Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Smoked Pork Shoulder Ragu

Brother John and (new) Sister Julie’s wedding was last weekend in Grayling, Michigan.  When describing the setting of the wedding to people at work, I used the unfortunate choice of words “family compound” which caused extensive Kennedy jokes while I was out.  In reality, it was good old Matabanic Lodge which I’ve discussed previously in posts about Poutine and Dumplings.  Since it was the summer in Michigan and the Hub Hollow gang was in tow, it meant a lot of this:

I still haven't figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I'm working on it

I still haven’t figured out how to make a quality iced coffee in the massive commercial coffee maker at Matabanic, but I’m working on it

a little of this:

"A little" is not accurate as I'm sure you've guessed.  One of my favorite beers fresh and cold in large volume.  Became a constant source of argument in the morning over who forgot to ice and disconnect the tap

“A little” is not accurate as I’m sure you’ve guessed. One of my favorite beers fresh, cold, and in large volume.  Became a constant source of arguments in the morning over who forgot to disconnect the tap and ice the keg

a healthy dose of evening music:

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

I attempted to take this picture about 25 times.  No matter how many iPhones I am convinced to buy, they take sh*tty low light pictures

and one awesome wedding:

That's not Julie, that's the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat

That’s not Julie, that’s the officiant.  John is celebrating Julie rounding the bend with her father in a guided riverboat.  It was a pretty awesome setting for a wedding and amazingly no drunks canoed by shouting regional dialect curse words

There were 23ish family members and close friends at Matabanic for the wedding, plus a gaggle of children.  Despite the intimidating size of the crowd and my previous failures cooking for large groups of people, I decided to volunteer for a meal.  In theory with the help of Brother Tim.  I say “in theory” because Tim was likely to resume his normal role of helping early on, getting bored, then criticizing, punching and complaining about timing intermittently. And that was before I remembered he would be on crutches from recent surgery.  Oh well.

My goal, in honor of Julie’s sister Katy and John who both worked at Spannocchia in Italy, was to make a variation of Cinghiale al Pappardelle but with ingredients I could find in middle-of-the-hand Michigan.

Cinghiale is wild boar, a meat that tastes most like a lean and flavorful pork.  With that in mind, and knowing I likely couldn’t find a large quantity of boar easily in Michigan, I decided to start with a pork shoulder and build a rich slow cooked pasta sauce around the meat.  The flavor of shoulder meat is relatively similar to cinghiale but with a higher fat content.  With that in mind, I wanted to render out a little fat before cooking the pork in the sauce but also add some boar-ish earthy flavors back to the meat.  Which brought this bad boy into play.

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim

The old Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.  Tim has a ton of experience with this thing which made the process even more unpleasant since it required following orders from stupid jerkface cargo shorts Tim.  Also, first time I have ever used “boar-ish” to describe anything other than my behavior

The idea was to debone a ten pound picnic shoulder, divide it into smaller pieces, coat with a mild but slightly Italian-flavored rub, then briefly smoke it over applewood and hickory chips.  When I say briefly, I am comparing it to the normal 8-10 hours one would usually smoke a pork shoulder, so I mean two hours.

After deboning, I think I had 7-8 pounds of trimmed meat which I thoroughly coated with a rub of brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and a little paprika.

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

I had a miserable time deboning this shoulder due to the consistently dull knives at Matabanic.  As I drove back to DTW for our flight home I remembered the brand new sharp Henckel knife I had hidden in the attic and let loose with a guttural roar of annoyance

Although the lid stays untouched on a smoker, there is still a decent amount of charcoal and wood chip reloading into the base to keep the temperature between 200 and 250.  I balanced that responsibility with my day long task of overstuffing the wedding guests by serving large amounts of poutine for lunch. I’ve covered poutine before, but wanted to make sure I got credit for multi-tasking so I mentioned it anyway.

Once the poutine was complete and the meat had smoked a little over an hour and a half, I began the sauce prep.  With one of the largest pots in the kitchen heating on the stove, I started running piles of vegetables through Matabanic’s 30 year old Cuisinart knockoff.  Two fennel bulbs, two large yellow onions (very large), 6 carrots, 6 ribs of celery, and a peeled bulb of garlic were all chopped down to near mush and went into the stock pot with a couple tablespoons of butter.

