Cooking a Pork Shoulder

I would have been really upset if I couldn’t include this recipe in my cookbook.

Please don’t think it’s because I hate tomatoes! I LOVE tomatoes!!

So if I haven’t already made this announcement to you, here it is: My cookbook is based on the theme of “Italian Cooking with No Tomatoes.” It’s a new way of thinking about Italian cooking, and I think all levels of chefs will adore it. With any luck, it will be available for purchase by October. (Though given how that’s the month I’m also getting married, that final “on the shelves” date may change…)

Anyway, one of the great recipes from the catalog of tomato-free Italian cooking is Porchetta. It’s a rolled piece of skin-on pork that gets a super-crispy skin and is then sliced thin and served in all manner of ways. (Though pork sandwiches remain a favorite porchetta application of mine…)

Many people use a whole pork belly for porchetta, but that’s not only an unwieldy amount of pork (usually in the 10-12 lb range), but it’s cost-prohibitive for many people to buy that much pork at once. So I wanted the recipe for my book to be a little more reasonable – both financially and economically. So I decided I wanted to use a boneless skin-on pork shoulder for my recipe (about 6 lbs).

So I asked my butcher friend about getting one of these pieces of pork, and he told me – much to my surprise – that he didn’t know if they could get that cut. He said he’d never seen it, and there was just no market for skin-on pork any more. I figured I could maybe special order it someday if I had to, but could it be that the central ingredient to my recipe was impossible to get? If so, I’d surely have to delete it from my cookbook.

Such a perilous thought for someone who loves pork as much as me

A few days later, I was wandering the aisles of my local Giant Food when I came across a small lady loading large items into her cart with incredible fervor. I was shocked by the scene, and had to know what was so exciting. And there they were. Bone-in skin-on pork shoulders. For $0.99/lb! I had to muscle the spry little woman out of the way to grab two for myself, but I managed.

I knew instantly that these were going to be the demo for my Italian class at LIFeSTYLE in Bedford, PA the following week. One would be made ahead, and the other would be constructed in front of the class. Then, through the magic of television, I whipped out the finished one, and everyone got o enjoy. It was a huge hit, of course!

And the best part – the one I constructed in the class, was mine to take home to make for myself!

And that’s just what I did today.

Try not to lick your computer monitor….

So, since I’m not going to give out the full recipe for this, since it will be in the book, here’s an idea of what you want to do:

-Take a skin-on pork shoulder, and open it up to remove the bone. Sprinkle on lots of salt, pepper and garlic on the inside. Toast some fennel seeds, grind them, and sprinkle them inside too. Lay down some fresh herbs, and wrap the shoulder back up. Place it in the fridge for 1-3 days.
-Unwrap the shoulder, remove the herbs (leave everything else) and re-roll the pork. Score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern, and tie up the roast with twine. Let roast come to room temp for 1 hour.
-Preheat the oven to 550 while the roast is coming to room temp, and place roast in a roasting rack.
-Slip roast into the oven, close the door, and reduce the heat to 325. Let porchetta roast for 3 hours until the internal temp is 150.
-Take it out, let it rest 15 minutes, carve and serve.

It’s about the greatest thing you can do with a pork shoulder short of making my famous Pork Pappardelle Ragu. But that’s another recipe for another time…

Chef Matt

The Cookbook Testing Continues

It’s time for an update on the cookbook. I’ve been giving you all a lot of recipes as of late, and I’m not against sharing that, but I think occasionally I need to remind you all of the progress on the cookbook.

Simply put, the manuscript is over 100 recipes, and it is with the editors as we speak. However, that doesn’t mean everything is tested, finished and ready to go! I still have a few recipes that need to be tested, tweaked and perfected before I’m willing to commit them to the ages in my book.

This recipe of orecchiette with porcini mushroom cream sauce with fresh fennel was practically perfect on the first test! I have my mom to thank for this success.

So between family, friends, blog readers, and even other chefs, I have sent out a wide collection of recipes from the book to be tested. I have made them all before, but I wanted to be sure they read properly and tasted OK to the general public. And most of the recipes come back saying just that. Everything was fine, the recipe made sense, we’re good to go.

