Cooking with copper

Guest post: In lieu of Halloween

Amy L.

Amy L.

Park your broom and sit for a spell,
I have a haunting story to tell…

about a fatal error while cooking,
and a pork shoulder at first good-looking…

Until black magic got bold,
or food chemistry took hold,
and left me with quite the mess.

Sit tight for a fright,
followed by a redemptive delight
starring a cocotte strong and proper
from Normandy Kitchen Copper!

(thanks, Fid and Bill!)

VFC says: This spooky tale is brought to you by Amy L.!

Preparing Cider Braised Pork Shoulder

On a dark and stormy Sunday, with equal parts confidence and fear, I began slicing deep into the corpse of a pig. As I cut through layers of fat, thick red blood from the sacrificed animal coated my hands, and I feared this would awaken vampires in neighborhood New England cemeteries where I live. Demons, vampires, werewolves, and witches prey all over New England, as more than just Salem is haunted during this time of the year!

As ounce after ounce piled on top of my food scale, I could feel hair on the back of my neck stand. The storm outside died down and the air stood eerily still. Afternoon turned to night and werewolves howled under the moonlight. Werewolves are fur real and vampires know how to have a bloody good time, and both Halloween creatures love to feast on pig blood at night. To prevent unwanted trick-or-treaters from arriving at my doorstep, and to prepare a more appropriate amount of pork for one night’s meal, I made the quick decision to cut the recipe in half.

For a thicker sauce, coat pork shoulder in flour before cooking as well, and it is OK to use nonalcoholic apple cider, however, this tends to be sweeter and the final taste might be different.

Teamwork makes the scream work, so my husband took over cleaning the carcass. Sliced and diced, he packed the meat up real nice. He wiped it all down, really went to town — from the prep station to my knife, he took care of his wife! He’s the greatest ghoul!

I salted the pork, prepped my station for work, and got my mise en place in order: vegetable oil, pork shoulder, chopped onion, freshly torn sage leaves, a bottle of Angry Orchard hard apple cider, and apple cider vinegar.

Ghosts, Witches, and Cooking Under a Spell

Vampires and werewolves were no longer in sight, which eased some of the fright, but our house still reminds me of The Conjuring.

There is a ghostly presence in our house that becomes spine-chillingly present during the weeks leading up to Halloween. Our old farmhouse was built in 1890, so many people have died here. The only thing missing is a cemetery outside with headstones that read RIP. Ghosts are dead, so they don’t worry about their waist lines. For that reason, I feel their spooky company when I am cooking at night. This year, ghosts were joined by witches with hefty appetites. Broomsticks were everywhere; it was a startling sight!

The witches felt tricked as I cut the recipe in half. Hangry and upset, I heard their evil laugh. There was only enough pork to feed my husband and me, so they cast a wicked spell of confusion onto my already worried mind.

Dazed and in a haze, I hurried to cook my stew, hopeful that completing my task would encourage them to shoo.

The recipe I followed required higher temperatures throughout. I lowered temperatures by a full step (for high heat I used medium, and for medium heat I used low). I did this because copper heats fast and retains heat well, and I was afraid of melting the tin inside of my cocotte. The last part of the recipe, however, required simmering on low heat. I followed this step exactly, as simmering on low heat is standard for braising.

On the burner went the pot, set to medium — not hot — with vegetable oil inside. I browned the pork shoulder on both sides. I took the pork out of the cocotte, dropped the temperature to low, and with the leftover juices and oil, added onions to toil. I threw the sage leaves, salt, and pepper down, mixed it around, and waited for it all to brown.

Back to a medium heat it went, into the pot — half the hard cider was spent. I stirred nice and slow and turned the heat back to low. The cider vinegar went next, and with a stir and a vex, the pork went back in.

I put the lid on like a hat, and on a low simmer it sat, so I let it cook and relaxed.

Burning and the Black Magic of Food Chemistry 

Still under the witches’ spell, feeling dizzy and unwell, I forgot I cut the recipe in half, not doing the cooking math.

