Thursday, May 19, 2011

Farfalle with Sausage and Bacon

I'm leaving town at the end of the week, and we still have some of the Paulina Market bounty to get through before I go, specifically four fresh bratwurst and a hunk of their house-smoked bacon, which I thought would compliment and contrast with each other in a nice way. I cut a couple 1/2-inch thick planks of bacon and divided them into pieces about the size of a matchbox*. That's a ridiculous size for regular lardons, but pork belly served on its own is served in bigger pieces without complaint, and I thought bigger pieces would play better with the nuggets of sausage being closer in size. The idea wasn't to serve sausage with some bacon as a garnish, but to serve sausage and bacon pieces as a team. Team Pork.

I put the bacon hunks in a cold skillet with a little olive oil and started the fire. When cooking a flat cut of pork like a pork chop or loin medallion I prefer to start with a cold pan and bring the whole piece up to temperature rather than sear the outside in a hot skillet, which tends to make the meat pucker and deform, curling or cupping away from the pan and not browning well. Since this bacon was cut even thicker than some cutlets, it seemed like I ought to treat it with similar respect. The pieces didn't curl and browned nicely, but they shrank more than I expected and made me wish I'd cut them even bigger.

Ideally I'd prefer to poach or otherwise par-cook the sausage to make it firm, then slice it into morsels, then brown them along with the bacon. Unfortunately there wasn't time, as Heather was already hungry. With Italian sausage, chorizo or any other coarse sausage, I'd just peel it out of the casing and cook it either loose or as free-form lumps, but bratwurst is ground too fine for that, almost as fine as English sausage. I cut each sausage raw into four morsels and browned them in the rendered fat and olive oil. I stood them on end in the skillet, turning over once, stabilizing the shape by cauterizing the open grain so the meat wouldn't scatter. By cooking them this way I hoped that when the skin tightened with further cooking it wouldn't squeeze the pieces into hourglass or bobbin shapes and make them ridiculous. It worked and I'm pretty proud of that idea, but on the whole I'd still rather have poached them first.

Both team members were browned nicely, so I added a sliced sweet onion and four cloves of garlic, sliced, and tossed them together. When some of the onion had caramelized a little and all of it was wilted, I added a pretty good amount of white wine. I used the wine not just to make a liquor for the sauce, but to braise everything enough to marry the flavors and make the bacon pleasant to eat, not gnarly hard chips of bark.

I needed a base for the meat, and we had a box of farfalle, so that settled it. While it was boiling, I thought I might coat it with something so the cooking liquor of the meat wasn't the only sauce element, and that's where it got a little weird. I sometimes use a milk-and-egg mixture to coat pasta, but we didn't have any milk. What we did have was coconut milk. Or rather a coconut-based milk substitute, Turtle Mountain So Delicious Coconut Milk.

I'm going to digress here and explain about the coconut milk. In 2003, I went to San Juan Puerto Rico with a bunch of dudes from the studio to see the Montreal Expos play the Cubs during the final series of their freakish split-home-game season. I absolutely loved Hiram Bithorn stadium. The atmosphere was totally different from any mainland ballpark, jovial, informal and open, and access to the players was great. While standing in line to collect our will-call tickets, the pitching staff of the Cubs had to push through the same entrance as everybody else, and nobody batted an eye. The Expos set up some cabanas on the field before the third game, and we were allowed to meet and get autographs from the Expos and run around in the outfield. While I wasn't impressed with much of the food in San Juan proper, there was a stadium treat that has haunted me, coco-piña. Coco-piña as served at the ballpark is a cup of shaved ice flavored with coconut and pineapple juice, and it is absolutely delicious. It is sold out of paint buckets by vendors who scale the bleachers shouting "coco-piña!" for the duration of the game. When I was there, a pint cost a buck, and for another buck the dude would tip a glug of rum in your cup, making a bootleg piña colada. I didn't try that, but the sense memory of coco-piña has stuck with me and every now and again I try to recreate it here in Chicago. I have failed completely. In the effort I have tried coconut water, (which I have come to adore for its own merits), canned coconut milk, coconut cream, dried coconut flakes and most recently, this shit, Turtle Mountain So Delicious Coconut Milk.

I have gotten used to failing with the coco-piña thing. Totally fine with it. Every time I try something in the quest I think, "that was okay. It's no coco-piña, but it's okay." Every experiment has been palatable in its own way, until I tried Turtle Mountain So Delicious Coconut Milk. The geniuses at Turtle Mountain took a perfectly good thing, coconut milk, and added some kind of stabilizer or gelling agent to it to give it a more homogenized look and heavier body. When I poured it into some pineapple juice, it coagulated into little tapioca-like jizz lumps like the novelty "caviars" molecular chefs are so taken with. I tried slurping some of the coagulated drink, but it tasted like not much and felt absolutely repulsive in my mouth. So that's where that came from.

Why I didn't just throw it out I have no idea, but there it was in the fridge, taunting me while I'm under time pressure to knock out a dinner. In a moment of dumb-ass (weakness doesn't deserve the insult) I gave it a shot. I beat three egg yolks into a couple of tablespoons of this shit, seasoned it with some white pepper and salt, and when the pasta was ready, I coated it with the So Delicious and egg yolk. The sauce thickened nicely, no coagulating, no blobs, no caviar, seemed fine. I tasted the sauce and it didn't really taste of anything, but it wasn't bad, and it certainly let me avoid the dry pasta gluing together under the meat, which was my biggest concern.

While the pasta was boiling, I dunked a couple of plum tomatoes in the water, peeled and quartered them and added them to the skillet. I let everything braise and reduce, and when the meat was was tender I plated the pasta, grated some parmigiano over it, and spooned the sausage and bacon on top. I drizzled it with olive oil, seasoned it with some coarse sea salt and sprinkled some chopped chives on everything. It looked pretty good. Heather liked it but said the pasta could have used more flavor, and when I mentioned the coconut milk she said it was like a negative ingredient and it took away flavor. Like a Flavor Elf that robbed Team Pork. Little coconut asshole. Back to your elf hole. I'm pouring that shit out before I leave town.

*People used to smoke tobacco, and they carried matches to light their pipes, cigars and cigarettes. A "Matchbox" is a small wooden or pasteboard box, approximately one-and-a-half inches long, an inch wide and half-inch deep,  that held a convenient number of matches. 


  1. '...and most recently, this shit, Turtle Mountain...'

    I totally just laughed out loud. Love this blog!


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