In fact, many of the testers who write blogs of their own write posts about the experience of being a tester as well. It’s good to know people are having so much fun with this!

Beef in Barolo
Pork Involtini
Bruschetta with Baby Artichokes

But then there are the recipes which are just not working out. And no recipe has given me more trouble than the Risotto Milanese Arancine. The concept of this dish is that you make Risotto Milanese, which is simply a saffron-infused risotto. But you then take balls of the risotto and stuff them (with cheese, or a meat sauce with some tomato), roll them in bread crumbs and deep fry them.

Well, making a great risotto is no problem. I have been making risotto for years, and Milanese is one of the best ones out there – especially as a base for Osso Buco. That I had done, no worries.

No, this is not after a bite has been taken out, this is how it looked coming out of the fryer. Disaster because of my recipe. Thanks for the test Blythe!

It was the making of the balls and having them hold together that proved problematic. My first thought was to get creative, and wrap the fresh mozzarella in a basil leaf for added color and flavor. This proved to be a problem as the desire for the leaf to want to unroll was stronger than the desire of the risotto to hold together. A few of those tests, and that idea was abandoned.

The next tests had to deal with the amount and type of egg I stirred into the risotto. A whole egg made the risotto too runny, so I backed it off to just an egg yolk. But I was also seeing that I had too much cheese for the risotto, so I had to change the amount of risotto that should be made for a single recipe. But then, did I have the right amount of egg again? Or should I go back to the full egg?

You can see how this quickly adds up to many, many tests! And with all this fried food, (fried cheese no less) I doubt my doctor was going to be happy about all this.

Perfect looking arancine – and this is one with a bite taken out of it. Just awesome. Thanks so much Shane!

Well, finally, after several months of testing, one of my testers finally sent back to me a successful test of the arancine! They looked beautiful, and all of his testers gave it two thumbs up. And yes, I think they look just perfect!

So now it’s all about getting all the remaining recipes written and edited, and then all I have to do is work on the layout and publishing! Yes, I still hope to have this book out this year, but every step of the way has been a learning process for me. But a fun learning process at that.

And trying out all the fried food has just been a side treat. Next recipe to test: Fried Zucchini Blossoms! My doctor is really going to be mad at me…

Chef Matt

Making Limoncello – Part 3 – The Drunkening

Well, the time has come to finish off the Limoncello. This part of the story/process is not nearly as involved as the first phase where we had to zest 15 lemons, nor is it as harrowing as the second phase where we had to make sure we didn’t lose any of the wonderful lemon vodka when we strained it.

No, this is a sort-of anticlimactic ending with respect to the process side of things. There is only one “step,” to this phase, and I almost feel kind weird having to show you all in photo-essay form. But there’s something to be said for seeing a journey through to its end. And so I present to you the final step in the making of Limoncello:

Take the Limoncello and ladle it into five empty wine bottles – preferably with a screw caps – and store it in the freezer.

That’s it people! There really isn’t much else to say on the topic. I guess one piece of advice would be that if you have a small freezer (like myself), or if you have a freezer that is crammed full of other things (also like myself), then maybe you don’t want to store all five bottles in there at the same time. Simply store one bottle in the freezer at a time, and keep the other bottles in the same cool, dark place which you had the Limoncello aging for these past two months. When you empty the one in the freezer, add one more from storage.

This method is useful, since you can see when your stocks are running low. When you get down to just one bottle in storage, it’s probably a good time to begin your next batch.

But it is key you store it, and drink it right out of the freezer. Limoncello is OK at room temperature, but the flavors really explode and become something special when they are served at below freezing temperatures. (And don’t worry, all the alcohol and sugar in there will keep it from freezing solid. It will remain liquid and wonderful.) (If it does freeze solid, your freezer is set WAY too cold. And is WAY too powerful…)

So all there is left to do now is enjoy! To demonstrate that, I once again called on my favorite photo model, and HUGE fan of my Limoncello: my fiance Susan! Yes, she actually donned an evening gown for the photo shoot since she thought it was important to “class it up” for such an auspicious occasion as the first glass of a new batch of Limoncello:

The ring is still visible. Not at all a coincidence.

