburgerBut what is it about burgers that keep us coming back for more? Is it their irrepressible retro-Americana charm? Maybe its the sheer “junk-food” decadence that burgers came to represent in the 90/00’s; a symptom, if you will, of the “mum says don’t eat it, so I want it more” syndrome? I just don’t know, but I will tell you this: a good burger is damn hard to beat!

Of course, with renewed popularity comes the inevitable desire for ‘reinvention’. It happens to even the noblest of foods: sushi got cream-cheesed & biltonged, smoothies got iced & goji-berried, coffee got lost in soya & hazelnut and now, burgers have become classy.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a classy burger; I even have a few concoctions of my own that I wish to share (wait till you try my miso butter, goats cheese & mushroom burger!).  With hordes of hip burgers-bars popping up all over the place, the market is awash with every kind of burger you can imagine. These days you can’t seem to get away from the promise of wagyu patties, truffled mayo and unmani ketchup – all utterly delicious, but all utterly superfluous to the crafting of the perfect burger. Seriously, enough already. The Fonz lived without chipotle salsa and trice-cooked fries and so will you! So whilst I appreciate the ingenuity of some of the more outlandish toppings offered, burgers are at heart the epitome of unpretentious eating and we must never lose sight of that.

Okay, so what does maketh the perfect hamburger then?

For me it is all about doing the basics well. Sure you can add cheese, gherkins, bacon into the mix, but all that extra stuff comes down to preference and taste. The essential building blocks of a true hamburger are simply these:  a homemade flame-grilled patty slavered in a decent basting sauce, a quality sesame bun which has been lightly toasted and the Holy Trinity of Burger Toppings being ice-berg lettuce, sliced tomato and onions.

Finished and klaar.

Click here for the recipe

Idaho Stew (Beef Coffee Stew)

It was only when I finally moved to Cape Town to be with my partner that I realised I had, in fact, moved in with my own private flavourphobe.

From the very first meal I made us, it was abundantly clear that any thoughts I may have been harbouring about bringing about instant flavour-reform to his palette were a complete waste of time. His tastes preferences were set and I would simply have come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a belacan-epiphany or a glorious moment of garlic-redemption on the immediate horizon. Regardless how I felt about it, I had made my proverbial table so, for now at least, I was just going to have to eat at it.

Beef Coffee StewFor the first few months I dutifully made the plain dishes he enjoyed, but like all good spouses I was really doing what we do best – biding time. An errant garlic clove here, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce there, little by little I tested the waters and after a while I began to introduce new dishes for his consideration. Some of these offerings were more successful than others, some were downright disasters, although with hindsight the roasted lamb with anchovies was particularly ill considered!

And then I discovered the recipe for this incredible stew.

On paper Idaho Stew fit the bill perfectly; it was a simple, old school beef braise with one small twist – it had coffee in it! It may seem minor now, but please remember that, culinarily speaking, South Africa was a very different place back in 2000. Back then the mere notion of sushi was downright provocative and the thought of cooking a savoury dish with coffee was considered, at best, daring to most South Africans (let alone my dearest flavourphobe)! So yes, back then this humble stew was a risk, but I had to try it, lest I be condemned to making sausage, peas and mash for the rest of my life.

So one night I bit the bullet and dished up my ‘daring’ new stew for dinner. With baited breath I watched as he eyed my latest offering with understandable suspicion. “What is it?”, he asked. “Oh, nothing weird, just a stew” I said, in what I hoped was my most casual voice. “Hmm, okay”, came the reply. Clearly he wasn’t convinced, perhaps the lingering trauma of that damn anchovy lamb was playing on his mind. In spite of his obvious suspicions he took a bite, albeit tentitively and after a moment of furrowed consideration he took another, then another – the stew was hit! It was only once his plate was cleared that I dared divulge the contentious ingredient.

“Coffee? Really? You can’t taste it”.

Wow, he was taking this surprisingly well.

“You can definitely make this again”.

Oh, sweet success!

“But next time may I have it with rice and not mash?”.

Sigh. Okay, so you’re still a freak, but I’ll take the win.

To this day Idaho Stew remains a firm favourite in his limited pantheon of acceptable meals and I still make it often, although he normally refers to it as “his coffee stew” suggesting a secret revelry in the kudos of his expanded palette. These days I usually have a couple of handy portions of this stew in the back of the freezer which I whip out for my partner when we have guests and the menu isn’t to his taste. Unfortunately, this seems to have given his much loved “coffee stew” a bad rep as one of “Brian’s meals”, which is, frankly, simply a byword for dull.

Nothing could be further from the truth! This rich stew is chock full of flavour and should appeal to the whole family…whether or not you dare to tell them that the secret ingredient is coffee is, of course, entirely up to you!

Click here for the recipe