When Luke and I were in Tokyo, one of the things we eventually realized is that we were ordering our food all wrong. One night we stumbled into a little hole in the wall that featured miniature coal grills in the middle of the table. You could order an assortment of meat and vegetables and grill it yourself. As we paged through the meat choices, it struck us that a plate of meat, while delicious, didn’t seem like a particularly complete meal. It was a little early for dinner, and we were the first people in the restaurant, so we couldn’t look to the other patrons’ plates for hints on how to order. We tried to ask the server how big the plates of meat were, but language was a barrier, so we were on our own. We ended up ordering two platefuls of thinly sliced meat, and a side salad. Once the restaurant began to fill, and others around us began to get their food, we realized what was wrong with our strategy- everyone else ordered rice, vegetables, meat, and then made a bowl! It was supposed to be obvious that all of the ingredients on the menu were to be mixed together. (It was also supposed to be obvious that you were meant to grill the vegetables with the meat. When our server realized we were eating our veggies raw, I think he was appalled by our total stupidity). I immediately wished that I could have a food do-over, and cursed my American tendency to eat all of my dishes separately.
From Asian food to Mexican food, every other culture gets that in many cases, food tastes just a little bit better when you mix all of the flavors up. But for some reason, American’s prefer that their food not touch. In nice steak restaurants, it isn’t unusual for your steak to come plated alone, and for any sides to come in totally separate dishes. Cafeteria trays are meant to keep your vegetables firmly barricaded away from your sandwich. Well I think it is time to learn from the wonders of the Asian rice bowl and start serving sides and proteins altogether as one big entree. And this gave me the idea to combine all things that are awesome about a good ole fashion Southern Sunday lunch and put them together to make one great pork bowl.
When I think of everything that is amazing about Southern food, I think slow cooked pork, gooey mac & cheese, well seasoned collard greens, and chow chow relish. While most of these things are usually served as separate dishes, I wanted to see what would happen if I plated everything together. My shopping list to make it all happen includes:
- Pork Shoulder
- Spices- Smoked paprika, salt, pepper, sugar, ground mustard seed, garlic powder, brown sugar, allspice
- 2 Onions
- 1 cabbage
- 4 chili peppers of various heats
- Collard greens
- .75 pound of elbow macaroni
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 2-3 cups cheese of choice (recommend using 2 different varieties)
To begin with, I got a pork shoulder from KJB farms while I was at the Second Street Market. I can’t tell you how much I love buying eggs, pork, and chicken from a local farmer. Anyway, I made a spice rub with salt, pepper, brown sugar, ground mustard powder and paprika. I don’t like to tell people how much of each spice to use because I tend to use a lot less salt than others might prefer. Play with your own combinations until it tastes good and then rub it all over the pork, and let is sit for an hour.
Preheat an oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, put the pork in a roasting tin, cover with tinfoil, and leave it alone. My guide recipe projected the cooking time to be 6 hours. But since it was Sunday, and I got sucked into binge watching season 5 of The Great Food Truck Race, I didn’t get my pork into the oven until 2:00 pm. Which meant around 4:30, I decided that if I wanted to eat at a respectable hour I needed to turn the oven up to 350 degrees. An hour later I went up to 375 degrees. By 6:30, my pork was tender- not falling apart, pull apart tender, but tender enough to chop up. The moral of the story- if you are slow to get your day started and need to shave some time off of your roasting time, you can and it isn’t a big deal.
While all of that roasting was going on, I started on my chow chow. I have been obsessed with this cabbage/pepper relish since I made it for my very first food blog post. For anyone who doesn’t know, chow chow is a Southern relish that is made up of onions, cabbage, and an assortment of spicy peppers. To make, cut a small cabbage into chunks and parboil for a few minutes. Run under cool water, cut out the core, and place into a blender with onions, and 4 peppers (heat of your choice). I used two medium hatch peppers, one spicy pepper, and one mild pepper. Throw everything into the blender, and pulse and shake until everything is shredded like confetti. Throw the shredded veggies into a big pot with a cup of apple cider vinegar, half a cup of brown sugar, and a few shakes of allspice. If you are like me and have a giant handle of whiskey from your last bbq, you can add 1/4 cup of that to the mix as well. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the liquid is mostly gone. Taste during the process and add more sugar, acid, or spice to the mixture as needed. Cool and refrigerate once finished.
When my pork was about half an hour away from being done I started on my collard greens and mac & cheese. Collard greens are one of those Southern staples that are really tasty if done right, and totally disgusting if made wrong. Recently Luke and I were out to dinner, at a really nice place (I won’t say where) and the collard greens he ordered were inedible. Neither one of us could choke them down. I’m not even sure what went wrong with them, but they were completely disgusting. To avoid gross collard greens, the secret is in the seasoning. If the water doesn’t taste good, your greens won’t either. Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder, red chili flakes, and mustard powder. You should have about 3 tablespoons of spices altogether. Make sure you like the flavors, and then add that to the pot along with an onion cut into fourths. Add collard greens (that have been washed, removed from tough stems, and chopped into ribbons) and turn down heat. Let them cook in gently simmering water for about 15 minutes, or until they have reached a desired texture. I like mine to have a little bit of a chew, but not to be tough. Drain when finished, and set aside.
The last step is to make the macaroni. Boil elbow macaroni for about 7 minutes, drain and set aside. To make a quick, stove top mac & cheese, make a roux with a couple tablespoons of butter and flour in a sauce pan. Gradually whisk in the milk, until you have added about 2 1/2 cups. Season with mustard powder, salt and pepper. Continue to whisk in a handful of shredded cheese at a time, until all of the cheese has melted and been incorporated into the sauce (I used a combination of sharp cheddar cheese, and a white cheddar cheese). Mix in the macaroni and take off of the heat.
And all that is left is to assemble the bowl! Roughly chop up a portion of your pork shoulder. Discard any large chunks of fat. (Look at how juicy!)
To assemble, plate a layer of pork on the bottom. Add collard greens, then a scoop of the mac & cheese, and top with a few tablespoons of chow chow relish.
Yum…all of the flavors perfectly compliment each other. Want to make it vegetarian? You can definitely leave out the pork, and mix just the collards, and chow chow with the macaroni. But seriously…the pork is amazing, so don’t get rid of it.
What do you think? Should sides stay to the side, or can other dishes be combined together? Let me know!