As wonderful as the stuff is, my warning I gave you in the first post about Limoncello still stands. You have to be careful with this stuff! It is as addictive as it is delicious! It may be hard to stop after one small glass, but you should really consider it.

Don’t believe me? Allow me to quote a text message I received from Susan this morning:

“I shouldn’t have had that 3rd limoncello…”

No my dear, I guessing you shouldn’t have. But I’m still thrilled you love it so!

You now know how to make Limoncello. Get out there and enjoy it! Salute!

Chef Matt

Love vs. Vegetarianism

It’s the rare vegetarian who has a tattoo like this.

For those of you who have read my blog regularly over the past years, you know I’m not a vegetarian, nor do I trip all over myself to make sure vegetarians always feel like they have equal footing in my menus. Simply put, I like meat, I cook meat, and if you have a diet that precludes you from enjoying it, then you’re likely to go hungry around me.

My brother is a vegetarian, and his wife is a vegetarian who eats seafood (referred to as a “pescatarian,” though I prefer the term “vegaquarian”). Whenever they are around, I of course make sure to cook vegetable dishes at my highest ability for them. Family is important, and I believe in making sure they feel that when they are around. But if you think even that’s going to stop me from grilling up some steaks around them – well, you just don’t know me that well.

I think the real issue I have with vegetarians is the fact that they never recognize they are eating a diet of luxury. We live in a society where we can actually afford to pick and choose what we want to eat, and can exclude certain things from our diets because there is so much choice. It really doesn’t take into account those in the world who don’t have such luxury in their life, and yet they so often frame their decision as the moral high ground. And of course, this is where I get off the boat completely.

Example of a wonderful vegetarian – my fiance Susan. Note how she makes sure the ring is visible in the photo…

Now I’m not saying all vegetarians are like this. As mentioned above, I know many wonderful vegetarians who are great people and do the most important thing when it comes to vegetarianism: They keep their opinions to themselves, and are not a burden to everyone around them with their dietary choices. And that is the perfect place to bring up my lovely fiance, Susan.

Susan, when I met her over 10 years ago, was a vegetarian, and had been for many years. She chose vegetarianism for personal reasons, but I was always amazed at how cool she was about it. I remember one time when we were having dinner, and I had ordered spaghetti carbonara (pasta with cream, cheese, eggs and bacon). She willingly took a bite, just pushing the bacon to the side. None of the, “eeeww, it has meat somewhere in it,” or the, “I’m a vegetarian, and would never think of eating that,” nonsense. Just worked around the meat to try something truly wonderful and share in her friend’s experience.

In short, she was the coolest vegetarian I had ever met.

But when Susan and I started dating, the issue crept into the back of my mind, “could I really seriously date a vegetarian?” Sure, this is the “coolest” vegetarian I know, but vegetarian all the same…. Could it work, or were we as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet?

Well as luck would have it, when we started dating, Susan had decided she wanted to start trying meat again. (She had made this choice independently before we started dating, I didn’t force it on her.) She was trying chicken and pork. Well, I know an opportunity when I see one, so even though the initial idea wasn’t mine, I began working on this in earnest. And so I began her “re-introduction” into the wonderful world of being a carnivore. As she likes to put it, she’s a “recovering vegetarian,” and I have just the 12-step program for her.

I can’t wait for her to be into foie gras…

The road to bringing meat back into your diet is a slow one, as not everything tastes good or has a texture she’s used to after 20 years without meat. My chicken liver pate was a noted failure for her which I think it will be a few years before she tries again. But she devours mussels with gusto now, and I thought it would be years before she would even think of trying a raw oyster, but she loves those too!

I really thought I was making headway, but I received the ultimate confirmation of this the other night when we went out for our joint birthday dinner. She was perusing the menu, and I pointed out some wonderful vegetarian appetizers I saw, including a delicious sounding goat cheese salad. (Goat cheese being a favorite of both of ours…) She went back and forth for a while, and then asked, “Do you think the Prosciutto and Salami Plate would be good?”

There as a pause at the table, as this was not the question I expected to hear from her.

