Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. I’m your host with too much to boast, Jon O’Guin, and that title is probably really confusing if you speak Spanish. Today’s recipe is a shared endeavor between my brother and myself to make pinchos morunos, except not really. What do I mean, and why doesn’t that title work in Spanish? Context, my boys, context.
Say What You Will About Spain, Just Do It In Spanish, or You’re Being Rude.
You see, despite looking like the Spanish for “Maroons”, morunos actually means “Moorish”. And in case you’re not up-to-date with your Medieval Europeans ethnonyms, (and really, who is these days? Me. The answer is always me.)”Moors” are…well, it’s a very sloppy term. That’s partly why it died off. It comes from Ancient Rome, when there was a country called “Mauretania” on the African shores of the Mediterranean that Rome traded/fought with. The people were the “Mauri”, translated into English as “Moors”. Later, the term was applied to…basically any Islamic peoples bordering the Mediterranean.
Compounding this issue, around the year 710,the Berbers of North Africa allied with the Umayyad Turks, and invaded a fair bit of southwestern Europe, mostly Spain. (About a hundred years later, they invaded Sicily, and conquered it as well. …after 140 MORE years of fighting. Sicilians are historically a very intractable people.) And…well, held it. For quite some time. Spain had a culturally notable Muslim population until right about 1500. Queen Isabella I might well have uttered the sentence “Let’s send this Colombus fellow on his little trip, and then EXILE ALL THE JEWS AND MUSLIMS IN SPAIN” to her husband Ferdinand, and followed through on it.
Technically, they were seen as part of the same mission. Seriously, Google the Reconquista.
As such, there’s a lot of little left-over bits of Arabic culture, language, and so on built into Spain. Something like 8% of the words in Spanish come from Arabic loan-words and so on. And pinchos morunos are one of those tidbits, in a very literal sense. See, a Pincho is a little spike. So what, exactly is a Pincho Moruno? It’s a shish-kebab. I mean the name is basically “the Moorish Skewer”, so what else was it going to be? (And I swear to God if anyone brings up Vlad Tepes, I will fight them.)
Using shots from Dracula Untold feels pretty safe. Universal is desperately trying to pretend the film didn't happen, so it's not like they're in a rush to defend it.
So, if we’re making shish kebab, then we’re going to just grab some skewers, right? No. Because today’s recipe takes it a different direction. Let’s talk about it.
No Use Crying over Spilt Street
Today’s recipe comes from Milk Street, a program I THINK I talked about before, but let’s just cover our bases to make sure.
I’ve long touted the excellence and my personal enjoyment of America’s Test Kitchen as a resource for recipes and other cooking needs. Well, as with all things in our modern world, my love of that resource has recently become somewhat political. Not in any ACTUAL political sense, thank goodness. No, instead we’re dealing with the most vitriolic and long-held form of politics: OFFICE politics.
There will be RIVERS OF BLOOD FOR THIS BETRAYAL.
See, Christopher Kimball was one of the co-founders of America’s Test Kitchen, the host of the TV show, and the editor ( I believe “-in-chief”) for several of their publications. Well, following a contract dispute, he was let go from the company at the end of 2015. Whereupon he immediately made a new company, named Milk Street, and did…almost exactly what he had been doing at Test Kitchen.
Or at least, that’s the potential legal issue. See, America’s Test Kitchen is suing him, claiming his work there is basically just their intellectual property under another name. (and several other factors, claiming he essentially began work on the project in their studios, using their talent, and taking resources from them when he left.) It’s an ongoing court case, so we’ll see how any of it pans out, but for now, I’m just going to buy both systems’ magazines and books, and use from them as I see fit. Hey, just because they’re fighting doesn’t mean I have to pick a side!
(Though I will weigh in that there is a contextual difference between the two publications. America’s Test Kitchen is, in many ways, just that: AMERICA’S. Their last magazine had a recipe for Boogaloo Sandwiches. If you’ve never heard of them, then congratulations, you’ve never been to Detroit. They’re a Detroit loose-meat sandwich, so they’re LIKE a Sloppy Joe. Milk Street, on the other hand, deals with exploring other cultures and nation’s cuisines. Piri Piri Chicken, Vietnamese soups that the chefs actually don’t know the name of, just calling them “The soup”, and so forth. So he’s not EXACTLY copying the formula. He’s just…extrapolating it. Again, solely my opinion here.)
Again, I'm a big fan of America's Test Kitchen, but "Cinnamon Beef Noodle Soup" doesn't feel like something they're going to talk to me about any time soon.
