Chef Matt Dawes of The Bull + Beggar
Oct 27, 2017 • Alex Matisse
Recipe: Pork Shoulder with Garlic, Bay + Fennel
Lately I have a hard time keeping track of my keys and a lot of things people tell me are in one ear and out the other, but one thing I never forget is what I ate for dinner, be it last night or last year. For our first Valentine’s day together Alex made the Garlic Studded Pork Shoulder dish from Miss Edna Lewis + Scott Peacock’s The Gift of Southern Cooking.
For our wedding, Chef Matt Dawes of The Bull + Beggar interpreted the dish for a crowd and brightened it up with with fresh fennel seed. Eventually, I hope, this weather’s gonna cool down, and when it does, this easy braise is the perfect thing to throw together for hungry friends and family. Serve with simple sides: think roasted carrots, a bracing, bitter green salad + a bright, fresh red wine like Gamay or Nebbiolo.
For 6-8 people
One 5lb Pork Shoulder, bone in + skin on
¾ cup Kosher Salt
½ cup White Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
Dried Bay Leaves
1. Mix equal parts salt + sugars in a mixing bowl (you may need a little more or a little less) and coat your pork shoulder thoroughly with this mixture.
2. Place the shoulder in a heavy-bottomed pot you like to use for braising, the smallest one it will fit in, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, but not more than 24.
3. Drain the liquid that’s pooled to the bottom of the dish.
4. Cook the pork in a 200 degree oven for about 11 hours (go ahead and turn off your heater while you’re at it); in the first few hours of cooking, the pork will render enough fat to cover about half its mass or more. Once there’s at least an inch of rendered fat in the bottom of the pot, toss in a handful of green fennel seeds, bay leaves, and crushed garlic. Don’t be shy.
5. The meat is done when it can easily be pulled with a fork.
6. The longer the meat can sit in the fat, the more flavored the meat will be. Feel free to make this dish a day or two before serving. Simply reheat in a low oven to serve.
Interview: Chef Matt Dawes of Bull + Beggar
C: What’s your earliest food memory?
M: We lived in Clemson when I was young - I remember going with my dad early in the morning to meet his friends who had camped where Lake Hartwell turns into the Savannah River. It was sunrise and they had caught some trout, and we fried them on the fire in a cast iron skillet dredged in cornmeal. I remember being in awe that the fish had come from water where we were still in sight of and we cooked it on the campfire. That sorta thing wasn’t a common experience for me as a kid…
C: What were meals at your house more typically like?
M: My mother didn’t cook that much; what my mother taught me to cook and what she was good at cooking were things she learned to cook for dinner parties - like hollandaise with asparagus and artichokes steamed whole with vinaigrette on the side. She had a go-to list of hostess dishes, but they were saved for special occasions. We ate out five days a week or more. There was a meat and three close to our house where my mother paid monthly until we were out of high school. We rode our bikes there and they just kept a tab. Greeks own almost all of the short order restaurants in Greenville - they’d sell burgers, fries, onion rings, milkshakes an gyros. Did you know the gyro was invented in Milwaukee?
C: I had no idea.
M: They were. Anyway, so the restaurant culture in Greenville was kind of great, so even though I didn’t eat at home much, I always expected my meals to be fully flavored.
C: I feel like younger kids are used to eating out a little more often but I don’t feel like I meet too many people our age or older who grew up going out to dinner very much. Did you eat traditional southern food growing up?
M: We did, but never at home.
C: What’s your relationship with southern food as an adult?
M: It’s...complicated. The fact that I don’t feel compelled to cook things that are recognizably Southern dishes at my restaurant but I’m a chef in the South is complicated.
C: There does seem to be an assumption that if you’re cooking in the South you’re obligated to “re-inventing” or “re-imagining” Southern cuisine. Do you get flack for that?
