Wednesday 3 December 2014

Pork and Ale Stew With Cornbread Dumplings

Have you noticed the price of meat lately?  Jeez Louise it's getting expensive!  It's sure brought about some changes in how we eat at our house.  

Less and less meat is making its way to our dinner table and, when it does, we're apt to stretch it out with lots of veggies to make it go further.  We also find ourselves eating more pork because it is much less expensive to buy than beef.  

When we do buy meat, we often buy large cuts and then break them down into smaller portions ourselves.  Whole boneless pork loins from Costco are good for this.  The price per pound is more reasonable than that of many other cuts of meat and, because they're very well trimmed, there's almost no waste.  There is, however, a section of the pork loin that is much darker meat than the rest, and has some gristle running through it.  I trim that portion into stew meat and use it in braising recipes.  It formed the basis for this stew.

You'll notice that I used beer in this recipe  Although we don't drink beer, I do enjoy cooking with it.  It's not as inexpensive as stock or water, but worth the investment because of the flavour it brings to the dish.  I keep the cost down as much as possible by buying beer from the single bottle rack, where bottles salvaged from broken cases are sold at a reduced price.

Here are the ingredients for the stew:

  • 1-1/2 pounds cubed pork loin
  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste (Be really generous.  Not all of it is going to end up on the meat and you want a good flavour base.)
  • 2 to 4 Tablespoons of bacon fat (or cooking oil if you prefer)
  • Boiling water
  • 3 cups of pale ale (I've used darker beers for this too but wouldn't go much darker than an amber because of the delicate flavour of the pork)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups each of onions, carrots, rutabaga (yellow turnip), and potatoes, cut in a 1-inch dice* 
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons cornstarch (optional)

To make the dumplings, you'll need:

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 398 ml/14 ounce tin of creamed corn
  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 or 2 finely diced jalapeno peppers (optional)

Begin by dredging the pork in seasoned flour.  I do this by pouring the flour, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper into a large brown paper bag and giving it a good shake to mix it up. Once the flour is seasoned, I add in the pork pieces and give the bag another good shake.  I transfer the dredged pork onto a plate, shaking any excess flour back into the bag.

Once the pork is dredged, melt the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven and begin searing the meat.  Work in stages, browning a few pieces at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.  

The seared pork should be golden brown and have a crisp coating that resembles the outside of a piece of fried chicken.

When the meat has all been browned, return it to the pan and pour the beer over it.  Stand back when you do this:  The beer will bubble up and spit a bit as it hits the hot pan.

Add in all of the remaining ingredients, together with just enough boiling water to bring the liquid level high enough to almost cover the meat.

Bring the pot to a boil, then turn the heat down to a low boil - just a little above a simmer. 

Cover the pot and leave the stew to cook for about an hour. You'll need to stir it now and again to ensure that everything cooks evenly.

When the stew has cooked for about an hour, it's time to make the dumplings.  

Begin by stirring together the creamed corn and cornmeal.  

Beat the egg and add it to the cornmeal mixture, along with the oil. Stir until well combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. 

Add in the chopped green onions, and the jalapeno if you're using it, and toss them through the flour mixture so that they're lightly coated.

Add the flour mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients have been moistened.  The batter will be lumpy.

Take a look at the stew and give it a taste.  Adjust the seasoning as needed.  

If the gravy is not as thick as you'd like, you can make a slurry of cornstarch and a little cold water and mix it in. The gravy will thicken as the stew returns to a low boil.

Once the seasoning and thickness of the stew are where you want them to be, spoon dollops of the cornbread batter onto the top of the stew.

Put the lid on the pot and walk away.  Leave it undisturbed for 25 minutes.  Don't lift the lid!  

The cooked dumplings will have increased in size and have a very tender texture.

When the dumplings are cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove them to a plate.  Portion out the stew, then place a dumpling or two on top of each serving.

There will probably be some dumpling batter left over.  I usually pour it into an oven safe casserole dish and bake it at 400F for 20 to 25 minutes, then save it to serve at breakfast the following day.  

This time, because our oven was broken, I cooked it in our microwave, on the high setting, for 5 minutes.  It wasn't as light as it would have been if baked in the oven, but it still made a fine accompaniment to our morning eggs.

Frugal Tips:  

Don't waste even a bit of flavour or nutrition from your vegetables. Scrub your carrots, rutabaga, and potatoes well before peeling them, then peel them directly into your stock pot.  

If you prefer not to put potato peels in your stock, they can be used to make a tasty, crispy snack or garnish.  Keep them in the fridge, covered in cold water, until you're ready to use them. Carefully pat them dry, then fry them in 360F oil until crispy and golden. Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop the cooked peels from the oil, placing them a paper-towel-lined bowl.  Season them immediately, with salt and pepper, tossing them in the bowl to distribute the seasoning evenly. Add extra flavour with any of the following:  Chili powder, smoked paprika, curry powder, or garam masala.