Enough of this waxing poetic about Ironman (with its equal parts joy and sorrow) and back to the reason I started this blog in the first place: food. Ironman training changed my relationship with food, and in some ways, replaced the culinary impulses with new ones. But it’s the off season, so I think we can all just get along now. (Note: I drafted this post way back before the holidays, hence the comment about the off season. But last night’s Nuun-sponsored soiree with other bloggers inspired me to emerge from hiding. We’ll see how long it lasts.)
What better place to start than fat? The hubster has been trying his hand at a variety of delicious meaty things over the past few months (thanks to his new-ish book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman), and I’ve been happy to take on the role of dish washer/recipe tester. One of the best things about Ironman training is that I haven’t had to worry about his latest creation “going straight to my hips,” so to speak. I’m a firm believer in modest amounts of natural fat, like the kind found in nuts, eggs, avocado, and yes, meat. I’ve found that if I don’t have too much too often, I enjoy everything so much more.
One of the first recipes we tried was pork confit. In the introduction, the authors write: “Fat is dense and flavorful, the perfect cooking medium for a leg of duck or a chunk of pork belly … the fat ensures that when the meat is reheated, it remains moist and succulent.” They go on to say that an inexpensive, tough cut of meat like pork shoulder or loin can be transformed into something “exquisite” through this method. Sign me up.
And what better sandwich to use it for than the Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich? I first fell in love with this sandwich in D.C.’s own Eden of Vietnamese cuisine. The airy, crispy baguette sandwich brought to the country by the French hooked me right away. Turns out it’s almost as good homemade, especially if you can find the right baguettes and don’t mind confit-ing your own pork. Below you’ll find the method for pork confit, courtesy of Mr. Ruhlman.
Pork Confit for Bánh mì
2 Tbsp/30 grams kosher salt
3 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp/20 black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh sage
3 Tbsp/36 grams chopped shallots
1/2 tsp/3 grams pink salt
5 pounds/2.25 kilos boneless pork shoulder butt, cut into 2-inch/5-centimeter chunks, or one 3-pound/1.5 kilo boneless pork loin
2 to 4 cups/500-1000 milliliters rendered duck fat or lard (or a combination)
- Combine all the ingredients except the pork and the fat in a spice grinder and pulverize to a powder.
- Rub the mixture evenly all over the meat. Place it in a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours if you’re using pork shoulder pieces, 48 hours if you’re using pork loin.
- Preheat the oven to 180 to 200 degrees F/82 to 93 degrees C.
- Rinse the pork under tepid water, wiping off all the seasonings, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Submerge the meat in the rendered fat in a stockpot or Dutch oven; the meat must be completely covered in fat. Bring the fat to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, then place the pot, uncovered, in the oven, and cook until fork-tender for 4 to 6 hours for shoulder, 3 hours for loin.
- Cool in the fat, then cover, making sure all the meat is submerged in the fat and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or for up to 3 weeks. Or freeze for up to 4 months.
- To serve, allow the pork to come to room temperature, remove from the fat, and saute over medium heat or roast at 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. until hot.
Bánh mì Sandwiches
Individual-sized fresh French baguettes (from a Vietnamese bakery if you can find them)
pork confit, or any kind of other protein you’d like, such as grilled chicken, pulled pork, tofu, etc.
julienned carrots, cucumber, and daikon
other dressings to your preference (I had a nutritional yeast concoction on hand which we added, and was delicious!)
- Cut open the baguettes and assemble ingredients inside.