It’s Piglet season again — the time of year when the cooking blog Food52 holds its annual tournament of cookbooks, fondly called “The Piglet.”
This is a March madness-style competition where 16 cookbooks published during the previous year face off. But it’s not really about winners and losers, but rather introducing home cooks to cookbooks and cuisines they might have missed.
You can follow along with the Food52 Piglet competition at Food52.com when it kicks off March 5.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s Piglet contenders:
“Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food,” by Indian immigrant Nik Sharma, shares recipes inspired by his heritage, his experiences in the American food world and the Southern cuisine of his husband’s family. “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel,” by New Orleans chef Alon Shaya, details recipes and the beautifully personal journey of an Israeli-American traveling back to his roots and the food and experiences this pilgrimage reveals.
Rich and enticing recipes come from “Coconuts and Collards: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South,” by Von Diaz, and “I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook,” by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad. Dishes like Puerto Rican “pastelón de plátano” (sweet plantain shepherd’s pie) and Filipino “baka tula-sog” (beef in a spiced chocolate sauce combining chocolate with ginger, chiles, peanut butter, fish sauce and vinegar) pique my interest and have me urgently tabbing recipes.
“Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories,” by Naz Deravian, offers the taste of exotic Persia, while “At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking,” by Nigella Lawson, brings it all home with cozy English meals and simple-to-follow recipes.
“Rose’s Baking Basics: 100 Essential Recipes,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum, gets down to the nitty-gritty of baking. Hers is a precise cookbook intent on increasing your home baking savvy. This is juxtaposed by the playful sugar-loving Christina Tosi and her newest cookbook, “All About Cake.” Recipes from “Rose’s Baking Basics” will give you the exact method for the perfect golden sponge cake, while Tosi offers you 13 different recipes for cake truffles — a reincarnation of the once-ubiquitous cake pop, minus the stick.
“Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One,” by Anita Lo, skips the food photography, opting for whimsical drawings and simple cooking for one that ensures each meal is a treat.
“Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day,” by chef JJ Johnson, Harlem restaurateur Alexander Smalls and author Veronica Chambers, focuses on the food born from the African and Asian diaspora. “Don’t call it soul food,” Smalls says of the recipes. “The idea that black folks who cook are only making soul food is frightening. What we have to say is much bigger than that.” As the recipes from “Between Harlem and Heaven” aim to show just this, chef Todd Richards embraces the term, while stretching the boundaries of typical soul food flavors, with his “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.” Both books honor their heritage while showing the possibilities when chefs push beyond tradition.
Vegetarians rejoice with the hip burger offerings of chef Brooks Headley with “Superiority Burger Cookbook: The Vegetarian Hamburger Is Now Delicious.” While my group of Piglet friends and competitors debated just how delicious a “fake” burger might be, we didn’t argue about Piglet mainstay and cookery author Diana Henry and her newest, “How to Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories, and Places,” which shares enticing dishes from her travels and meals shared with loved ones.
My Italian-American pizza-mastering friend acknowledged that there may be new things for him to learn from the drool-inducing photographs of “Mastering Pizza: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pizza, Focaccia, and Calzone,” by Marc Vetri and David Joachim. She and her 8-year-old son aim to cook their way through the book by the wrapup of the Piglet competition.
“The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes,” by James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst, brings flavor analysis to food creations yet had us all asking, “Do you really need to pair olives with lemon curd?” The consensus: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. (Or should I? I’ll just have to make it now and find out.)
“The Noma Guide to Fermentation: Foundations of Flavor,” by the renowned chef René Redzepi and David Zilber, seems almost intangible in its greatness. But upon closer observation, these interesting fermented recipes do actually seem replicable in the home kitchen environment. For our annual follow-up meal to the Piglet competition, another friend will dive into the world of Noma vinegars, and we’re all excited to taste the outcome.
My friends and I fill out our brackets, wager on the winning book, then gather to cook from all or as many of the 16 contestants that we can. It’s always an illuminating meal that pushes our ideas of what creations are possible from the kitchen of a simple home cook. We always leave with a few of these books set on our “to purchase” list.
Adobong Manok at Baboy — Classic Adobo
“I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook” is the book I’ve chosen to take top honors in Piglet 2019. The recipes are unique, built on layers of flavor, and offer a window into a cuisine there is a distinct lack of cookbooks representing. This style of adobo is the kind most commonly known in the Philippines as well as America. The ingredients aren’t difficult to track down and you can substitute apple cider or champagne vinegar for the sugarcane vinegar. Ponesca says some cooks add coconut milk or additional sweetness in the form of sugar or honey. “Try this method at least once,” she encourages, “then adjust the proportions to your own preferences.”
1 cup white sugarcane vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons fruit preserves, jam, or jelly, such as blueberry or fig
3 bay leaves
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks
1 pound fresh pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 to 6 cups cooked white rice, for serving
Cucumber-Tomato Relish (recipe follows)
In a large ziplock bag or nonreactive container, stir together the vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns, fruit preserves, and bay leaves until the preserves are thoroughly combined. Add the chicken and pork belly, seal the bag or container, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
Transfer the chicken, pork, and marinade to a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with 4 cups water and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Turn off the heat and transfer the meat to a bowl.
In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed deep-sided pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Remove the pork belly pieces from the cooking liquid (do not discard the liquid) and add them to the pot. (Be careful, as the oil may spatter.) Cook, stirring frequently, until the pork belly is brown on all sides and crispy, about 7 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces to the pan and cook, flipping them occasionally, until they are browned, about 5 minutes.
Add ½ cup of the cooking liquid to the pan and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the only thing left in the bottom of the pan is the fat from the chicken and pork, about 10 minutes.
Serve hot, with plenty of white rice and relish, if using, making sure to pour a little bit of fat from the bottom of the pan over each serving of rice. Serves 4 to 6.
If you’re relatively new to fish sauce, or you don’t like its pungent quality, start with half a tablespoon and work up. Serves 4
1 cucumber, quartered, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
½ cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
In a bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, cilantro, onion, fish sauce and lemon juice. Serve right away.
Excerpted from “I Am A Filipino” by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad with permission from Artisan Books. Copyright © 2018. Photography by Justin Walker.