Sops & Leeks: Medieval Comfort Food

We all know what leeks are: the perfect mild blend of their cousins, garlic and onion. They’ve been part of our diet since somewhere around 2000 BC in Egypt, they’re one of the official emblems of Wales (wearing one on your helmet in battle identifies you as a fellow countryman) and for their easy re-usability to grow, regrow, and keep growing through less than ideal weathers, they’re a great produce for peasants. So what about “sops”? The word “sop” has become a common place verb now; i.e.: using bread to “sop” up the remaining sauce. And that’s what “sops” are: pieces of crusty (usually stale) bread, in the bottom of a bowl or plate, used to soak up (or “sop”) the juices and sauces and flavors from everything else in the bowl.

This particular recipe was a common one among monks during lent. However, since it includes white wine and white bread, it was certainly not for the poorer monks. These were more expensive items to produce and no – not all monasteries have/had the same resources.

The original medieval recipe of Sops and Leeks does not call for ham, chili flake or cream, but as long as you’re not a monk during lent, this updated recipe is great to elevate a medieval dish while still keeping it fairly true to form.

I like to use it for lunch or as a dinner side paired with simple roasted chicken. Including the poached eggs could make it a great addition to a creative brunch menu.

Ingredient Quantity How
Leeks

2

White and greens, sliced and washed
Butter

2-3

Tbsp
White wine

1/4

cup
Heavy cream

1/2

cup

Ham

3/4

cup

Cut into cubes
Red Chili Flake

1

tsp

Shredded Parmesan Cheese

1/4

cup

(optional)
“Sops” (thick sliced crusty bread, buttered)

4

Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. On stove top, heat dutch oven (preferably) or cast iron pan with deep sides, add butter until sizzling, then add leeks and ham. Allow leeks to just soften, about 2 minutes, then add white wine and cook until just soft.
  2. Add cream and red chili flake. Reduce heat to a simmer; allow to simmer until cream is very thick and no longer has any “soupy” quality.
  3. While cooking cream down, butter both sides of slices of crusty (traditionally stale) bread.
  4. Once cream has thickened and you have a pot of creamy leeks, top with toasted bread and bake in 400 oven until butter on bread is just browned. Feel free to top with optional parmesan cheese at this step.
  5. Remove, flip leeks and bread so bread is on the bottom and serve immediately, hot out of the pot and topped with soft boiled egg, if desired .

Mmmm,Tasso!

 

 

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If you’ve never had Tasso ham before, it probably means that you don’t live anywhere near the south. Before visiting New Orleans and moving to Texas, I had only heard about it in Emeril recipes, always to be followed by the obligatory asterisk – “*if Tasso is unavailable, substitute with bacon or ham”. I suppose it’s a little true – if Tasso is totally unavailable, bacon is better than nothing – but I surely wouldn’t call it a substitute. Tasso is it’s own beautiful, wonderful, glorious beast that allows no substitution.

It is important to note that while it’s called “Tasso Ham”, it is not actually “ham”. Ham is made from the hind leg of the pig, while Tasso is traditionally made from the shoulder. As many of the best southern traditions have been, it was created out of necessity – a way to use up the left over scraps of the least used cut of the whole pig.

A good way to get a better perspective on how any traditional dish is supposed to be made is to think about that – how it started, where it came from. Then, grab Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” as a great reference and read as many additional recipes as possible. Everyone does it a little bit different.

Here is my way:

First, make sure you have a large enough pan (or pans) to hold all of the meat comfortably without overlapping. Cut up the big pork butt into large, thick pieces, leaving on all the fat and cutting against the grain.

Next, give the meat a good salt cure:
2 parts kosher salt to 1 part white granulated sugar. (Enough to fully cover the meat in a thick, even coating.) Pour the salt cure as evenly as possible and massage into the pork, leaving a fairly thick coating. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.IMG_1873

Third, while the meat is curing, mix up your dry rub with the following ingredients to your preferred taste:

  • Ground white pepper
  • Ground black pepper
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Ground allspice
  • Ground paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano

Then, after 3-4 hours refrigerated, rinse the cure off of the meat, dry with paper towel and and cover with a nice hefty coating of the dry rub; cover and refrigerate to cure overnight.

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Finally, while the shoulder is sitting in the fridge, find access to an awesome smoker.

If you don’t have access to a smoker, you can use your oven. In order to get an imitation of the rich smokey flavor that is so important, try wrapping smoking chips in tin foil and putting on the bottom of your oven, on the rack beneath the meat. Heat the oven to 220 degrees, make sure the heat is nice and steady, and put the pork in for 4 or so hours. Try your best not to open the door to look at it so you can maintain that good steady heat.

If you do have access to a smoker, I suggest using pecan chips and if you can control the heat, try to keep it at 220. Cram the meat in there with excitement and don’t open the smoker for 3 hours. IMG_1882

To check the done-ness of the pork (smoker or oven) use a meat thermometer, which should read somewhere between 150 – 180 degrees. Poke the meat a little as its finishing to see how done it is: is it solid but tender? Then it’s good to go.

Once done, here are some ideas on what to do with it:

Pizza:

  • Remoulade sauce (mayo based, heavy on the mustard)
  • Medium Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Very thinly sliced and quartered green tomatoes
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Tasso, sliced long and thin (like pastrami)

Layer pizza with all ingredients (Tasso on top) and bake at 500 on a thin crust, until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes.

Also try it:

  • cubed in jumbalaya, gumbo or sauteed greens like spinach or chard
  • use the same pizza ingredients as a po’boy sandwich
  • use anywhere in place of normal ham for a little extra pizzazz.

Have any more great ideas? Let me know! And enjoy!

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