In the past week, I received
two three affirmations that cookbooks I wrote years ago —The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook —are still resonating strongly. Both encourage improvisation, while giving the thinking and logic behind recipes and techniques, understanding that is the essential jumping off point for improvising. Curiously, TWO emails raved about The Improvisational Cook‘s technique of “close roasting” tough cuts of meats, in which they are tightly-sealed with flavorings in foil or a heavy, lidded pot and left to slow-cook in a low oven. I use the technique weekly for long-cooking grass-fed beef, pork and lamb I get from Essex Farm CSA, literally throwing a cut into a foil packet or Dutch oven with whatever aromatics I have on hand — sometimes JUST salt and pepper —and cooking it slowly in the oven while I work, enjoying the incredible aroma. This extraordinary, dead simple, rather magical process renders the meat spoon-tender, juicy and deeply flavored. It makes wonderfully freezeable leftovers that just seem to get better, like this close-roasted “spoon” lamb on crushed new potatoes:
Here’s reader Louisa’s improvisations of close-roasting:
Your recipe for Close-Roasted Meat from The Improvisational Cook led me to a very satisfying improv tonight. I’ve used the technique before, and have been so thrilled with the results–silky, soft meat, a house redolent with the scent of garlic and roasting pork, an abundance of leftovers.
Now that colder weather has arrived, I’d been thinking about pulling out my Le Creuset and using your method on a pork shoulder. Then I got one of those daily, and sometimes annoying, emails from Bon Appetit. The subject: a gochujang flavored pork steak. It seemed a bit fussy and not likely to achieve the fusion of flavor that elevates pork, so I thought how could I riff a bit? I used the basic marinade formula from BA of gochujang: mirin, sake, a bit of soy, tons of garlic and some coins of ginger. I soaked the pork in that spicy bath about 24 hours, then used your Close-Roasted Meat method. You can imagine the results–a rich melding of pork with a just spicy enough sauce. Rice made an excellent sponge for the red, perky sauce (after much skimming of fat), along with roasted winter squash for a complementary hit of sweetness.
I’ve turned again to The Improvisational Cook for leftover strategies. I’m thinking corn pancakes [as in the recipe at top]. . . Thanks again for giving me inspiration with your cooking methods.
Then an email came from reader Don Glass wondering if he could use the “close-roasting” method in the crock pot for his Paleo diet. Most definitely! Just follow the recipe, using a crock pot instead of foil or a heavy casserole. Cook until done. Don shared his take on The Improvisational Cook as well as Improvised Life:
About a year ago I went Paleo. Of the tons of cookbooks I had, your The Improvisational Cook is the only one that made the cut. I refer to it for ideas and of course I improvise ideas with your encouragement.
…finding you online and finding your blog/story about Tom Robbins “If you ain’t scared… It ain’t worth doing” just re-enforced… gave me the kick in the butt that said YES… this is why I’m doing this (starting over like a teenager) … I have an adventure gene and seems to be taking over.
And last, a friend spotted A New Way to Cook prominently displayed at Powell’s, Portland Oregon’s famous bookstore. In that book, I set a fierce challenge for myself: to figure out ways to cook with taboo ingredients — butter, bacon, red meat, cream, sugar — in healthier ways, while yielding the same impact of their classic counterparts, from pates and cassoulet to chocolate truffles (all of which I had cooked as a chef in French restaurants).
The Guardian called A New Way to Cook “One of the Best Cookbooks of the Decade”. (It took about that long to create!)
Here’s the close-roasting method applied to Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon and Cocoa. The Improvisational Cook includes three variations on that theme: Spoon Lamb with Masses of Garlic, after Paula Wolfert, Short Ribs Bourguignonne, and Veal Shanks with Melting Onions and Gremolata.
You’ll also find sample improvisations with left-over close-roasted meats, including soft tacos, cassoulet, a pasta ragu and rillettes to get your imagination going.
Method: Close-Roasted Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon and Cocoa
This recipe is perfect for a casual dinner party or gathering because it’s hardly any work, you can make it ahead, and you can’t over cook it. To feed more just cook another pork shoulder or two.
Serves 4 or 5 with leftovers
About 3 1/2 pound pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, tied to make a compact roast (bone-in
pork shoulder is preferable, though boned is fine if that is all you can find)
2 1/2 tablespoons Mole-Inspired Seasoning with Ancho, Cinnamon and Cocoa (page 00)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 head of garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves.
Season the meat. In a small bowl, combine the Mole Powder and salt. Rub all over the pork shoulder and place on a plate. Marinate at room temperature 1 hour unrefrigerated, or 2 hours to 24 hours refrigerated.
Prepare the meat for roasting. Preheat the oven to 275’. Place the pork in a Dutch oven or deep lidded roaster just big enough to fit the roast snugly. Scatter the garlic cloves around the roast. Place a large piece of foil over the pot, then press the lid down securely. Alternatively, wrap the meat in a tightly-sealed foil package, (make sure the seam is at the top so the juices don’t leak out.) Place the package in an ovenproof skillet or casserole.
Roast the meat until very tender and practically falling apart, 3 3/4 to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a platter and cover with foil.
Defat the roasting juices. Pour the juices into sauce boat and place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Spoon off the fat that has risen to the top.
Serve the meat. Pull the meat apart or slice it against the grain and arrange on a platter. Pour some of the juices over and pass the rest. Save any remaining juices for heating up leftovers.