Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why Go To Church When You Can Praise The Lard? indulged in all things porcine at Mimosa Grill’s recent “Praise the Lard” cooking class on Saturday, January 8, 2011.  Executive Chef Jon Fortes expertly guided a group of pork-worshiping students through the preparation of a four-course sausage and charcuterie porkstravaganza. bottom line:
  • Porkgasm…need I say more?
  • Lardo – my new favorite cured pork product. 
  • What the hell is a Rillette?
  • Bacon powder – if this were considered an illicit drug we’d all need a trip to the Betty Ford Clinic stat.

The menu:
  • Andouille Sausage Panini with Red Dragon Cheddar, Mustard Aioli and Tobacco Onions (paired with Trevisol Prosecco, Italy)
  • Lardo and Bacon Wrapped Monkfish with “Franks and Beans” and Tomato Gratinee (paired with Childress Viognier, North Carolina)
  • Braised Pork Rillettes with Candied Fruit, Smoky Apple Jam and Pumpkin Bread (paired with Angeline Pinot Noir, Sonoma)
  • Country Fair Fried Dough with Bacon Powder and Salted Caramel (paired with Moscato D’Asti, Italy)

First, let me start by saying one thing – there are few organized, premeditated activities that will get this girl out of bed on a Saturday morning.  Would I care to do a 5k race with you?  No, I would not.  Why don’t we meet for yoga class to kick off the weekend?  I think I have a prior engagement (read, I will likely be nursing a bone-crushing hangover).  Let’s do breakfast!  Hmmm…why don’t we do a late brunch instead?  I think you get the point...  However, when my partner in culinary crime said how would you like to Praise the Lard with me this Saturday morning?, I could think of no better reason to get out of bed than to pray at the altar of the god of pork.  Enlightened state of porkgasm, here we come!!

The cooking class, part of a regular series offered by Mimosa Grill and its sister restaurants Upstream and Zink, featured a four-course menu of sausage and charcuterie items.  Our group of porcine pupils was guided by master professor of pork and Mimosa Grill Executive Chef, Jon Fortes and his Sous Chef, Marlow (apologies for any name misspellings).  First order of business was the Andouille Sausage Panini.  Sous Chef Marlow started by breaking down a five pound organic and sustainably-raised pork butt to make the andouille sausage – I will spare you all of the glorious details, however, through the process we learned a few important sausage commandments:  1) thou shall use ice cold meat when making sausage, 2) if you find a bone in your pork butt, thou shall promptly remove it, 3) thou shall prick holes in the sausage casing to avoid a meaty explosion during cooking and 4) making sausage is best done with a partner.  Let me be blunt for a moment, sausage-making should probably be rated R and is teeming with phallic objects and sexual undertones that make even the most mature amongst us giggle – and that, friends, is why we love it.  After today’s class, I will go so far as to say that making sausage at home could very well improve your love life.  But I digress…  The result of our hot and bothered process today was a spicy and smoky sausage that paired perfectly with the buttery red dragon cheese (a traditional Welsh cheese made with brown ale and mustard seeds) and tangy mustard aioli between toasted slices of country bread.  A topping of crispy tobacco onions and chervil completed this porkgasmic dish.  Mimosa expertly paired the panini with Trevisol, a bone dry Italian prosecco.  Pork and bubbly before 11AM?  Don’t mind if I do!

Andouille Sausage Panini

Up next was a Lardo and Bacon Wrapped Monkfish dish.  Where do I start?  First, let’s discuss lardo.  Lardo is a type of charcuterie made by curing strips of fatback (the beautiful layer of subcutaneous fat found on the back of the pig) with salt, sugar and herbs.  The result is a buttery, piggy, melt in your mouth delicacy that can be enjoyed on its own or as a component of a host of culinary delights (think lardo-wrapped prawns as the elevated, foodie version of bacon-wrapped shrimp). In this case, Chef Jon wrapped monkfish with alternating strips of lardo and bacon and pan seared it to crispy, golden perfection.  This went over a bed of “franks and beans” – a delicious house-made sausage that was poached in seasonal ale with orange, and then sautéed with locally grown beans, onion and julienned tomato.  The dish was finished with a tomato gratinee (a sliced tomato topped with herbed bread crumbs and broiled).  A viognier from Childress Vineyards provided a nice counterbalance of flowery fruit and acid to the pork-enhanced fish dish.  

Lardo and Bacon Wrapped Monkfish

The third, and most glorious course was the Braised Pork Rillettes.  Ok, so unless you are a serious foodie geek, you might not be up to speed on all things Rillettes.  I, admittedly, had to do some research to beef up on this pigtastic delight.  Rillettes is a preparation of meat, traditionally pork, made by salting a cut of meat and then cooking it in fat until it is falling apart and tender.  In this case, Chef Jon prepared the rillettes with pork belly that was cured for several days with a spice mixture and then slow-cooked in melted duck fat.  Yes, melted duck fat.  As if this wasn’t enough, the rillettes were combined with a boozy reduction involving port, brandy, apricots and cherries that was finished with a touch of raspberry vinegar.  The rillettes were then allowed to cool in plastic wrap, miraculously forming a sausage-like treat.   Perhaps the most amazing feat of the day was when Chef Jon heated a knife on an open flame so as to slice cleanly through the fatty rillettes log with a searing action. It.  Was.  Amazing.  Next, the rillettes were pan seared and then layered with a smoky house made apple jam in a small mason jar.  Toasted pumpkin bread accompanied this jar of pure, unadulterated piggy pleasure.  A beautiful, jammy Sonoma pinot noir made by Angeline Vineyards was paired with the Rillettes dish as a flawless finishing touch.  It is easy to see why this dish has taken the top prize at culinary competitions, such as Taste of the Nation Charlotte 2010 (a fantastic charity event supporting the eradication of childhood hunger – for more information click here  I will simply say that this dish may have changed my life in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend.  Perfection.

Braised Pork Rillettes
The final course, a bacon-inspired dessert, was Country Fair Fried Dough with bacon powder and salted caramel.  So we’ve probably all had doughnuts and caramel and powdered sugar (although not necessarily on one plate), and most of us have had bacon (note – if you don’t eat bacon, we probably can’t be friends), but unless you are into some serious molecular gastronomy, you’ve probably never had bacon powder.  Made with tapioca malodextrin (a nifty “molecular” thickening agent used to stabilize fatty compounds) and rendered bacon fat, the bacon powder had the appearance of powdered sugar with the subtle flavor of bacon.  It was sprinkled over warm, freshly fried dough and salted caramel was drizzled over the top.  I will openly admit that I am not a dessert person – I would far rather make my food baby with savory and salty delights, rather than with sweets – however this dessert blurred the lines between savory and sweet in a brilliant way that made me a believer.  The dish was paired with a syrupy and floral Moscato D’Asti dessert wine.  I truly hope that bacon powder someday becomes a regular staple in every home kitchen – this is something that everyone needs in their life.  

Country Fried Dough with Bacon Powder
In the end, I left deeply satisfied, though not overly full.  I found myself inspired to go forth into the world and make my own sausage (a task that no longer seems so daunting)! highly recommends that you check out an upcoming cooking class at Mimosa or one of its sister restaurants.  For a complete 2011 schedule of classes, as well as information about upcoming wine dinners and other special events, check out the Harper’s Group website

- Brianna
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