Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Flavor

The other day, when I posted about slow-cooked pork shoulder, a bunch of commenters offered their ideas for jacking up the taste of the meat as it cooks: dry rubs, mostly, as well as citrus and barbecue sauce. They all sounded great.
So why was my pork cooked in such a simple brew? Water, salt and pepper, bay leaves, onion, garlic, orange rind. Nice, but not a kick in the teeth.
I kind of don't want a kick in the teeth, y'know? I'm not afraid of spices; I eat tostadas with hot salsa a couple of times a week. I love my spice drawer, and always try to use its contents when appropriate. Dressings, soups, gravies, you name it. That picture above is some home-ground, homegrown ají colorado chiles, hot and nice. It does get used.
But here we were with this pristine pork, humanely raised and slaughtered, tasty as the devil all on its own. Did I want to paper over its natural flavor with coffee, cocoa, vinegar, chiles, etc.?
Frankly, I didn't.
I have said before that the first Eat Local Challenge five years ago was like boot camp for my taste buds. Everything got clean, aligned, prioritized. Good food tastes good, period. No need for shock tactics.
And you might say that as a result, my cooking is bland. Oh, gosh. Perhaps it is.
But it tastes good. To me. Really good.
I wonder if you would even like it.
Today we're going to slop some of the pork-cooking liquid over a batch of black beans and white rice (Moros y Cristianos).
I think it will be flavorful enough.
What's your take on jazzing up flavors? Yea? Nay? Some?
Yeah, I know.
Me, too.


Erin said...

Since beginning to buy high quality, humanely raised meat just about all I ever use is salt and pepper. I'm with you all the way!

cookiecrumb said...

Erin: OMG! First comment, and you agree with me. Sigh of relief, and you go, girl. Thanks.

emily said...

I highly agree that high quality meat and veggies need little spicing. While I still loooooove intense things like curries, give me a steak with salt and pepper any day.

I think most of the US still doesn't buy the best quality meats, so we're used to smothering bland chicken and pork with spices and sauces.

cookiecrumb said...

Emily: SO happy to hear this. Brava to you. I agree with your assessment on smothering lousy meat with spices and sauces. Shame...

El said...

Growing my own made me think I was a fabulous cook. You know what? It's not ME, it's the freshness of the stuff I cook with! Some might consider that a knock to the ego. Me, I consider it a compliment to my gardening/animal husbandry skillz, if not my mastery of the kitchen.

And you said that shoulder roast rocked your world as it was. Why sex it up?

cookiecrumb said...

El: Wow, three for three. We are a silent phenomenon, I suspect. Congratulations to you on your personal larder, and what you do with it.

tulsamom said...

I don't put water in the slow cooker when I cook pork. There is enough moisture in the meat and the flavor is more intense.

Mama Bean said...

sometimes i feel like all i need is salt. it's the only flavouring i ever want more of.

cookiecrumb said...

Tulsamom: No water. I'm just figuring this out! It would have worked. But we are ridiculously grateful for the slop that accumulated (and the fat, too).
I'll do it your way next time.

Mama Bean: Salt is essential. I can fix lousy cooking with salt; I bet you can too. xx

Zoomie said...

Anyone who reads my blog knows I agree completely with you on this issue. Half the time I can't blog about our meals because all they are is the food, no embellishments. Boring. Dull. Delicious.

In the early days of trade routes, spices were prized because they covered the taste of rotting food (no refrigeration = early spoilage). Now, we like them for the variety of flavors they bring.

Cali said...

Oh, gosh, I didn't mean to suggest what you made was bland! I was thinking about switching up leftovers, or maybe for next time. Just an alternate, not a "better than." I grew up on a working beef cattle and sheep ranch. We had our own milk goats, chickens, turkeys and rabbits. We had a large vegetable garden, too. I know good food, and was definitely a minimalist cook in culinary school and when I worked as a chef. In fact, I often wondered if my clients felt my food was boring because I let it stand for itself so often. I'm sorry if I came across as putting down your pork butt. I really didn't mean it that way.

dancingmorganmouse said...

It's like a really good roast chicken - all you need is salt, pepper a lemon, garlic and a herb (you choose - rosemary, thyme, mint, bay, dill). K.I.S.S - nothing wrong with simple, so long as it's good.

Kate said...

I'm often in your camp: simple flavors suffice with excellent quality ingredients. However, I do have proclivities in the kitchen. White pepper, garlic, ancho chili powder, and olive oil are my mainstay vices. And in season, fresh herbs from the garden. They make their way into a large portion of what I cook, one way or another.