The Cuisinart tactic won't give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I've found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

The Cuisinart tactic won’t give me any street cred with your Italian grandma, but I’ve found it effective when trying to make non-bolognese pasta sauce

After 5-10 minutes of occasional stirring and avoiding anything getting burned to the bottom, I added 2 lbs of sliced mushrooms and stirred some more.

I know the demi glace sounds like an odd choice, but I had seen one recipe for cinghiale that called for a mushroom demi and figured with this volume of sauce it couldn't hurt

I think the first picture was before I added the chopped carrots.  This is a 10 quart stock pot but it really was about as full as it looks here.  I had zero concept whether I was making way too much or way too little sauce

After a few more minutes of cook time, I stirred in two cups of tomato paste until it was well mixed in with the vegetables.  Another few minutes of alternating stirring and pacing, then added salt, black pepper, a liter and a half of red wine, and almost a quart of chicken broth.  Once well combined, I allowed that to come up to heat while I headed outside to collect the smoked shoulder pieces.

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn't pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

I spent about five minutes staring at this blankly trying to decide if I should continue smoking half the meat and only use half in the sauce.  It smelled so good and I was nervous the sauce wouldn’t pan out.  When Pete is cooking for you, the secret ingredient is always self doubt

Beyond the extremely positive color, crispiness, and aroma, the smoking also appeared to be a success from the amount of fat that had rendered out into the drip pan.  Since this would be cooking the rest of the way in the sauce, I wanted to get a lot of that fat out beforehand.

The pork went to a cutting board where I cut each piece down to roughly the same size, about 3″x3″ pieces.  They smelled really friggin good and I again doubted my decision to use all of it, but in they went into the bubbling sauce.

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That's right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I chose arbitrarily

When everything fit I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself since I had totally wung the proportions.  That’s right, I had no idea if I had made enough for the number of people or the volume of pasta I would be cooking, I was just celebrating that I fit everything in the pot I arbitrarily chose

It was a snug fit, but when stirred, all of the pork was completely submerged in the sauce.

Look, I didn't want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn't have much to work with here

Look, I didn’t want to admit it right away, but this thing came dangerously close to Major Dag territory due to me constantly forgetting to take pictures.  I know this is completely redundant with the previous picture, but I didn’t have much to work with here

And then, in line with my original plan of being able to step away from the kitchen while still cooking for a large group, the lid went on and the sauce simmered for four hours.

During that time I went tubing and showered up, but mostly stressed out about whether the food would be edible or taste like Sweet Baby Rays pasta.  I ended up hedging my bets and established goodwill toward the experimental dinner by putting out a couple platters of sliced gravlax that I cured the night before.  Nope, don’t have a picture of that, just look at last week.  Only difference was I made a little creme fraiche to go with it this time.

As we hit the final stretch before dinner, I spent a solid 30 minutes bringing a huge pot of water to a boil.  While that took forever, I used a large spoon to stir and break up the pieces of now falling apart-tender pork and stir everything together.

I know it looks like chili, but this isn't supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It's a ragu y'all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

I know it looks like chili, but this isn’t supposed to be a traditional tomato sauce.  It’s a ragu y’all!!!  I feel like that term lets me get away with anything

Once the water was boiling, I added 8 pounds of dried fettuccine and cooked to the low end of the recommended time so it would be slightly al dente.

With the pasta cooked, I pulled down the enormous hotel pan that has been above the Viking range for as long as we’ve been coming to Matabanic.  Usually these things are used for serving buffet style, and the one I grabbed is actually intended for use as the deeper steaming pan under the shallower top pan.  But I needed the room.

The pasta went in first, then I ladeled in the sauce, pausing after every few ladels to mix, toss and stir the pasta to make sure it was fully distributed.  With about a quarter of the sauce left, I realized I had miraculously guessed correctly and made approximately the right amount of sauce for the pasta (or vice versa) and dumped the rest in to be tossed.  It was definitely meaty, but the pasta was well coated without being overly saucy, like the original I consumed multiple times in Italy.  Plus a little fresh parmesan cheese grated over the top.