As my stew simmered, I sat in a nearby room — the witches with their hats and brooms, casted spells on the food, leading to its doom.

Blissfully unaware that my stew was overcooking, I can’t help but think the witches were there enjoying, looking…

Like the sun after dawn, the water rose and was gone. The stew went from brown to black; there was no turning back. The pork shoulder dried and charred, the onions and sage leaves on par.

The smell of cider and burnt pork spread through the house and I ran to the kitchen, saddened by what I found. The outside walls of my once sparking rose gold cocotte were now orange like a pumpkin, an appropriate note.

When I lifted the lid and looked inside, I saw the stew had burned and fried! This caused me to shriek, so husband ran into the kitchen, finding me feeling sad and depressed, and totally defeated.

He said,

“Don’t fear, my dear, though Halloween is here!
You’ll get it next time; don’t shed a tear!
And I have faith in your cocotte!
It has worked hard for many years before you,
and it will cook for many more, too!”

I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer, that the tin lining in my cocotte would still be there. How could my cocotte survive a spell this wicked?

My Cocotte Rose from the Dead

Still in a state of disarray, my husband stayed in the kitchen to help. He removed pork shoulder from the cocotte that was not burned throughout. I have to hand it to him, he was very optimistic. He was able to reduce my stress while making sandwiches that tasted like brisket.

Meanwhile, I hurried to save my cocotte. I boiled water and dish soap in it twice to remove as much of the gunk as I could get.

Next, I scrubbed the inside with a soft sponge and dish soap, carefully removing the remaining burnt food, feeling scared, but also hopeful. To my surprise, the tin remained totally intact — good Halloween magic was on our side, even though the witches attacked!

After that, I decided to remove all memory of this horrifying experience, so I polished and washed the exterior and lid of my cocotte, restoring its bright color and spirit!

Sort of like Frankenstein, my cocotte rose from the dead. I was floored by how hardy my pan was, and how I was able to clean up this Halloween mess! Fid and Bill sold me a sturdy and solid pan, and this experience surprisingly boosted my confidence, making me an even greater copper cookware fan!


The following weekend, I tried this recipe again, but this time for my husband and a friend. Additional positive energy kept the witches and spooky ghosts away, making this a great opportunity to cook on another cool autumn day.

I’ll spare you the details of the first half of this recipe. Instead, I’ll describe the final stages of cooking, as I was able to finish this time successfully!

Sauce can be reduced down to a glaze if you like it that way. The final thickness of the sauce is determined by personal preference. Also, in the final stage of cooking, the pork shoulder is done when it is very soft. Continue braising until you are able to pull your pork shoulder apart with utensils. Then it is ready to serve!

After letting the pork shoulder cook until it softened, I removed it with a strainer, turned the heat to medium, and made the sauce. I added heavy cream to the cocotte and stirred it into the liquid. I brought the liquid to a boil and allowed it to reduce by half, until it started to thicken. Fat rose to the surface, and I skimmed it off with a spoon.

I added the pork shoulder back in, adjusted the heat to low, and covered it in liquid, all under an October moon’s glow. The pork shoulder simmered until it was heated through, this time without my kitchen cluttered with witches’ brooms.

That night we ate braised cider pork shoulder on egg noodles, it was such a delight! I felt elated that the recipe finally came out right, despite all of the Halloween creatures and fright! My husband, my friend, and I celebrated by dancing to “The Monster Mash” the rest of the night!


Happy Halloween!

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  1. What a eerie-funny story – wonderfully told!
    Isn’t it great that the humorous Amy joined VFC?

    Similar mishaps have happened to all of us and probably also to later star chefs.
    You just can’t give up like Amy showed. Practice creates masters.

    1. Thank you, Martin!

      I agree! In order to improve we must keep trying!