Anyway, Milk Street made this recipe, which means I have multiple copies of it. (One downside to the so-far rather short lifespan of the project is that the cookbook was…maybe a touch premature. Sure, I get the idea of it from a marketing perspective, but from a utility perspective, something like 80% of the book is covered in the first year of magazines. Or on the show. Or in all three. Look, it’s tricky to build a new media empire in just 9 months, okay?) And these Moorish Skewers have a startling twist: no skewer. Yeah, this is an un-kebab’ed kebab. You soak cubed meat in marinade, fry it fast and hot, top it with sauce, and serve.
So of course, we had to complicate things.
That’s Not My Brother, It’s an ImPASTA
So, one of the things Nate requested as a Christmas present was a Pasta Roller attachment for a mixer. I’ve honestly never fully learned the reasons why. Partly it’s because I’m an arrogant dick, and also partly because I just take things at their face value. “Nate says he wants a pasta roller.” Cool, I’ll keep an eye out for one. I ask for weird kitchen things all the time, who am I to judge?
This picture depicts the shininess of Nate's new toy well, but it's also somewhat overstimulating, because our Kitchen Island is a sea of chaos.
Well, he got his request, and THIS was the inaugural usage of the device. See, as I said, this was, in essence just cubed seasoned meat. Perfectly fine, but not nearly substantial enough to constitute a “meal”. So Nate decided he’d make Moroccan Pasta, a dish that will only confuse you if you Google it. So don’t. Or do, I quite like David Mitchell’s humor. (Webb is FINE, I guess.) Assuming you did Google it, understand we’re doing nothing like that. If you didn’t, well, way to stick to a thing, eh? Good on you.
Anyway, Nate’s plan was basically: 1. Make Fettucine. 2. Make Moroccan-flavored sauce. 3. ??? 4. Serve with Jon’s balls of meat. Hey, does this mean this is basically just “Moroccan Spaghetti and Meatballs”? No. Meatballs are ground. If we’re going to relate it to anything, this is Chicken Alfredo by way of Gibraltar, with literally none of the same ingredients except the noodles.
Pictured: Not Chicken. And no nutmeg, either.
The noodles, by the way, are made in the standard method for fresh pasta: lamination. And no, that doesn’t mean we cover them in a thin layer of plastic. “Laminate” as a word went through a process I’m certain HAS a name, but I’ve never learned it. See, it comes from lamina, Latin for “a thin sheet (of whatever)”. As such, “laminate”, which literally means “to lamina” can mean “to cover with a thin sheet”, “to make out of thin sheets” “to make INTO thin sheets” OR “to SEPARATE into thin sheets”. When you laminate paper, you’re using the first definition. Laminate floorboards use the adjective form of the second. And laminated pasta uses technically both the second and the third definitions.
See, if you’ve never done it before, pasta dough starts like basically all doughs: in that it ends up as a ball.
Nate likes to try and "ruin" shots of the food by flipping off the camera. If I cared at all about his actions, it might be a more useful tactic.
Then, in order to turn it into pasta, which, as a (hopefully final) etymological reminder, comes from the Latin for “crushed”, you roll it. A lot. Seriously, first you roll the dough out by hand, and THEN you start the process of actually rolling it, using my brother’s new Christmas present, the pasta roller.
The roller comes with settings, from 1 (the widest) to 6 (the thinnest) Every time you use a setting, you’re supposed to follow this procedure: slowly feed the dough to the roller, catching it as it comes through. Once completely through, fold it into thirds, roll it out, and feed it again. Then, do it two more times. THEN, go to the next setting down.
So, this pasta dough got rolled by Nate roughly TWENTY times before it was done. Why does it take so much effort? Structure. The more you roll dough, the firmer it gets. And Pasta dough needs to be very firm, otherwise it would simply disintegrate while boiling, or once coated in the sauce. All that rolling creates an insane amount of microscopic layers in the dough, creating a matrix of support.
Itty bitty levels makes this pasta better for biting.
While Nate was doing all of that, I was sitting in the other room, popping in whenever he needed help catching the sheets. Because, again, the second step of MY recipe was “wait an hour”. I’m not saying either of our recipes was better, merely noting that one required 45 minutes of rolling and folding, and the other needed an hour of doing nothing. You can make your own judgments.
