Cookbooks these days often sport long taglines. But porkistas are refreshingly to the point. Three letters seem to suffice. “Pig,” by cookbook writer James Villas, is nothing less than a poem of porcine devotion, an ode to the idea that if everything’s better with bacon, everything else is better with anything hog-related (think skillet cornbread with cracklins).
A born-and-bred Southerner, the author offers a jowl-to-tail primer on the animal’s parts and their uses, including 300 recipes.
Crisp yet yielding ham croquettes recall bygone menus of Southern country clubs, and baked double pork chops stuffed with oysters suggest a rare decadence. A whole chapter is devoted to barbecue, of course. And there’s little regard for what your doctor might think of your meal: see deep-fried marinated pork nuggets.
For those of us unlucky enough to have been born outside pig heaven (the South), Villas offers recipes and explanations for dishes such as snert (pig and pea soup), Dutch goose (whole roast pig belly) and frogmore stew (no frogs involved).
And while some items may seem unappealing if you weren’t raised with them – livermush and souse (hogs head cheese) among them – they reveal a Southern culinary anthropology.
The similarly themed “Ham,” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, takes a narrower approach to the animal, focusing only on the leg. That is, the ham.
Part memoir, part confessional, the book makes you wade through a little TMI (too much information) – co-author love spats, an erotic devotion to pork, that they toggle between Eudora Welty and porn sites – before offering up its recipes.
But once there, the authors proffer a humorous and sometimes snarky world tour of ham in all its forms.
Fresh ham – the chapter for which opens with a laugh-out-loud photo of some very, very fresh ham (that is, piglets) – can be roasted with cloves American style, done up with orange flower water a la Morocco, or stewed with annatto seeds as in Peru.
The sections on dry cured ham take readers from Old World to New World with recipes from salty-sweet pasta with caramelized cauliflower and prosciutto to the Southern breakfast staple of fried country ham steaks with red-eye gravy.
If the only ham you’ve ever known is the spiral-sliced stuff in the supermarket, you’ll learn that it’s wet cured or brined ham, sometimes called “city ham” or “picnic ham.”
The authors serve up appetizing preparations such as a ham-studded macaroni and cheese and sassy jambalaya croquettes.
These creamy ham croquettes from James Villas’ new cookbook, “Pig: King of the Southern Table,” are great as is. But Villas also encourages cooks to experiment by adding additional ingredients such as olives, capers and chopped bell pepper.
The recipe itself is easy, but it does call for chilling the mixture overnight before forming it into patties.
This helps the mixture thicken and hold its shape. If you’re in more of a hurry, an hour or so (with frequent stirring) in the freezer works, too.
Ham Croquettes with Parsley Sauce
Recipe adapted from James Villas’ “Pig: King of the Southern Table” (Wiley, 2010).
For the croquettes:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 scallions (white parts only), finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
11/2 cups milk
4 cups coarsely chopped cooked ham
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
For the croquette coating:
1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
Peanut oil, for frying
To make the croquettes, in a medium saucepan over medium, melt the butter. Add the scallions and flour, then whisk until soft and well blended, about 2 minutes. Whisking rapidly, add the milk. Add the ham, stir well, and remove from the heat.
Whisking rapidly, add the egg yolks and whole egg, then return to the heat. Add the mustard, sage, salt and pepper, then whisk until well blended. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Scrape the mixture into a baking dish, cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook, prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan over low, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until a smooth paste forms. Gradually add the milk, stirring until thickened and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper and parsley. Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
Place the egg beaten with water in a large, wide bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a similar bowl.
Use your hands to divide the mixture into 6 balls and roll lightly in the extra flour. Pat the balls into smooth oval patties. Dip each into the egg wash, and then dredge through the breadcrumbs.
In a large, heavy skillet over high, heat about 1 inch of oil. Fry the patties until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side, then drain briefly on paper towels. Serve the croquettes with the parsley sauce on the side.
Yield: 6 servings
Substitute whichever pasta variety you like – or even couscous – in this easy, high-flavor dish from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s new cookbook, “Ham.” Roasting the garlic and cauliflower gives both deep, rich flavors.
Orecchiette with Sage, Roasted Garlic, Cauliflower and Prosciutto
From Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s “Ham” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010).
1 head garlic, broken into its cloves without peeling them
31/2 cups cauliflower florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
12 ounces orecchiette pasta, cooked and drained according to the package instructions
2 tablespoons dry white wine or dry vermouth, maybe a little more
2 to 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the unpeeled garlic cloves in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and roast for 20 minutes.
Toss the cauliflower florets with the olive oil, then add them to the baking dish. Toss well. Continue roasting, stirring occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and the garlic cloves are soft, about 20 minutes more.
Transfer the baking dish and its vegetables to a wire rack and cool for a few minutes, just until you can handle the garlic cloves. Squeeze the soft garlic pulp out of the papery hulls and back into the baking dish. Stir in the diced prosciutto and the minced sage. Return the pan back to the oven and continue roasting just until the prosciutto begins to sizzle, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the baking dish back to the wire rack and stir in the cooked pasta, wine and cheese until the cheese melts. If the mixture is a little dry, you can add a splash or two more of the wine, just to make sure everything is moist but not soupy.
Yield: 4 servings