“Sure, baby, I think it would be wonderful… for me…”

“No, you know I like pork now, and I really like the salamis and such… do you think I should get it?…”

“That’s an awful lot of meat… I mean, it will be delicious, sure, but again, an awful lot of meat…”

I couldn’t believe what was happening. Here was my wonderful love actually offering to order a plate of meat, and nothing but meat, and I was practically talking her out of it! What kind of “carnivore coach” was I? I backed off, and she took the opening, and that’s what she ordered.

As you can see, she was happy with what came.

Best. Fiance. Ever.
(Note: ring is still visible…)

So, has love conquered vegetarianism, or has she just come to see the light?

It doesn’t matter which is the case, the simple fact is, she’s awesome no matter what! 🙂

Chef Matt

Some Good Press

Throughout this journey into the world of becoming a chef, I’ve always been surprised when I end up in a news article as a source. As I’ve always maintained, my life is more of a “cautionary tale” as supposed to one that needs replicating or emulating.

But there are some wonderful reporters out there who keep on mentioning me, or wanting to talk to me about my being a chef, and to them, I say “thanks.”

In that vein, here is a recent article in Northern Virginia Magazine by Warren Rojas where he interviewed me for his continuing column, “Red Meat”:

Red Meat: Matt Finarelli

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Some people have mid-life crises. Chef Matt Finarelli had more of a vocational epiphany:

When last we spoke with Finarelli, he was actively climbing the corporate cooking ladder after a career reboot facilitated by Stratford University. He has since morphed into a full-fledged cooking instructor (Open Kitchen, Sur La Table, Fairfax County Public Schools Adult and Community Education) and appears poised to break into the self-publishing realm.

WR: Salt. Pepper. What other spices/herbs could you not live without?

MF: It sounds cliché, but it’s so hard to pick just one or two. My spice cabinet is often filled to overflowing, and I think I keep my local grocery store open with my herb purchases alone (not to mention the ones I grow myself…). But if I had to pick one that I really think adds something extra, I would have to say rosemary. But interestingly enough, I rarely “add” it to my food, as I find its texture “toothsome” and unpleasant. I usually just add the whole sprig to whatever I’m cooking, and then remove it before I serve it, so it’s wonderful flavor and aroma are left behind, but there are no pine needles to deal with.

WR: What’s the very first dish you ever mastered? How long did it take? Do you still make it today?

MF: As a kid, my mom always let me make the garlic bread for family dinners. Learning how to cut most of the way through the loaf, without cutting all the way through, and then brushing the insides with garlic and butter in a way that was even and flavorful was my responsibility, and I took great pride in it. You had better believe I still make that today–and unlike most of my recipes, I’ve never updated this one. It’s perfect the way I remember it as a kid.

WR: What seasonal ingredient(s) get your creative juices flowing?

MF: Spring is the season that always recharges my batteries every year, and so it is the ingredients of spring that really get me going. Asparagus, artichokes and strawberries. When they arrive, I know it’s time to get creative in the kitchen and work with the freshest and most flavorful things I can find.

WR: My latest cookbook obsession is …

MF: I feel like a die-hard fan with blinders up to anything else when I think about this, since I’m always obsessed with whatever cookbook Jamie Oliver has most recently released. He and I have such similar cooking styles, and I think his flavor combinations are just inspired. His latest book, “Jamie’s America,” has me saying “Wow!” every time I turn the page.

WR: What’s the most challenging dish you’ve ever attempted? Would you make it again?

MF: I made a rolled pasta dish stuffed with spinach and ricotta that I used fresh, rolled out pasta for. I then wrapped it in cheesecloth, boiled it, sliced it, and then baked it in a tomato-cream sauce, and then finished that under the broiler. It was fabulous, but the thing I remember most about it was that I did all this when I was 14. At that time, I couldn’t believe I had undertaken something so grandiose, and I was thrilled it had come out so fantastically! It was that moment that I really knew I had a chance to be a good chef. Maybe I’ve done more complex things since as a professional, but when I think of most challenging, that always sticks out in my mind. I would make this again because it’s delicious, and in fact, I have done so quite a few times.

