Variety is the number one challenge I find as a single who likes to cook; convenience is the second one. These challenges lead me to develop ways to make the best use of my ingredients in a way that’s neither boring nor inefficient. Today I’m going to walk you through one week where I ate a 4lb of pork shoulder in many different ways. My mission is to showcase how a single person can keep food exciting and healthy when the number of servings is against you.
Zero waste and no repeated meals were my mantras for this journey. I also got the chance to cook dishes of different cuisines. The idea was simple: Make some building blocks that are versatile enough to fit nicely into many dishes. One such building block is a braised pork shoulder. Here are my ingredients.
- 4lb Pork Shoulder. It’s best if it’s bone-in.
- Salt and pepper.
- Olive oil.
- A few carrots
- One large yellow onion.
- Two celery stalks.
- Two Roma tomatoes.
- Four garlic cloves.
- One-half cup of white wine. I used Pinot Grigio.
- Two tablespoons of brown sugar.
- Three cups of chicken stock.
- A bouquet garni of your favorite aromatics, I used bay leaves and sage, just because It’s what I had available.
I will not go into the details of braising a pork shoulder; there are so many great resources on the internet. However, you can watch this youtube video for the technique. I didn’t add too many spices because I wanted to keep the flavor profile as neutral as possible.
Out of my braise, I got:
- The meat, which I let cool off, shredded it with my hands and stored it.
- All the vegetable chunks.
- The braising Liquid.
I placed all the vegetable chunks and part of the braising liquid in my food processor; this gave me a delicious and thick pork-flavored tomato sauce. I strained and reduced the remaining braising liquid at low heat ending with a rich “jus.”
With these building blocks in hand, I prepared my dishes as the week progressed. I will not go into each recipe’s details, but please ask me about them in the comments section.
Dish 1: Fonio with Braised Pork, Dates, and Pepitas
Fonio is a grain that has gained popularity lately. People use it in the same way as couscous, but it’s grain in its own right, and it’s gluten-free. I toasted the grains in olive oil to add depth of flavor. I poured some of my braising sauce, thinned it out with water, seasoned it with some spices, and brought it to a boil for one minute. I took it off the heat and waited for fonio to work its magic. Then I incorporated chopped dates, squares of goat feta, pepitas. I finished the dish with some fresh cilantro.
Dish 2: Bulgur with Braised Pork
This dish looks similar to the previous one, but it’s completely different. Bulgur is an easy grain to cook; it’s cracked wheat and just needs some soaking to become soft and tender. I thinned out the sauce with a bit of water in this dish and cooked the bulgur in it, tossing some of the pork last minute. I stirred in part of the thick ‘jus’; I seasoned the dish with lemon, cumin, and cinnamon and garnished it with fresh cilantro.
Dish 3: Orzo with Pork Shoulder and Feta
Following the trend, this time, I converted the sauce into a “pork ragu”. I cooked some orzo in this sauce to make an indulgent pasta dish. I finished it with olive oil, goat feta, and cilantro.
Dish 4: Braised Pork Galettes With Yuzu Mayo
This dish took a lot of work. Entering the realm of french cooking, I made buckwheat pancakes and transformed them into braised pork galettes. My galettes had caramelized onions, part of the pork shoulder, and I topped it off with some of my homemade yuzu mayonnaise and pickled red chilies.
Dish 5: Pork and Shrimp Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Pork and Shrimp spring rolls are amongst the most known Vietnamese appetizers. I kept using my cilantro (I bought a bunch when I got the pork) and got some Thai basil that I could use later.
Dish 6: Teriyaki Braised Pork with Rice and Fukujinzuke
For this dish, I prepared a classic teriyaki sauce. I then reheated the pork in this teriyaki sauce and served it with white rice (which I mixed with minced cilantro) and a Japanese relish I like to keep in my fridge: Fukujinzuke; this made for a great Japanese meal.
Dish 7: Pulled Pork Sandwich
For this last dish, I transformed the sauce into BBQ sauce with the help of some brown sugar, honey, apple cider vinegar, and classic spices like paprika, cumin, and black pepper. I soaked into it the pulled pork for the braise to heat it through, and I assembled the sandwich by toasting some of my homemade sandwich bread, some dill pickles I also made a month back, cheddar cheese the pork.
Dish 8; Shrimp and Pork Thai Green Curry
Is there a better way of ending the week than with a green curry? Yeah, I know, pork goes better in red curry, but I only had green curry paste. I tossed in my favorite green veggies, some potatoes, the remainder of the pork, and some shrimp to make this delicious dish.
And the Leftovers
These eight dishes were not the only ones I made. I practiced other things that were not entirely worth noting. By the time I finished the green curry, I had left only about a cup of that braising sauce. It ended up in an excellent shakshouka brunch.
This series of dishes don’t speak too much on their own, they are not culinary masterpieces, but instead, the process showed some of the tools that need to be part of the home cook’s arsenal. I summarize them here:
- Stock up with long-lived items: Grains, nuts, pasta, etc., can live in your pantry for a long time and are convenient when building meals on the fly.
- The same goes for preserves: Preserved lemons, relishes, pickles, and so forth play an essential role when balancing the flavor of your creations.
- Salty and fermented items have a long life: Salty cheeses like feta, parmesan, etc., not only live long in your fridge but deliver fantastic flavor. Fermented things like buttermilk or creme fraiche can also live for a very long time.
- Make your condiments: You don’t have to make every condiment all the time; store-bought are convenient and do the job just fine. But if you know how to make them, it will open the possibilities when the time comes. An example would be my pulled pork sandwich with improvised BBQ sauce.
- Find ways to use the same fresh herbs: Fresh herbs deliver freshness to your dishes and look fabulous as garnishes. You don’t have to buy a bunch of cilantro and a bunch of parsley. You can use either interchangeably at home. These herbs, unfortunately, don’t last long but come in substantial quantities. The best alternative to buying: Keep pots and grow them yourself! Zero waste.
- Learn about different cuisines: Picking your favorite cuisines and studying them will give you the perspective you need when it comes to variety and creativity. Just look at the dishes I made: African, Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Japanese, American, Thai.
- Cook versatile building blocks: If the message of the post was not clear enough. Think versatility.
Sometimes the fact that ingredients sell fractioned in a way that’s excessive for a single person can be a blessing.
I hope you enjoyed reading, stay single, and happy cooking!