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the photos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn't even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

I was horrified when I flipped through my phone hours after the meal and saw how many gaps there were in the fotos and that this was the last one on my phone.  I didn’t even get a pre-cheese or plated picture.  I am an awful person

You wanna see a jiggling pile of anxiety?  Watch me after I’ve cooked for twenty people and expectantly look at each individual person’s reaction as they taste the food.  It is really poor form on my part.  Anyway, instead of guessing how other people felt about it, I will just say that after the 23 guests, 5 babysitters & nannies, and Kelly (our breakfast cook and overall kitchen wizard) took their first and seconds, there were only 2-3 portions of leftovers.  And now here’s my thoughts:

I love this style of pasta dish where the actual fettuccine is only lightly coated in flavorful sauce but there are plenty of chunks of meat or vegetable ragu in every bite.  I just don’t like pasta swimming in red sauce so the proportions were right on for me with this one.  The flavor was definitely a little surprising at first; you don’t expect a smokey barbeque flavor with your pasta and it was definitely the first taste to come across.  After you got past that first note, the richness of the other flavors in the sauce came through and made for a few layers in each bite.  Overall, the shock of the smoke flavor from the first bite goes away after a few and the pasta just ended up being rich, meaty, and enjoyable.  Not exactly like the pappardelle al cinghiale of my dreams, but close enough that I felt it was a decent homage.

Next up will be my third crack at beef tongue.  I got dis.

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Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Kitchen Sink Bolognese

Growing up I wasn’t that big a fan of tomatoes, and strongly disliked red sauce with my pasta.  I preferred my pasta tossed with butter and garlic, then sprinkled with a couple spoonfuls of parmesan cheese.  Correction: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, garlic and cheese.  Look, these love handles weren’t going to build themselves.

I’d always assumed bolognese and meat sauce were the same thing; ground meat and tomato sauce cooked together.  Only recently as I’ve come around to tomato based sauces have I realized how different (and friggin’ genius) a good bolognese can be.  I’ve been blown away by the bolognese at Ten Tables in JP and Stella in the South End; not so much sauce, but rather a sauce-like combination of tender vegetables, meat, and tomatoes.  Almost like an Italian chili served over pasta and, like chili, you can make a delicious one with pretty much whatever meat and vegetables are in your fridge.

Been awhile since I've had a Janet pic on the blog, but she is the bawmb even when she is a little terrified on a swingset. The link to Kristi's blog about Janet is on the right if you want a more regular dose of her

I started out by thawing 3/4 pound of beef chuck and picking up a pound of ground pork at the grocery store.  Once the beef had thawed, a couple chopped carrots, cloves of garlic, ribs of celery, an onion and some olive oil headed into ‘lil blue to saute for a bit.

Between soups, braises, and roasts, we go through a lot of carrots, celery, and onions in the Ryan household. Five years ago, I rarely cooked with those items, took me awhile to appreciate their importance

I was hoping the meat would have a balance of consistent bits of ground pork and the occasional meaty thread of beef.  I tried to slice the beef somewhat thin perpendicular to the grain so that it would break down into bite sized pieces during cooking.  Once the onions started to look a translucent, I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg before adding to the pot.

Having two types of meat was good, three would be even better, and I honestly don't know where we'd start to see diminishing returns. I look forward to figuring that out for myself, assuming I don't burst into flames first from the rapidly increasing friction between my thighs when I walk

After letting the beef and pork brown for a few minutes, I added a half pound of quartered baby bella mushrooms.  Questionable whether they would hold up over the course of a long, slow roasting, but I really like mushrooms and they were in the fridge.

At this point, I felt like I was going to need to accidentally drop one of Janet's diapers in this pot in order to make this anything less than delicious. Decided not to do that

After cooking together for five more minutes, I added a cup of milk.  Never would have thought to do this on my own, but that’s why I always do a little research before diving in.  It was in every reputable recipe I saw.