WR: If I could spend the day working alongside any local chef, I’d love to collaborate with …

MF: Jon Mathieson most recently of Inox. Inox unfortunately closed down, but the food there was fantastic. I could learn a lot from a chef with such great technical precision, as my style is more rustic and casual. The contrast would only help to round out my style.

WR: What’s the easiest/quickest–but still wholly satisfying–meal you make for yourself?

MF: Frittatas are not only easy and fast, but they are a great meal for hot or cold days (because you can serve them hot or at room temperature). But what I really love about them is that they are infinitely adaptable to whatever I feel like making. Almost anything I have in my kitchen can be made into a great frittata. Mixing fresh vegetables, just-picked herbs and all kinds of great cheeses I have laying around result in a never-ending collection of great dishes, and often times some really awesome surprises.

Spring Frittata

½ pound asparagus, sliced thin, ends snapped
⅔ cup fresh peas
8 eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¾ ounce Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated plus extra for garnish
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 ounces marinated artichokes, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Fresh arugula for garnish (as desired)

-Preheat the oven to 400°F.
-In a large saucepan, over high heat, bring 6 cups of water to a boil with a handful of salt. Blanch the asparagus spears in the water until tender, then remove from the water and place in an ice bath to stop cooking. Blanch the peas in the same water, and also add to the ice bath when tender. Drain water from vegetables, pat dry, and set aside.
-In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, parmesan, salt and pepper.
-In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and peas, and sauté until just beginning to color (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic and artichoke and sauté for 1 minute more.
-Reduce heat to medium and pour in the egg mixture and while it is wet, stir in the tarragon and mustard.
-Scramble the eggs lightly in the pan until they are about half-cooked and somewhat set.
-Place frittata in oven and allow to bake until frittata is completely cooked (about 5-10 minutes).
-Remove frittata from oven, garnish with extra parmesan and arugula and serve.

WR: In the next six months you won’t want to miss my …

MF: My new cookbook! I’m writing a cookbook on Italian cooking that has one major innovative idea in it that I don’t think has been attempted before. I’m writing an Italian cookbook that uses no tomatoes! It’s not because I dislike tomatoes – quite the opposite in fact, as I often grow them in my garden. I came up with the idea when I found myself always going back to the same old red sauces whenever I was making Italian food. I worked hard to find recipes from around Italy that don’t use tomatoes, and I expanded from there. Pretty soon I had enough to write a book, and my students have all been begging for me to put one together, so hopefully in the next few months, all this writing will come to fruition!

WR: It’s quitting time. I’m pouring myself …

MF: If it’s been a quiet, easy night of work, usually a nice glass of Sangiovese or Chianti. If it’s been a long a grueling evening, I’m usually cracking open a PBR.


Right there with you in terms of PBR appreciation, chef…

Come back next Tuesday for another helping of Red Meat.


If you would like to see a link to the actual article, which includes a very close up photo of yours truly taken by my lovely fiance, you can see that here.

Thanks much Warren, and I look forward to more opportunities to talk with any reporters who want to see what the busy life of a chef instructor/author is like. But now, back to the Game Show Network

Making Limoncello – Part 2

Has it really been a month already? So those of you with an incredible attention span, or amazing memory may remember how a month ago I posted the first steps on how to make Limoncello. This resulted in us sitting around for a month giving the concoction a stir every once and again. And that’s basically all I’ve been up to the past month. That, and drooling in anticipation of my first sip!

So now it’s time to continue the recipe. These next steps are neither long, complex or difficult, but they most be done as phase two in the journey towards alcoholic bliss.

To get things started for this phase, you’ll need to combine 5 cups of water and 6 cups of sugar in a saucepan large enough to hold them both.

Place the pan with the sugar and water in it on the stove and start heating it over medium heat. Give it the occasional stir. We’re not looking to bring it to a boil, we’re just trying to heat it up enough to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat, and allow it to cool.

While the syrup is warming on the stove, it’s time to strain the vodka/lemon zest mixture we have been babysitting for the past month. Strain the mixture, and press on the zest to get all the flavor out. Discard the zest, and of course keep the liquid.

