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We Asked the New York Times’ Melissa Clark: What’s in Your Larder?

It’s said that Americans love to talk about food but that we actually do little cooking. Which, well. Life is busy. And tiring. Takeout can save a bit of sanity.

But so can the ability to, with a few ingredients, feed ourselves and the ones we love in a pinch, in a snowstorm, or when the dinner hour sneaks up on us.

And that’s where a stocked larder, or pantry, can help. And always has. Pre-refrigeration, the larder was a cool, dark space, often underground or behind a staircase, where rich foods were stored. The word comes from the Middle English (laridum) and Old French (lardier), meaning a place for meats. Today, it’s more like a place where ingredients wait for you to claim them.

We recently called up author, cook and New York Times columnist Melissa Clark, a woman who knows her way around a larder and actually also our Larder. A Brooklyn native, she lives just a few blocks from the shop and wrote the franny’s cookbook along with Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, the husband-and-wife co-owners of franny’s and Bklyn Larder.

“There’s this dish I make that I couldn’t make without the ingredients from the Larder, because it’s all about the ingredients,” said Clark. “If you’re not getting the good stuff, the dish isn’t going to taste good. And really the thing is, when you use high-quality ingredients, you only need a few of them.”

bucatini-pileMinus the pasta water, the recipe is a short shopping list from our shelves: Calabrian chili flakes, anchovies, Pasta Gentile, olive oil, flaky sea salt and garlic.

“I make it once a week,” said Clark. “It’s the thing I make when I have nothing else to make. It’s just so delicious and restorative.”

What makes her version special, she noted, is a technique she picked up while writing the franny’s cookbook.

“When I sauté the garlic with the anchovy, I let it become really deeply colored. That caramelization adds an incredible depth to the dish. You can make the same dish and keep the flavors bright, but I like that really deep flavor,” she said.

If anyone can make something from nothing it’s Clark. But she reiterates, that’s not what this is about.

“There are dishes where, the first time it takes you maybe 25 minutes, because you’re kind of figuring it out and measuring things. The second time it takes five minutes less. But the third time you make it, it takes exactly 2 minutes longer than it takes to boil the pasta. Because you’re in a rhythm. And developing that rhythm is the key to being able to set yourself on auto pilot and cook something delicious for dinner,” she explained.

“It’s a really important dish to have in your repertoire — that one dish you can make from your pantry, no matter how tired and cranky you are. No matter what else you’re thinking about. You just do it,” she said.

“I really think it takes three times, and then it’s yours. You can say, ‘Oh, I have kale! I have leftover broccoli I’ll throw it in.’ That dish is your dish and you can do whatever you want to it.”

Key takeaway: “Invest in quality,” said Clark.

And finally, the one ingredient that’s always in her larder?

“I’ll break out into a sweat if I don’t have anchovies,” said Clark. “It just makes me really uncomfortable.” •

A version of the recipe is available on The New York Times site. 

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There’s a new fatty, sliced, fry-able pork product in town. America, meet: Jowl!

Alex buying pork jowl at the Larder!

Alex buying pork jowl at the Larder!

Introducing Bklyn Larder monger Alex Testere and… Pork Jowl! Currently on sale here at the Larder for $7.50/ lb is Heritage Foods’ Sugar Cured Pork Jowl Bacon. What is jowl you ask? How does it differ from bacon? How and what should you cook it with? Alex if you could…

Bacon is a veritable staple of American culture and cuisine.  Fried to a crisp on an egg sandwich or cut thick and baked to tender perfection, there is nothing more quintessentially American than bacon, except maybe cheeseburgers.  Except maybe bacon cheeseburgers.  Anyway, we all love bacon.  And in the past couple years we’ve seen that love manifest as adhesive bandages, board games, and tattoos, just to name a few.  Bacon, I love you, but this nonsense has gone on long enough.  Plus, there’s a new fatty, sliced, fry-able pork product in town.  America, meet: jowl.

Fry it up! More tender than bacon and perhaps even more delicious! Yes, we know, it's a bold statement.

Fry it up! More tender than bacon and perhaps even more delicious! Yes, we know, it’s a bold statement.

Pork jowl (or jowl bacon, or hog jowl, even) is the cured, and sometimes smoked, cheek of our most beloved porcine friends.  The Italians (and us as well here at Bklyn Larder) use the jowl to make the ever-popular guanciale.  Our friends down South have also been using it for centuries cooked into collard greens or black-eyed peas.  It looks like bacon, and it cooks up a lot like bacon too, but it’s something special all its own.  With a slightly higher meat-to-fat ratio, jowl bacon cooks up deliciously tender and is perfect on its own or as a part of an even more sumptuous recipe.

Not only is pork jowl a unique alternative to your classic pork belly fix, but our maple-sugar glazed sliced jowl bacon is made exclusively for the BKLYN Larder by Heritage Foods, USA from pasture raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free pigs.  And as if that weren’t enough, it’s currently on sale!  Only $7.50 per pound, which means there’s absolutely no reason any other bacon should be in your fridge or freezer this week.  (Or ever again for that matter.)  Need some more inspiration?  Either fry it up straight or give this recipe a shot!