If I'd cooked that pork roast, I might even have gone simpler than you in the crockpot, but I'd probably serve it with fresh lime wedges for a bright flavor contrast. But I'm sure I would like your cooking.

cookiecrumb said...

Zoomie: Yes on the Spice Trade data = covering rotten tastes. Also, as it turns out, many herbs and spices have medicinal benefits. I'd be daft not to use them.
(Life is hard.) :)

Cali: No offense taken. My, you've got the chops! (pun intended)
You didn't put me down at all. Suggestions always welcome. :)

Mouse: Nice recipe, but I'd still manage to mung it up. I'm no good at roasting chickens. Can I come over?

Kate: You pretty much described my mainstay mise, too. Yum.
We did use a couple of fresh bay leaves, my favoritest herb. It could have used some Mexican oregano, etc. Especially garlic. I really can't wait to do this again (though we still have leftovers in the fridge).

Rev. Biggles said...

Celebrate the meat. I add broths to muh crockpot and other endeavors.

xo, Biggles

cookiecrumb said...

Biggles: Word. You should taste the goozle we got out of that Crock Pot. I think I might be happy again.

Rev. Biggles said...

Oh, I know! I end up reducing it and using it to loosen up and juicify the meat action. A goozle reduction over fally aparty meat is divine intervention on a slow day.

xo, Biggles

namastenancy said...

Well, if you ever need an objective taste- tester, I'm glad to volunteer. I think that I could handle that job. I'm with you on the simpler, cleaner tastes. I don't know if it's age or being more careful with what meat and produce I buy, but I don't cook the spicy sauces that I used to. The last time I made a black bean stew, I ended up throwing it out because I'd over-spiced it. I learned to cook from our old Turkish cook when we lived in Turkey and those flavors are very bonded to what's in season and what's local.
Still, I go through a lot of chili, Siracha and other spicy seasonings so maybe I use more than I think I do but I'm just used to a higher level of heat.

cookiecrumb said...

Biggles: I'm setting up an IV. Gonna mainline that stuff.

Nancy: Turkish flavors are lovely, and not all that exotic when you think about it. Well, some of them surely are.
Of course you use your hot sauces! Mm.

Barbara said...

I'm with you Cookiecrumb. I buy the best quality meat I can find and only add salt and pepper. I am particularly fussy about chicken and really don't understand why anyone would want to alter the flavour of a good free range chicken with lemons or cans of beer up their butt.

Rev. Biggles said...

Oh, if you're going to slam it, add a few dollups of creme fraiche.

xo, Biggles

Greg said...

Salt- pepper- meat enough said. Can always add "stuff" after the fact.

cookiecrumb said...

Barbara: Well put, and coming from someone with your experience, a LESSON. Thank you.

Biggles: Straight to the heart, eh?

Greg: Seems like we got a consensus here. I appreciate your input.

SallyBR said...

Loved your post! As you may know, the BR in my name stands for Brazil, where I was born and raised. Barbecue back home is the best meat in the world seasoned with coarse salt. That is it.
When I moved to the US I was a bit shocked by all the dry rubs and sauces - why do that to a perfectly wonderful T-bone steak? Mask its flavor?

But, after so many years here, I learned to go with the flow, and will eat and almost enjoy a seasoned piece of meat.

You think you are in the minority with preferring less spices? Well, I imagine I'm all alone in my belief that garlic is way over-used. Sometimes all I can taste in some dishes is the 12 cloves of garlic used in the sauce :-)

cookiecrumb said...

Sally: Thanks for your vote of support. Imagine, Brazilian meat with just coarse salt. I'm quivering.
Garlic? Yes, Americans overuse it.
Take back the bare flavors of good food!

dancingmorganmouse said...

Gimmie a date & time and I'll even roast a Saskia Beer (Barossa Chicken) one for you.

cookiecrumb said...

Mouse: XXX!

Charlotte said...

I'm for "nay". Husband is for "yay". I make it simple, then let him slather on whatever his little heart desires.

cookiecrumb said...

Charlotte: Well, ya gotta get 'em to eat, right? To his little heart's content. I'm with you. Well done compromise.

(Last night we ate shredded pork on soft corn tortillas, with melted cheese, a splash of bean water to moisten, and a spritz of Tapatio. So, yeah, I jazz it up at the table sometimes, too.)