$20 Dinner with Kevin Ouzts
The chef behind the Spotted Trotter cooks up a meaty holiday meal on a budget
There's pig stuffed with pig roasting in Kevin Ouzts' oven. It's making the whole house smell like bacon. Not like your morning-bacon-frying-pan bacon, but the thick stuff, fatty, smoky, and scented with wood. Since opening his boutique charcuterie the Spotted Trotter in 2011, Ouzts has earned a reputation as one of Atlanta's go-to meat guys. It's in his blood. Through his mother's genealogical research, Ouzts recently learned that a grandfather he'd never met was a butcher. He runs a finger along the inside of his left thumb and wrist and tells me about the time a wave of scalding bacon fat melted the skin off his hand. At the hospital, doctors used grafts made from pig skin to patch him up.?
"All that," he says, pointing to the section on his hand, "all that is pig."
Even so, Ouzts never meant for charcuterie to define him as a chef. From the outset, the Spotted Trotter was intended to be a stepping-stone toward his master plan of opening a restaurant. After three years of stuffing sausage, Ouzts is eager to get back to cooking.
With holiday entertaining in mind, Ouzts has planned a rustic family-style spread for about $20. The main course is an homage to hearty porchetta. But instead of roasted loin wrapped in crispy pork belly, he's making an elegant pork roast stuffed with veggies and dried figs. And, to complement the smoky meat, a side of creamed fennel and shredded red cabbage.
Ouzts visits Your DeKalb Farmers Market once a week. Today, he strolls through the aisles with the kind of swagger only a true regular can pull off. Employees in the store's wholesale section greet him by name. Even in the market's typical sea of chaos, he stands out with his electric-blue jacket and spiky copper hair. He runs into a guy from the Turnip Truck and they talk shop for a few minutes. We leave through a back door I never knew existed. Out on the loading dock he spies the catfish delivery truck and suggests we linger for a minute to try and catch the exchange. The driver sees us and says it's going to be a while, so, as we walk away, Ouzts describes the spectacle to me instead. I picture a stream of flailing fish exploding from a hole in the tank the size of a basketball. Only chefs, food writers, and 9-year-old boys get excited about things like this.
Back at home, Ouzts unpacks groceries and arranges his mise en place around a massive wooden cutting board.
"I cook here as much as I can, but we don't get a lot of time, and as you can see it's not the biggest kitchen," he says.
There's only about three feet of workspace along the white speckled countertop, just enough room for one person to cook comfortably. In no time, Ouzts has the turnips, onion, celery, bell pepper, and carrot chopped into a small dice. He dumps them into a sauté pan with some olive oil. Once the veggies are caramelized, he holds up the pan to show where cooked brown bits have accumulated. A splash of Madeira sets off a chorus of hissing and sizzling. He slips the mixture into a bowl, folds in a handful of shiny dried figs and cubes of stale bread, then sets the stuffing aside to cool.
"Most of my life I was surrounded by food," Ouzts says. He was raised in Marietta, but what he remembers most is working almost every day after school at his mother's downtown restaurant, Flamingo Joe's. In his mid-20s, Ouzts began college at the University of Georgia, where he met his future wife and business partner Megan, and earned a degree in telecommunications. After graduating, Ouzts worked briefly in corporate advertising for companies such as Home Depot. It wasn't long before he realized he had to get back to food.
"If I hadn't met Megan, I wouldn't be here," he says. "She encouraged me and she gave me a chance to quit my job and be able to go to culinary school."
In the mid-2000s, Ouzts attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Tucker. He got married and worked his way up to the position of sous chef at Restaurant Eugene. There, Ouzts crossed paths with chef Ryan Smith, Holeman & Finch's then-executive chef, and caught the charcuterie bug.
Ouzts butterflies the pork loin with short, precise swipes and is left with a flat sheet of glistening meat. He covers it with a thin layer of burnt orange nduja — a spicy, spreadable salami he made at the Spotted Trotter. He piles heaping scoops of savory stuffing on top of the nduja and wraps the whole thing up like a meaty jelly roll.?
Ouzts' favorite thing about porchetta is the crisp, crackly skin that comes with roasting pork belly at a high temperature. To mimic this, Ouzts wraps the roll of stuffed pork in a web of caul fat — the thin, lacy membrane that surrounds the stomach and intestines in a pig. When exposed to high heat, the caul fat crisps like a shell.
"It's very unctuous and rich. You can wrap fish in it ... There are all kinds of wonderful things you can do with it," he says. "It is very inexpensive; we sell it at the shop. You can get it at Buford Highway Farmers Market, you can get it at the Sweet Auburn Market."