Braised Collards w/ Pork Jowl (serves 4)

–       ¼ pound jowl bacon, diced
–       1 medium onion, diced
–       ¼ tsp crushed chili de arbol
–       1 pound fresh collard greens, coarsely chopped
–       1 cup chicken stock
–       2 Tbsp butter
–       salt and pepper to taste

Stop on in for some samples! On sale at the Larder for $7.5/lb!

Stop on in for some samples! On sale at the Larder for $7.50/lb!

1) Brown pork jowl in a deep skillet, 2-3 minutes.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towel.

2) Add the diced onion and chili de arbol to the remaining fat and sauté until translucent, 3-4 minutes.

3) Add collards, chicken stock, and some water just to cover the greens.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced.

4) Stir in the jowl and butter, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Braised Chicken and Chorizo with Kyela Rice

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Browning the chicken thighs and chorizo. Brown skin-side first to render the fat and then flip. Don’t fear the high heat or the occasional accusing smoke alarm–you’re searing here.

Walking home from work Tuesday night in a blizzard with the temperature in the teens, all I could think about to keep me trudging along, leaning into the wind, was what to cook for dinner.

A mental inventory of what I had grabbed at the shop told me that I had in my tote bag: 2 pints of Larder chicken stock, 6 Giannone chicken thighs and 1 bag of Premium Kyela aromatic rice from Askinosie, which I have been dying to try.

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Mise en place! Always, always mise en place! A rough chop of carrots, celery, onion, garlic and pickled shallots! Plus, the Kyela Rice.

I knew at home there was the basics- onions, carrots, celery, garlic and a jar of pickled shallots. And I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I was pretty sure there was a frozen link of Bklyn Larder Spanish-style chorizo as well… a rich flavored braise to serve with the rice was taking shape in my mind…

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Sweat the onions and garlic first. The typical line here is “sauté until translucent,” but really its all about waiting for the aroma to kick in!

There is nothing more satisfying in weather like this than braising meat. The long cooking time, the rich smells that change from browning the meat to sweating the vegetables and then the slowly evolving aromas as the braise all comes together and transforms your entire apartment with that hearty smell over hours.

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Share the love: I add half the prepared garlic and pickled shallots to the chicken and chorizo for extra flavor.

Time to start cooking. I season the chicken thighs with salt & pepper. Yes- I do have a link of chorizo in the freezer! Slice it up with a serrated knife, since it is still frozen, and set it next to the seasoned chicken thighs, which I start browning skin side down…

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Add the remaining vegetables to the onions and sauté for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, I dice up onions, carrots and celery and a whole mess of garlic cloves peeled and cut into big chunks. I start a 2nd pan for the veg – sweating the onions with salt & pepper first…

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And… combine! Chicken on top and skin side up. Note the Bklyn Larder fusto olive oil and Cepa Vieja Sherry Vinegar at the ready!

Very rough cut on the sweet and vinaigry shallots, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme… and time to turn the browning chicken thighs now and add the slices of chorizo, ½ the garlic and the pickled shallots to the meat pan while I add the carrots, celery and the rest of the garlic to the veg pan.

As the chicken thighs and chorizo finish browning and sizzling with the garlic and shallots (this smell is intoxicating, btw…) and the veg is starting to release some lovely aromatics, it’s time to think about the rice.

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Add the chicken stock to just slightly cover the vegetables and add a sprig of fresh thyme and bay leaf for aromatics!

The Premium Kyela Rice is a fundraising project to feed schoolchildren in Tanzania. As with any raw material that Askinosie sources, the company’s relationship with the community and their efforts to enrich the lives of the people in those communities is always first and foremost to Shawn Askinosie.

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Cover and into the oven it goes. Braise, baby, braise. The simmering chicken stock will slowly break down the delicious connective tissue in the chicken thighs, the flavors (vegetables, chorizo, pickled shallots) will combine, the oven will warm your home, and the aromas will be amazing!

Since this rice is harvested, bagged and packaged by the townspeople (specifically, the PTA) of Mwaya, the rice needs to be rinsed and sifted through for the potential small pebble.

Anyways, cooking rice can often be tricky without the right ratio… every grain and style of rice tends to cook a little differently. And the Kyela rice did not come with any cooking instructions or a ratio, so I guessed. I used 1 cup of rice to 1 ¾ cup of water, 2 tbs of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sea salt- bring cold water and rice to a simmer then turn heat as low as possible for 10 min then turn off and let sit COVERED for 20min.

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The finished rice! Just because it’s technically a side dish, does not justify it being unseasoned. Lime zest, scallions, olive oil, salt and pepper!

The rice turned out perfect!  I added a little grated lime zest and thinly sliced scallion and tasted it on its own… wow! This rice would be delicious with just about anything- a delicately cooked piece of fish, shrimp, etc

But the juices from the braising chicken thighs & chorizo… well, that was just going to soak into the rice and once again transform both braise and rice into the perfect wintry, soul-satisfying dinner that I was hoping for on that chilly walk home with snow blowing sideways into my eyes!

I think Meryl (my fiancé) agreed! When she got home, all those smells had warmed the apartment and her own commute home through the blizzard had stirred her appetite and helped her appreciate this humble dinner with anything but humble flavors!

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The final dish!