      A bit more background – I’m a quarter Japanese (my grandmother is full) so I grew up a family that had a diverse pallet compared to what we refer to as the stereotypical ‘meat and potatoes generation,’ post-WWII until greater widespread globalization here in the States. However, most weekday staples still consisted of variations on baked chicken, over cooked pork chops, and box potatoes. Learning how to cook entailed being taught how to not dry out chicken in the oven…

      Now, with the internet and greater widespread knowledge of food culture, techniques like braising, for example, are new to me (and maybe others), so I anticipate making more errors! And I’ve decided, why not embrace it? 🙂

      In my opinion, food is language. It is a wonderful way to get to know, experience, and appreciate the world. Also, we don’t grow without having the courage to try new things and take chances! (Even in our beautiful tin lined copper cookware, often over fire! Yikes!) My point being (I ramble!), you’re right! And I appreciate the comment and confidence! Thanks again!

    1. Hi! Thank you so much!! This was a ball to write! I appreciate the comment! Thank you!

    1. Hi Fid!! Thanks so much! I’m in love with this cocotte! Its ability to take an unfair beating and come out unscathed really blew me away! And now I know how to properly braise! haha The cocotte took one for the team here! 😉

  2. Scary, never happened to me … ok, back then the risotto and the asian chicken legs, maybe the ossobuco alla milanese was a bit dark at the bottom, but you could still eat the cassoulet – so the top layer, if you like smoked things. Only the vongole were really terrifying.

    1. Hi Arndt!

      Your support is definitely appreciated!! Every time I try a new recipe I think, ‘okay, if I follow this exactly there is no way I can mess up’, and alas, mistakes still happen! Hearing that I’m not alone provides reassurance and confidence for future endeavors!!

      Thanks for the comment!!

  3. LOL, who among us hasn’t had an “oops” like this. Some years ago I was braising a batch of beef short ribs for a 4th of July party. I started the cooking about 7:00 PM and planned to remove the pan from the oven at about 10:00 PM. Well. I fell asleep and when I woke in the morning I rushed to the kitchen and took the pan out of the oven. Taking the lid off i saw there was a minute amount of liquid left in the bottom of the pan and darkened but not burnt ribs. they turned out to be the best tasting batch of ribs I ever made!

    1. Hi Stephen!

      Oh my goodness! This makes me think of the movie Julie and Julia, when Julie fell asleep making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon and had to call out of work the next day, exhausted and totally baffled, to make it again haha. Gosh, hearing real stories like this – not just seeing them in movies – make cooking mishaps seem so human, and OK, which is incredibly nice to hear!

      I also love how your ribs still came out excellent! I, myself, was blown away after tasting my husbands sandwiches and said, “Oh my goodness this tastes like brisket!” 😛 I’ve heard that mistakes often led to the dishes we strive to perfect today, and why not embrace adding a bit of our own of creativity as well! Positivity keeps the momentum going!

      Thanks a ton, Stephen!!

  4. I once made a batch of Marcella Hazan’s bolognese and I couldn’t get it to settle into a low simmer. I sat by the stove for four hours to stir it and nudge the flame up and down! I’d assumed it was the cast-iron cocotte to blame — this was before I began using copper — but reading Amy’s story, I now realize it must have been the tricky witches at work!

    Happy Hallowe’en to everyone, and may the witches leave your dishes alone!!

    1. VFC thank you again! And wow, now I see why you decided to make the switch to copper! I’m glad you did! For selfish reasons too..! Looking on the bright side, cast iron ultimately led to the formation of this group, which has been so enriching and rewarding! 🙂 Plus, what a difference copper makes!! 🙂 Have a wonderful Halloween!!

  5. Hi Amy, it’s great that you live in an old farmhouse too. The former barn, actually a hop kiln, in which I live, was built in 1876/77 and renovated in 1989. When my daughter was a child, she always used to tell her friends with childly imagination that we would live in a castle. In fact, the building reminds a little of Count Dracula’s castle. We also have bats. But I still haven’t grown long canine teeth.

    Colored woodcut from 1875:

    1. Hi Martin!

      What a gorgeous farmhouse!! And fun story! (haha) Old residences have so much character – and are fun for sparking imagination! (especially in children!)

      Thank you for sharing the image and commenting! Your home is lovely and has a lot of charm!! Have a lovely Halloween!

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