And now of course all we have to do is marry the two together! Pour the syrup into the lemon vodka, slap the cover back on, and put it back in the cool dark place you had it in for the past month. (I photographed it on a white cutting board so you could see that yes, the mixture should indeed be a nice, rich shade of yellow at this point.) Give it a swirl or two every day for the next 3-4 weeks, and we’ll be ready to go!

This is a recipe that truly tests one’s patience, if not their sobriety. But all the same, I’ll be back soon enough to share the results with you. And hopefully you’ve been following along!

Chef Matt

Corned Beef 2 – St. Patty’s is Here!

So it’s time to finish up our corned beef that we started up a week ago! This really is a fabulously simple dish when you think about it. We put the beef in a brine for 5 days (yes, I took mine out two days ago, and it’s been sitting in the fridge patiently since…) and then you boil it for a few hours. While the total “cooking time” is a minimum of 124 hours, the “active time” really is no more than 30 minutes! (Rachel Ray would be proud…)

So here we go people – time to finish up our corned beef in time for St. Patty’s Day dinner.

Same piece of meat, but after 5 days in the brine I mentioned before. I’ve taken it out of the brine, rinsed it, and washed off any peppercorns or mustard seeds or what have you sticking to it. Yes, it’s a lot more gray in color, but the aroma of this meat is just impossible to describe. It’s just fabulous as all the wonderful herbs and spices have really gone deep into the meat. For this moment alone, it’s worth making your own homemade corned beef!

Now in the water which this beef will cook, I want to keep up the flavors that I’ve already infused into the meat. I don’t want the water stealing them all away. But by the same token, I don’t want to be picking peppercorns off my final cooked piece of meat. So I’m wrapping my herbs and spices in a cheesecloth sachet. In here I put:

  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp green peppercorns
  • 1 piece mace
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 8 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp yellow mustard seeds

If you want to throw in a clove or two of garlic here, feel free.

It’s time to get cooking! Submerge the beef in enough water to cover, add the sachet, and bring to a boil. There’s no need to add any salt, the beef will release salt that is inside of it into the water, and that will help to season the vegetables. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 3-3.5 hours (flipping the meat every half hour) until it’s really tender. Note though that these long muscle fibers in the brisket will really tighten up when cooked, so the meat will swell – and this may “lift” the meat out of the water. Keep adding water to make sure the beef is fully submerged, but just barely. (You’ll need this extra water to cook the vegetables anyway…)

What a great segue! Let’s talk veg! We of course need cabbage, so I have half a fresh cabbage cut into 6 wedges. I washed and diced a nice russet potato (don’t peel it though, let’s keep this looking good) and peeled and halved two onions. I then threw in a nice large handful of baby carrots. Everything but the cabbage will go in after the beef has been cooking for 3-3.5 hours. They’ll all simmer for 15 minutes, and then the cabbage will follow them into the pot. 10 more minutes, and we should be done! (Test and make sure the potatoes and carrots are tender…)

We need sauce as well. While thousand island dressing is great for corned beef sandwiches, when we’re eating it hot with veg, we want horseradish! So here’s a great, simple horseradish sauce you can whip up whenever you like during the cooking process:

  • 3 Tbsp horseradish
  • 2 Tbsp mayo
  • 1/2 tsp seeded Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Just mix it all together, and you’re good to go.

When the beef is super tender, and the veg are all cooked, it’s time to eat. Take out the meat, slice it thin, serve it with a good side of all the vegetables and a nice dollop of the horseradish sauce. Of course, you’ll want to accompany this with a nice tall pint of Harp or Guinness. (None of that hideous green beer please. We’ve worked too hard!)

Happy St. Patrick’s everybody! I hope this recipe works for you in the years to come, and don’t forget – any leftover corned beef is just spectacular in Rubens!

Chef Matt

Corned Beef – Get Ready for St. Patty’s

Last year, while working at Open Kitchen, we decided to put on a special St. Patrick’s Day menu for the patrons. Well, the star of the evening by a mile was my very own house-made corned beef. I had never made a corned beef before, but I understood the concept well enough. So with some research and patience, I turned out what had to be the best pair of corned beef briskets I ever had. (And the customers agreed!)

