I sort of had a religious experience with whole nutmeg.
At my recent gnocchi-making class at the Chopping Block (don't you worry, a gnocchi blog will be coming soon), we grated whole nutmeg into a rich cream sauce (truly the most delicious cream sauce I've ever had, and with 2 cups of cream and a stick of butter, there's no guessing why). The difference between freshly grated nutmeg and the pre-ground jarred kind cannot be overstated. Soon after, I bought whole nutmeg on my own - it's worth noting that it's no more expensive than ground nutmeg, and while ground spices from the supermarket last only about 6 months (and this is counting the time they sit on the store shelves), whole spices last between 1-3 years.
Gripped by a transcendent desire to be one of those people who toast and grind their own spices (because I have so much free time on my hands, you know), I headed straight to the Spice House.
I know I've mentioned The Spice House on this blog before. For those of you who aren't familiar, The Spice House is a specialty spice shop in Old Town. You can literally smell the delectable spices wafting down Wells Street from a block out.
The veritable food blogging saint Mark Bittman further goaded me toward the toasting-and-grinding light when he mentioned in his book, How To Cook Everything Vegetarian (a truly lovely book, and absolutely comprehensive), that spice "purists" use a mortar and pestle to crush their spices. To me, that sounded like a challenge.
I booked it to the Spice House immediately (as much to escape the interminable sounds of Modern Warfare 2's digital XBox explosions as to actually buy the spices). I didn't really have a plan going in, other than to buy as many whole spices as I thought I'd feasibly use. I picked up a wide range of spices, many commonly used in Indian cooking, as well as a few designer salts and a harissa spread, all for under $30. I'm really excited to make a true curry spice blend, but, much too excited to wait until I had a meal plan laid out, I decided to incorporate a few of my new spices into the dinner I had already planned to cook - pork chops.
I also made Brussels Sprouts Gratin and served the whole thing with roasted parsnips. I served the pork to Ross and Taylor and had a giant plate of veggies for myself (although I did taste the pork and sauce, because after all that old-school crushing of spices, there was no way I wasn't going to try it). Here's how it came together:
whole mustard seeds
whole fennel seeds
whole black peppercorns
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
2 pork chops, fresh
~3/4 c. white wine
fresh chopped parsley
~2 lbs. fresh (raw) Brussels sprouts
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
~1.5 cups milk (I used 2%)
freshly grated nutmeg
grated parmegiano reggiano
~1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 T. butter
salt and pepper
5-6 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into roughly equal chunks
salt and pepper
Preaheat the oven to 375. Par-boil the Brussels srpouts whole until tender but still bright green. Drain. Cut off tough bottom part and cut in half. Place in a baking dish.
In a dry pan, toast the mustard seed, fennel seed, and peppercorns for about 2 minutes. With a mortar and pestle (or in a spice/coffee grinder), crush the spices.
In a smallish baking dish, toss the parsnips with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake for about 45 minutes, until soft and browning.
Melt 2 T. butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs, seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir them around in the butter until they are coated. Set aside.
In a shallow pan, melt the butter for the Brussels sprouts gratin and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for a couple minutes. Whisk in the milk and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Turn up heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the bechamel is thickened. Grate in the parmesan cheese. Pour over the sprouts. Top with the bread crumbs. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until edges are bubbly and breadcrumbs are browned.
Heat the butter and oil for the pork in a skillet. Dredge the pork chops in a little flour, removing excess. Place in the pan, topping with salt and the crushed spices, pressing them into the meat. Cook on one side until beginning to brown. When browned on one side, flip over and fry on the other side until browned. Add the wine, capers, and parsley. Cover and cook over medium heat until pork is cooked to your liking. Serve with the Gratin and the parsnips, drizzling the sauce over the pork.
Here's what Taylor had to say about the meal:
"Sure, the pork was perfectly cooked with a nice earthy spice blend that complimented it perfectly. And yeah the parsnips were evenly browned and delicious. But the real triumph of this dish was making Brussels sprouts not only edible but quite delicious. I guess that's the magic of cheese. Another triumph for the Fearless cook, for sure."
Nice! A success! Ross seemed to enjoy it too, judging by his empty plate. I was pretty happy with the way the sauce came out - the freshly ground spices were super flavorful, and the fact that they were more coarsely ground than they'd be from a jar added a pleasant textural element.
I can't wait to do more toasting and mortar-and-pestling, especially with an Indian spice blend! Check back soon for more spicy action.
Thanks for reading! More soon...