We do not play with liquid nitrogen. While we disagree on several cooking-related issues (i.e. substituting this for that, do we need a sous vide machine, etc.) we absolutely agree that one of us (me) would accidentally freeze and break off a finger if we were “cooking” with liquid nitrogen. So when the Top Chef All-Stars had to make food without using any cooking tools, the liquid nitrogen came out (along with other innovative ideas). Hilariously, Chad the Bravo intern wrote down exactly what chef Tre Wilcox did to make his Southwestern-inspired bread pudding stuffing including using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ingredients and smashing them with a pot. The final product looked delicious so we decided it was our winner, but we also decided we’d just cut the ingredients with knives. We also realized we’d need a protein to round out our meal so K found a recipe from Rick Bayless when he was on Top Chef Masters — tomatillo-braised pork loin.
The difference between the two recipes couldn’t be more stark. One requires the reader to “smash with small pot,” the other suggests you “nestle the browned pork into the warm sauce.” In our still new, but much-loved Dutch oven, K started browning the pork loin while I roasted the tomatillos and jalapeno under the broiler. Though they didn’t get as “splotchy black and blistered” as Rick said they should, they seemed roasty enough to me (and K was waiting to move on to the next step). I pureed them in the blender and K browned the onion and garlic and put the tomatillo puree into the pot. We’d cut the recipe in half and suddenly it didn’t seem like there was going to be enough tomatillo sauce to braise the pork in. Rick Bayless to the rescue again! We had half a jar of his tomatillo-based guacamole “starter” in the refrigerator and it contained the same ingredients so we added it, put in a little water, cilantro and added the pork. Sorry … we nestled the browned pork into the warm sauce then put it into the oven. The recipe also calls for a side of potatoes, but we skipped that in favor of the bread pudding stuffing.
K started tearing up chunks of sourdough bread while I cut red, yellow and jalapeno peppers. We simmered the peppers in some chicken broth and I added the cream and egg to the bread. It seemed like there was plenty of liquid to make a custardy bread pudding so we just put the softened peppers and a little bit of the liquid in with the bread — not ALL of the pepper liquid as the recipe seems to call for. We added the shredded cheddar, spices and cilantro and popped the pan into the hot oven. In looking over the recipe again, I just realized it does not list bacon as an ingredient so we didn’t even put that in, despite the fact that it is prominently featured in the title of the recipe.
The pork and bread pudding were finished at about the same time and the our Top Chef kitchen smelled amazing. K let the pork rest for a few minutes, I let the stuffing cool for a few minutes then we cut and plated dinner. Oh my stars was it a Southwestern masterpiece! The tomatillo sauce was tart and smoky and there was just enough of it to cover the tender, juicy pork. The bread pudding was perfectly spiced, sweet with peppers, crisp and cheesy, but still quivering a bit with rich creaminess. We toasted Southwestern success with a Cline Ancient Vines Mouvedre red wine. The whole meal was, to use a dated (but appropriate) SNL reference, like buttah. We are privileged to have two families who host us for Thanksgiving every year, but if we ever host we’re ditching the turkey and Stovetop and going with tomatillo-braised pork loin and Southwestern bread pudding stuffing. And everyone would be thankful we did.