M: Oh yeah. But it’s not out of animosity that I don’t cook Southern food. If I were going to be cooking Southern food it most certainly wouldn’t be nouveau. I’m not interested in find a brand new way to serve pimento cheese or putting sorghum-lacquered bacon on everything. I’m drawn to traditional ways of cooking, but that impulse isn’t unique to Southern food. So if I had a Southern restaurant I’d want to cook Southern food the way it would have been done before there was a nouveau South, in proper cast iron cook wear on a big wood-oven. But I don’t know if there’s a market for that...I wouldn’t want it to seem like “Colonial Williamsburg: The Restaurant”.
When I go to the lake and I’m with my family and I feel that deeper connection to where I’m from, which is super Southen, then all I want to do is cook traditional Southern food. And as Autry grows older and family meals become more important then I’d probably want to make Southern food for him.
C: What value define your cooking now?
M: For the last seven years I’ve really been trying to edit my food down to its essentials. It comes easily to me now but when I’m talking to other people about dishes and they say, “You should add such and such too it…” I think people forget to ask themselves, “Why? What does this add?”. We shouldn’t be showing off in ways that confuse things. It becomes a never ending cycle where you have to put fried chicken skin on this dish just because your buddy did and then customers come to expect that.
C: Do you have an example of a dish that works best when it’s paired down to it’s most basic elements?
M: Gosh, almost everything. Jambon Persille, a traditional Burgundian ham and parsley terrine. People are always putting sweetbreads or other luxurious adjuncts that don’t actually improve the dish. Or macaroni and cheese is an example. Macaroni and cheese doesn’t need to be anything more than macaroni and cheese.
C: Where do you feel is your culinary home?
M: I don’t know if it’s my dad’s British heritage, but I just feel at home in British cookbooks, which are mostly about French food. Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David and Simon Hopkinson.
C: What’s the appeal at looking at French food through a British lens, rather than without it?
M: Well, I don’t read French. And not a lot of French cookbooks have been translated, and when they are they’re badly translated. Most of the French cookbooks that people think of as being seminal French are written by anglophones. Richard Olney is an American example of someone who’s taught me a lot about French food. And Patience Gray, and MFK Fisher. I started reading those writers in my 20s and was totally obsessed in that special way you can be obsessed with something in your 20s. I like many people, yourself included, wanted to write short stories and novels. So I was devouring books, and when I switched to cookbooks I read them cover to cover, like a novel, without cooking anything in them, and felt like I was immersed in a story. I’m drawn to how droll the British cookbook authors are. They’re also so romantic about a time in France that was already disappearing by the 60s. At the Bull & Beggar we try to create some nods to that - with the fruit des mers platters and antiqued elements. The brasserie and the Parisian bistro are certainly the food framework that I use.
C: What’s the most joyful meal you’ve ever eaten?
M: Downstairs at Chez Panisse was an incredible meal for me because I didn’t expect it to be so good. It had been around for so long that I really dampened my expectations for it. I just assumed that even though it was culturally important it just couldn’t be that good. But everything was perfect. We had clams in a perfectly made fish fume with a few vegetables. The fume was perfect but it wasn’t obsessively clear. We had a radicchio salad with grapefruit and Dungeness crab and we had baby vegetables with a pork tenderloin that had been spit-roasted in the fireplace, served with another clear pork broth that had been reduced just to where it was flavorful, not sticky. And an apple tart with creme fraiche. I don’t forget these things. And we got good and drunk and Alice Waters was there getting drunk, too; the kitchen staff didn’t make us feel like they wanted us to get the fuck out of there. They took us back to the kitchen and I was foolishly talking to all the cooks. And when we were leaving Alice Waters was driving off and a plastic Solo cup flew off the roof of her car. She littered. Alice Waters littered.
At home, I used to make meals with my friend Jeremy Hardcastle; and even though I did most of the cooking, he was always pushing me to do it bigger, do it grander. We had a Burns dinner where we went to East Fork Farm and slaughtered a sheep and I gave a toast to the Haggis and we did everything in perfect order and we drank four bottles of Scotch. One night we did the Northern Italian Gran Bollito Misto with ten sauces and a giant, heaving tray of boiled meats studded with marrow bones and a capon and an ox tongue and brisket and a whole sweetbread. And Mike Tiano brought lots of wine. We all barely fit at the table.