And this year, I’m sharing the recipe with you.

Now you want to start about now, because the process takes about 5 days. I’m giving you plenty of heads up so you can go buy a brisket today or tomorrow, and have it ready in time for the 17th.

At the end of the day, corned beef is really just a pickled piece of beef brisket that you then simmer low and slow for a good long while. It’s the pickling step that takes some time. And that’s what we’re going to cover today. I used a 2.5lb piece of brisket, since that’s about all I can reasonably handle in my house. If you want a bigger piece, go ahead, but scale the recipe for the brine up accordingly so as to have enough power in your brine to handle all the beef.

The first thing you’re going to need is a nice piece of beef brisket. This comes from the front chest of the cow and has long muscle fibers that make it tough when eaten like a steak, but beautiful when pickled and boiled! Trim it well of excess fat, but if there’s a cap of fat on the other side, leave that in place.

Next, we’re going to make the brine. I used 1/2 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. This is a pretty strong brine, because we’re actually trying to pickle the meat, not just brine it before cooking. Make sure all the sugar and salt are dissolved. (You can heat the brine to make sure, then cool it if you like/have the time.) You’ll know you have it right if the meat is floating – just like how your body (also made of meat) floats in salt water, but sinks in fresh water. Place the meat and the brine in a non-reactive container large enough to hold everything with room to spare – and which can fit in your fridge (which has proven to be problematic for me…).

It’s time to add some flavor to the brine, so here’s what I use. I have all the items on top of the beef in this picture so you can see them, but I stirred them in of course.

  • 3 cloves of garlic – peeled and halved
  • 1 inch piece of ginger – peeled and sliced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 star anise pod – crushed with fingers
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp dried red chili flakes
  • 1 generous pinch whole cloves
  • 1 generous pinch whole mace

      It’s OK – even preferable – to use the whole spices here as supposed to the ground varieties. They have more flavor and plenty of time to do their thing over the next five days.

Because the meat is floating, we want to weigh it down with something so all the meat is in the brine. A small plate does the trick. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap to stop evaporation, and place in the fridge. Once or twice a day, take it out and flip the brisket over in the brine, replace the plate and the plastic wrap, and put it back in the fridge.

That’s it for now! We’ll come back to this in five days!

Wow, between this piece of meat soaking for five days, and my Limoncello hanging out for a month, my apartment is really becoming overrun with long-term food projects. How Susan can stand to live with me, I have no idea! (I’m very happy she does though!!)

Chef Matt

P.S. The next post is ready. Read up on how to finish the corned beef here.

Bringing Sevilla to Bethesda

It’s not all just cookbook writing for me as of late. There’s still the classes that have to be done. Yesterday I had two classes at Sur La Table – “Gnocchi Workshop” and “British Sunday Roast.” Both went in credibly well, and it was in a conversation with one of my students that I had after the class that lead me to create a new class: “Italian Desserts.”

Tonight, I have my second in a series of classes for Fairfax County on “Northern Italian Cuisine.” As you can see, the writing of the cookbook has to sort-of sneak in between my teaching of classes, shopping for ingredients, planning my schedule and of course, something at might someday resemble a social life.

But I’m not complaining – it’s good to be busy, and I love the classes!

And I thought I’d share a particularly fun one I did just recently in Bethesda, MD. Last year, I was asked by a friend to donate some of my cooking skills to a fundraiser for Red Wiggler Farm. While making risotto for a crowd that I was finishing to order is quite the undertaking at a large outdoor event, I managed to pull it off – everyone was coming back for thirds.

Well, as a result of that appearance, I was contacted by Rob, who wanted to buy a Christmas present for his mom in the form of a cooking class.

Aside: Dear readers, I cannot stress how great an idea this is!

Anyway, the class she wanted was a Spanish Tapas class that was a mixture of demonstration and participation. Their friends offered up their awesome kitchen as a space to work in, and it was an afternoon and evening of great fun, food and wine from Spain.

After the event, they emailed me the photos they took of the event, and I will share some of them with you now:

Gearing up for a wonderful cooking class with Mark, who kindly let me use his (and his wife’s) kitchen for the class.

