Sunday, April 3, 2011

Curds and Whey

It is always exciting to use culinary classics as the source of inspiration for a dish. For several years, I wanted to use the traditional Italian maiale al latte as a starting point for a spring pork entree. Pork is braised in milk, which provides the dual effect of tenderizing the pork by means of its lactic acid, and rendering the curds from the whey, with the addition of rich, caramelized meatiness. Delicious to be sure, but a sore sight of dark brown curds loose and floating in whey.

For the Park Kitchen version, we strain the curds and form them into gnudi, or dumplings bound with flour and eggs, and softened with some fresh cheese. The whey, which is so rich with umami, is lightened with a puree of leeks and scallions, giving it an emerald green hue. Leek is the primary accompaniment, tender slices of the white portion, the green being pureed, but also used as a garnish. Drawing further inspiration from European traditions, the leeks are charred on the grill, reminiscent of the calcotada festivals of spring, and the ash is then used as a sort of vinaigrette, while the inner portion is made into chips, which I call onion glass. The pork is exceedingly tender, although in cuts like the loin and leg, it is still moist and pink, which for some tragic reason, most Americans are not prepared to enjoy. I highly recommend venturing out. Although it is marketed as "the other white meat," it is classified as livestock, which is always red meat, and indeed, good pork is never white.

As for the Milk Itself

I've recently started buying Holstein cow's milk from Noris Dairy, which does not homogenize their milk, a procedure long known to cause digestive problems. It is distributed by a cooperative company called Eat Oregon First, which supply everything from local meats and seafood, to grains, dairy and produce. Their emergence into the Portland market is helping to bring small producers to a wider audience.

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