Bringing it All Together
Sadly, I don’t have many pictures of the final steps of the process, because… well, because there was no TIME. Fresh pasta only boils for 2-3 minutes, instead of dried pasta’s 8-11. And the Pinchos only cook for 6. Further compounding the issue was an…let’s say “unfortunate” habit of my mother’s. My mother is very used to coming home and starting dinner, or helping her mother with dinner. So she has a habit of arriving home, walking directly into the middle of the kitchen, and asking “what needs to be done.” The difficulty with this process is, when I’m not cooking, she’s either talking to herself, or her family, and the middle of her family’s kitchen isn’t “important”. In OUR kitchen, there’s only one walkway, it’s only one person wide, and now she’s standing in the middle of it. So the first answer she gets is “You need to move”. It would be less unfortunate if her stance wasn’t always immediately in front of the cookbook I’m using, a document she refuses to actually reference when asking.
It’s also unfortunate simply because of timing: when possible, we’re trying to finish the meal’s cooking time for when she gets home. So she tends to be walking into the kitchen at the “Everything is now time-sensitive, and mostly involves removing things from heat” stage. She also tends to use this time to reveal that her earlier statement of “I don’t care what we eat” was a lie, asking pointed questions and criticizing your cooking techniques from her position of IN THE WAY. For this recipe, for instance, she immediately and continuously accused me of burning the pork. Which, while an understandable accusation given their color, is still an irritating one. Yes, I know there’s a lot of smoke. Yes, I know the pork is very dark, these are expected outcomes in the RECIPE NEXT TO YOU. (This is to do with the way the spice mix used reacts to heat. As you’ll see from the final shot, despite the heavily darkened exterior, the pork is FINE, MOTHER.)
See, look, they're basically still raw.
Meanwhile, Nate made a pasta sauce by simmering tomatoes in olive oil with garlic, red pepper flakes, and as he just called it, “garam ma-whatever”, the spice mix we put on the meat. Which is impressive, if very wrong. Garam Masala was the spice mix I was looking for last week, and I’m impressed he even partly remembered it. For this recipe, we used ras al hanout, a spice mix I talked about back in my Lamb Kofta post, while also talking about Batman. The Milk Street recipe doesn’t use it, because they assume the average American family wouldn’t know how or where to FIND ras al hanout. Though at this point, with the growing globalism of many supermarkets, I’m pretty sure my local Fred Meyer carries it. It DIDN’T as recently as a year ago, so I don’t fault Chris for assuming it’s hard to find. I’ll include both options in the recipe.
IN the end, we produced a simple and spicy dinner for the household.
See, look, it's basically still raw!
It was one of the few utterly unmitigated successes in our cooking history. Everyone liked it, it wasn’t TOO hard (even Nate’s labor-intensive pasta wasn’t HARD, just annoying.), it’s fairly inexpensive (assuming you don’t have to buy a bunch of bottles of spices) and it’s a light meal ready with only about half an hour of work. I’d heartily recommend you try it out in your own home.
If you’d like to help Jon continue buying bottles of esoteric spices for his culinary misadventures, support the site through Patreon! Patrons get the ability to vote on upcoming posts, access to secret posts that didn’t make it onto the site, as well as a deeper look into what’s happening in Jon’s life, all for only $1 a month! At higher tiers, they gain access to perks like audio recordings of the posts, so they can take their Catastrophes with them where they go! If that’s too much to ask, financially, then just remember to share our posts, and invite your friends to like our Facebook page. Jon already asked most of his friends, so if we want more people laughing at our pinchos, it’s going to take you guys to get them to commit.
THURSDAY: OH GOD, I DIDN’T PREP FOR THIS. UMMMM. CITRUS. WE’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT CITRUS. THAT’S KIND OF SPRING RELATED, RIGHT?
NEXT MONDAY: WE COVERED NATE’S CHRISTMAS PRESENT TODAY, SO WE’LL COVER ONE OF JON’S NEXT WEEK, WITH ZEPPOLES, ITALIAN DOUGHNUTS.
Serves 3-4 as a light meal, 6-8 as a snack.
1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1-1.5 inch cubes
6 tsps ras al hanout
1.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tsp smoked paprika
.75 tsp Salt
.75 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
1 large clove garlic, finely grated
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped oregano (optional)
1. Mix spices, if needed. Toss cubed pork in spice mix, rubbing mix in until no dry mix remains. Let sit at room temp for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or up to 4 hours in the fridge. Mix lemon juice, honey, and garlic and let sit.
2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a cast iron skillet until smoking. Add meat to pan in one layer. Let cook for 3 minutes before moving, to let a deep crust form on the bottom. Flip, and cook another 2-3 minutes until browned all over.
3. Remove from the heat, and add the lemon-honey sauce. Toss to coat. Drizzle with remaining tbsp. oil, and sprinkle with oregano if desired. Serve over pasta or rice.