I'm often asked by French friends what exactly constitutes traditional American food. Everybody knows hamburgers, hot dogs, and Coca-Cola, but the French, whose culinary tradition is quite varied and quite important, seem to want to believe that there's more to American fare than MacDo might have them believe.
I consider myself a defender of the American culinary heritage to those who might deny its existence or its legitimacy, even if it can be a bit unclear to me, too, exactly what it is. I guess in the U.S. we're at a point of trying to figure out what exactly American Cuisine could be. It's partly in this exciting stage of exploration and transition, but we draw so heavily from other, more established culinary traditions (read: the French), some people have trouble believing that some of these things could really be called American Food (read: the French).
So American Food remains, in the eyes of many, things like burgers and Coca-Cola, because those are the most obvious answers; the things that are really ours. In American restaurants in Paris, they basically serve dressed-up versions of what you can get at McDonald's (burgers, fries, hot dogs, chicken wings), which only reinforces this perception. The one notable exception to the rule was Chez Haynes, who served soul food from 1949 to 2009 to a Parisian clientele, but sadly 2009 was last year, and I never got to go, much less drag my French pals.
So it's up to me to whip up what traditional American food I know of. I've been developing my Chicken 'n' Dumplin's skills. I'm an old hat at cornbread. I've been working on perfecting my buttermilk biscuit. Next on the list is the yeast roll. (Note: When I visited my family in April in the United States, during Easter lunch at my grandmother's I downed not one not two but count 'em SIX of her yeast rolls, yes thank you, I missed them that much). But this 4th of July, seeing it as the occasion to do so, I pulled out the big guns.
Pulled Pork. North Carolina-style. Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Home Fries. Buttermilk Pie.
[Note: I tried to serve Corn on the Cob, but they don't sell that at my farmer's market. *Culture shock*]
You may be aware of the fact that typically, pulled pork requires smoke. And if you know anything about my life in our tiny Parisian apartment, you know that the only thing I have that produces smoke is a Marlboro-puffing Frenchman, but you can't really cook pork with one of those. So, we used a toaster oven. That's right kids, we made pulled pork in a toaster oven.
After buying 3 kilos (about 6.6 pounds!!!!) of pork shoulder, we had to clear out the fridge in order to fit it in to marinate all day. Luckily, we were behind on grocery shopping, and while we were missing our usual sundry grocery items, we were able to successfully marinate our 3-kilo pork shoulder for 8 hours. Then, we rubbed in in spices (including smoked hot paprika to replace some of that smokiness we would be missing), and we cooked it all night. And let me tell you, it took up the whole oven.
The next morning, the apartment smelled great: slow-cooked pork, smoky spices. Our little oven kept chugging along, baking our beans and our buttermilk pie. Or fermented milk pie, rather, as fermented milk is actually findable in Paris and provides that same tartness. We busily chopped cabbage, fried potatoes, and soon, our friends had arrived.
You guys sure know how to do barbecue over there, a French friend said, his mouth full of sandwich.
I felt nearly patriotic.
Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork, serves about 10, found at kevinandamanda.com/recipes and ever-so-slightly modified
About 3 kilos / 6.6 pounds pork shoulder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon mild (smoked) paprika
1 tablespoon Pimentón (hot smoked paprika)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 quarts cold water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons dry rub mixture
2-3 bay leaves
Mix dry rub ingredients and set aside. Mix the salt into the cold water until dissolved. Then mix in the sugar and the 3 tabelespoons of dry rub (saving the rest for later), and add the bay leaves. Place the pork shoulder in a large container or plastic bag in which it can be completely submerged. Pour the brine solution over it, and store in the refrigerator. Leave it to marinate for at least 8 hours.
When it's time to cook, preheat the oven to 225ºF / 110ºC. Take the pork out of the brine and dry it off with paper towels. Rub the shoulder all over with the remaining dry rub. If there is extra, you can use it later to mix in with the cooked meat, but I prefer to forego this step in favor of sauce.
When the oven is hot, place the pork in the oven in a roasting pan or other large ovenproof dish. The pork will release some juice, so make sure the sides are fairly high. I put mine in a Dutch oven without the lid.
Cook the pork for about 12 hours (1.5-2 hours per pound). The internal temperature of the meat should reach 200ºF / 93ºC if you are using a meat thermometer. When it's done, you should let the meat rest and slowly cool. You can either turn off the oven and leave it in (covering it if there aren't enough juices in the pan), or remove it from the oven and put a lid on it to retain some warmth (this latter option works well if you went the Dutch oven route and need you oven for other cooking). After the resting period, pull the meat apart with a fork, removing the fat and bone. Serve with sauce or toss with any leftover dry rub.
North Carolina Barbecue Sauce, makes about 16 sandwiches, slightly modified from this Allrecipes Recipe
2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
3-4 tablespoons Pimentón (hot smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 cup brown sugar
Mix all ingredients well, and allow to sit for at least 4 hours before serving.
Baked Beans, serves 10, found here at Allrecipes (quantities readjusted)
3 cups dry navy beans (or about 7.5 cups cooked navy beans)
3/4 pound bacon, in thick slices
1-1/2 onion, finely diced
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
1 heaping tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Prepare beans as necessary. Reserve the cooking liquid if cooking them, and reserve the liquid from the can if using canned.
Put the molasses, salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. While this is heating, arrange the beans in layers in an ovenproof dish, alternating with layers of onion and bacon. When the sauce has come to a boil, pour it over the beans, onion, and bacon. Add enough bean liquid to cover the beans. Cover the dish with a lid or with foil.
Bake in a 325ºF / 165ºC oven for 3 to 4 hours. Uncover about halfway through the cooking time, adding more liquid if beans start to dry.
Cole Slaw, serves 10+, from Smitten Kitchen
1/2 small head green cabbage
1/2 small head red cabbage
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cut the cabbage very finely with a knife, or use a food processor. Shred the carrots. Mix the cabbage and carrots with the parsley.
Mix the mayonnaise, mustards, vinegar, and seasonings in a bowl. Add to vegetable mixture as needed, tasting to get desired sauciness level. The leftover dressing keeps well.
Buttermilk / Fermented Milk Pie with Raspberries, ever-so-slightly modified from Simply Recipes
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup buttermilk / fermented milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
1 to 1-1/2 cup fresh raspberries
Mix eggs with sugar until creamy and well-combined. Add zest and flour, mixing well. Stir in the butter, buttermilk/fermented milk, and vanilla.
Pour mixture into pie crust and bake at 325ºF / 165ºC for 35 minutes, then sprinkle the fresh raspberries on top. Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, until the center of the custard has just set and the crust has browned. Allow to cool, serve warm or chilled.