Some of the early offerings – Artichoke and Serrano Ham Toasts.

Call it a frittata, omelet or tortilla – filled with asparagus and Manchego, it’s delicious no matter what the name!

But the star of the show was the Garlic-Flambeed Shrimp. The competition for largest flame was intense. Here Bruce starts off with a nice entry.

Rob steps it up.

His wife comes in even larger, and maybe she scared herself a little with this one…

But you can’t set off that many flames in the kitchen without attracting the attention of a 10 year old! Caroline (and I) watch closely as her son, Kai, gets ready to try his hand at the shrimp.

I think this photo shows all you need to know about how he felt about getting to set a pan on fire. 🙂

The class completed, and everyone was happy – especially the class recipient, Natalie.

The concept of flame was such a hit with the crowd that they asked me if I also knew how to do Bananas Foster. I replied that I did, and to do it, we would need bananas, butter, brown sugar and rum. Since this was a Spanish Tapas class, I hadn’t brought those things. “Oh, I think we have all that!” they said with great enthusiasm. Minutes later, we were burning the kitchen down again. It’s always a good sign that a class has gone well when the students ask to cook more at the end.

Kai told me as I was cleaning up that he now “knew what he wanted to do when he grew up”. Should we be worried that rather than wanting to be a firefighter, he wants a job setting fires?

Nah, I’m not worried either. 🙂

But what really set this class apart from all others, was how Natalie wrote me back a few days after the class to show me that she had made some of the recipes I taught her, and she was proud of how they had turned out:

“Here’s my first attempt at the omelette which turned out very well. I’ve since tried the potatoes bravas and also the chorizo skewers and all were equally successful.”

Wow. Now that’s how you know a class went great! I’ve never received feedback or follow-up like that. It’s those kinds of things that let me know I’m doing the right thing being a culinary instructor.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shop for tonight’s class…

Chef Matt

Carving in Stone

Compiling the recipes into a book is more challenging than I previously thought. I’ve mentioned that quite recently. But part of the problem that I was having when I was going through my manuscript was finding the little details and measurements that weren’t quite right, and needed fixing.

I can erase this later, right?…

How could I have made such mistakes before? When I wrote them down the first time, didn’t I know what I was saying? It’s a mystery how so many recipes could have been off by a tablespoon of butter here or a few cloves of garlic there.

It wasn’t until I finally tested a revised recipe for myself that I realized what was going on….

So to explain by way of an analogy, how many of you have seen the Blues Brothers? It’s a fabulous movie (easily my favorite musical) and it has, among other greats, the song “Think” by Aretha Franklin in it. The one thing that always bugged me about this scene though was how bad her lip-sync was in it. Check it out:

It’s not that she doesn’t know the words, it’s that she has trouble lip-syncing to herself because she always sings a song differently. Every time she sings it. She couldn’t remember how she sang it in the recording, and wanted to go where the mood took her when she was performing it at that moment. I’m basically the same way when I cook.

OK, so let’s get one thing straight. I’m not comparing myself in related talent level to Aretha Franklin. On a scale of 1-10 in our respective fields, I rank about a 6.5. Aretha is somewhere around Avogadro’s Number.

“Meh, whatever looks like a cup…”

The point of this is to say that I’m not the type to always follow a recipe super-close, as I like to adapt, grow, change and fluctuate what I’m doing based on what I have on hand and how I’m feeling. A cookbook is the exact opposite of that. It’s in print and forever out there as the “final” versions of these recipes.

Will I ever be happy with that? Back in my days of working for World Wildlife Fund, when I was a web designer, I never had to worry too much about what I posted being permanent. If there was new information, or (God forbid) a typo, changing it was no sweat. Nothing was carved in stone.

This book is the exact opposite of that. I need these recipes to be perfect, and to work for everyone who uses them.

Which is why I’m recruiting anyone who would like to be a tester for my recipes! Contact me if you’d like to try out some recipes ahead of time. I’ll be sure to mention you in the book as a tester, and hey, what better way to beat the book to press, right?

If I know you all like the recipes, perhaps I’ll be OK with finally committing it to paper. 🙂

Chef Matt