Weird stuff boiling meat in milk. Went against many of my better instincts despite clearly being the way every bolognese I have ever enjoyed is cooked

While that cooked for 10 minutes to reduce the milk down, I popped open a couple cans of whole tomatoes, drained them, and reserved the liquid.

Trying to figure out the difference between "whole peeled" and "whole plum shaped peeled" canned tomatoes at the store makes you want to punch a grocer. From what I can tell, it's a size and shape thing, which might seem obvious from the name of the can but also seems completely illogical to differentiate. Explain to me why I am wrong about that, my jerk Italian friends

I chopped the tomatoes by hand (could have easily done it in the processor) and made sure to save the extra juices in the process.

Back to ‘lil blue: with the milk reduced almost completely I poured in a little over a cup of the finest Charles Shaw in my home.

Kinda spoofy that a sauce that is generally associated with tomatoes still doesn't have any in it but looks entirely edible. We'll get there

After another 10 minutes of reducing, the chopped tomatoes headed into the pot with a little of the reserved liquid and lots of salt and pepper.

And this looks a lot worse to me. I just despise poorly incorporated cooked tomatoes. I once had a shellfish risotto in Florida that was delicious aside from the chef's decision to throw in some raw halved grape tomatoes late in the cooking process. If he hasn't been attacked by a customer yet, I'd be happy to head back down there (four years later) and give him the old fork in the eye

Lid went on, and the pot headed into a 300F oven for 6-8 hours.  Unlike other slow roasted meats, this one will give your apartment nothing but good smells.  If anything, it was borderline insanity inducing due to how delicious it smelled and how long it took to be ready.

After six hours of few activities aside from watching football and playing with Janet, it was finally time to take ‘lil blue out of the oven and peek under the lid.  Don’t worry, after a few rounds of losing my eyelashes overzealously putting my face over a lid as I remove it, I’ve learned my lesson.

Very similar to how Momere's baked beans look when the lid first comes off after 6 hours. Just slow roasted goodness, and I love the look of the bubbling holes

Gave this a good stir and sent it back into the oven uncovered for another half hour to cook off the excess liquid.  Gave me a chance to boil water and cook a pound of pasta shells to an al dente texture.  Let’s check out the finished botobogese.

That's lookin' like one mighty fine pasta sauce

I started out by reserving some of the bolognese to the side then stirring the pasta into the remaining sauce.  When I looked up from doing this Kristi, Conor, and Trish were all giving me the nod that said, “why don’t you just go ahead and stir in all of the sauce”.  So I did, and they were right.

To explain the earlier misspelling, when I was in Shanghai with Wharton folks a poorly translated room service menu featured "Speghatti Botobogese". Aside from sending a friend into a maniacal laughing fit, "botobogese" has become the general way I refer to my bolognese in conversation, much to the confusion of others

Before putting the pot back into the oven for another 10 minutes to finish the pasta, I didn’t need approving nods to reinforce my decision to throw a couple handfuls of cheese on.  Which left us with this:

Melted cheese on top of rich meat sauce and pasta? Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves

The strongest flavors in the sauce came from the meats which had cooked to the perfect tenderness.  The carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes had a uniform texture in the sauce with the mushrooms showing up in the occasional bite.  The flavors weren’t overly Italian since there weren’t any herbs or spices aside from the nutmeg, salt and pepper, but the slow cooked garlic and tomatoes made up for that.  It was really freaking good, and held up over the multiple days it took to finish that enormous pile of pasta bake.

This was either day 2 or 3, but it was still delicious. Especially with a good sized sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Hey, these lovehandles... eh, nevermind. I wore that one out pretty quickly

I’ve already made this a second time with ground turkey and beef chuck and it was awesome once again.  Next step is to make a pizza with just the botobogese and cheese, since that would be pretty much mindblowing.

I think I’ve over extended myself with this weekend’s food project, but we’ll see how it goes.  Couldn’t be more of a stretch than the extended Leggett family trusting me with cooking them 30 pounds of turkey over Thanksgiving.  I rewarded them by forgetting to remove the giblet bag.