Ouzts lays the pork on top of thick wedges of fennel and cabbage waiting in the roasting pan. With his roast in the oven, the conversation shifts to his restaurant, the Cockentrice, slated to open summer 2014. According to Ouzts, it will be one of three full-service restaurants at the new Krog Street Market. He describes the Cockentrice — named after a medieval dish in which a pig is stitched to a chicken, then roasted — as "a showcase of new American charcuterie and meat cookery." There will be a butcher shop full of cuts not typically seen at the grocery store, such as shoulder steaks, and a cheese shop predominantly stocked with Southern cheeses.
His ideas about food and the philosophies behind it start to pour out: his passion for the slow food movement, the importance of investing in local agriculture, and respecting culinary tradition.
"Food has changed more probably in the past three years than in our whole entire life," Ouzts says. "Chefs and people working in the food business can just sit in the water and say, 'OK we're done,' or you can say, 'What's next, where are we going?'"
He hopes to be an ambassador for change.
"Being educational without having to stuff it down people's throats is very important," he says.
While the pork rests, Ouzts slices the fennel and cabbage, now infused with drippings from the roast, and transfers the shreds to a sauté pan. He adds heavy cream and the mixture bubbles and simmers into a sauce. He gazes down at his creation on the cutting board.
"Man, this looks good enough to eat," he says. When it's time to carve, he cuts into the roast and the meat falls away in tender slices. The sausage center is a rusty color and flecked with green and orange dots from the stuffing. He arranges each slice on a bed of creamed cabbage and fennel. Every bite hits you up front with smoky spice, but the sting melts away as soon as the creamy vegetables take over.
As Ouzts starts to clean up, he considers the path that lies ahead.
"It's exciting and I'm scared, but I think you really shouldn't be doing a job unless you have a tiny bit of fear in your heart because that means you're going to push to try and do it the best you can."
Stuffed Pork Loin with Creamed Fennel and Red Cabbage?
Makes 8 servings?
• 1 pound caul fat (pork)?
• 2 bulbs fennel cut into thick wedges?
• 1 head red cabbage cut into thick wedges?
• 1 1/2- to 2-pound center cut pork rib roast (boneless loin roast)?
• 1 red onion, finely diced?
• 1 cup celery, finely diced?
• 1 cup carrots, finely diced?
• 1 cup turnips, finely diced?
• Olive oil?
• Salt and pepper to taste?
• 1/2 cup Madeira (You can use any inexpensive dry port, sherry, or Marsala wine.)?
• 1 cup dried figs?
• 2 cups stale bread, cubed?
• 1 bunch parsley, chopped?
• 1 tablespoon dried savory?
• Zest from one orange?
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper?
• 1/4 pound spreadable sausage (nduja)?
• 1/4 cup dry white wine?
• 1 pint heavy cream?
Special equipment: Roasting pan fitted with roasting rack, kitchen string???
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Rinse and soak caul fat. Set aside. Cut the fennel and cabbage into thick wedges. Set roasting rack in roasting pan and arrange the wedges of fennel and cabbage on the rack. Set aside.?
Butterfly the pork loin by cutting into the loin at a 45-degree angle then continuing to slice in a spiral motion until you have a flat sheet of pork.?
To create the stuffing, sauté onion, celery, carrots, and turnips in olive oil on medium heat until caramelized. Salt and pepper to taste. Next, deglaze the pan with Madeira. Set cooked vegetable mixture aside in a large mixing bowl.?
Add figs, bread, parsley, savory, and orange zest to the vegetable mixture and combine. Add crushed red pepper and salt to taste. Set aside and cool to room temperature.?
Next, spread the nduja over the flat pork loin leaving a 2-inch frame around the edges and 4 inches at the end of the roll. Top the sausage with an even layer of stuffing and roll the sheet of pork loin toward the 4-inch frame.?
Wrap the roll of stuffed pork (like a burrito) in the caul fat. Truss, or tie, roll with kitchen string.?
Place the rolled pork loin on top of the fennel and cabbage wedges on the roasting rack.?
Cook in a two-step process. First, sear at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325 degrees F and continue to roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F, about 45 minutes to an hour. Once it's done, let the pork rest for at least 10 minutes.?
For the Creamed Fennel and Cabbage?
While the pork rests, slice the roasted cabbage and fennel in a chiffonade style or very thin strips.?
Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a sauté pan. Add sliced vegetables and cook until tender.?
Deglaze the pan with white wine. Season with salt and pepper.?
Add heavy cream and reduce to desired consistency.?