Welcome back, dear readers, to the second part of our interview with Chef Wes Morton of AGAINN! In case you missed it, here’s Part I. Enter our CONTEST to win a food print! In the comments section, tell us what you would ask a chef about nutrition. We’ll randomly select a winner by 5 p.m. Wednesday and announce it on Thursday’s blog. You must have a U.S. address (sorry, but I won’t mail the print internationally) and be our Facebook fan to win!
That’s a good segue into the core of our discussion about a food that keeps me sane: bacon. So what is it about bacon? It seems as if everyone is talking about it, cooking with it. I even made bacon popcorn the other night – add diced, crisp bacon to a bowl of popcorn and Parmesan cheese, mmm! Why does it seem that bacon is the “it” food right now?
Morton launched into a passionate description of what makes bacon so amazing and how he uses it in unusual ways. “Bacon has 50 percent fat, 50 percent meat. Fat is a carrier of flavor. All the fat from the pork belly carries the flavor. It hits so many sensations. We use bacon to infuse vodka. We make smoked tomato sauce finished with bacon skin.” Holy moly.
I asked Morton a question from a reader who doesn’t eat bacon for dietary reasons, he’s Jewish. (I’m Jewish, too, except when I eat bacon. Um, and shellfish. And cheeseburgers. But I digress.) Anyway, this reader wanted to know: “What’s the best substitute for bacon for those who can ‘t eat it?” Morton said with a smile, “Nothing. I mean, we’re being honest here, right? You can’t really substitute anything for bacon. It has a ratio of fat to meat to skin that can’t be matched. It has its own flavor, its own texture. You can’t replace pork belly with other meat.”
Bacon aside, Morton said, “Something that gives you satisfaction like [bacon] is corned beef. We cook 100 pounds of brisket at a time. The ratio of salt to water is key to the brine.” At the time of the interview, I was preparing to make my own corned beef in a few days, so I asked Morton about brining. “Well, ours is a 30-day brine,” he said, eyebrows raised. And with that brief statement, this home cook’s bubble of excitement burst. Oh well, maybe next St. Patrick’s Day.
Morton’s team is preparing a great St. Paddy’s Day spread with the traditional corned beef and cabbage, lamb stew with potatoes and carrots, and more unique fare like AGAINN’s homemade “big and soft” pretzels soaked and poached in a stout beer.
Every Food Fits readers also had questions about pork. Bless those pigs for being such tasty, versatile creatures. One reader has used the typical apple, sage, honey, mustard pairings and wanted a chef’s opinion on more creative flavors to use with pork. “Fennel,” Morton said. “Fennel seed, fennel pollen that you can find at a specialty store. Figs work really well with pork. And smoke. Pork takes well to a hot smoke.”
Another reader loves pork belly and wants to make it in her own kitchen. Morton suggested that she “find a local, actual butcher. You can almost always find it. Ask them to cut it to size. We slow roast our pork belly at 250 and score the skin. The fat renders out, the skin fluffs and makes its own crispy crackling on top. Roast it about five to six hours. Patience,” Morton said with a big smile, “It’s a virtue.”
Morton, a chef who invests an entire month in brining beef and goes farm to farm to build relationships with the people who can provide him the finest local ingredients, stated, “People in kitchens who have patience are the ones who tend to be very successful.”
To view more photos from the interview, visit http://staceyviera.zenfolio.com/againnchefinterview.