Kitchen Call: Epicurean delights celebrate epic events

Linda Bassett

About 100 years ago, Fenway Park opened its gates and hosted its first-ever home opener. The brand-new park was a wonder, shiny with the promise of good times.

Everyone who could not be at opening day looked forward to the next day’s photos and stories about the game on the front page: nothing as unique as this “cathedral” of baseball had ever graced Boston.

During that night, far out at sea, the Titanic, another modern wonder, was nearing the end of its first voyage. Nothing as unique as this model of technological invincibility had ever graced the ocean.

Then, the ship struck an iceberg and, because bad news sells more newspapers than good news, Fenway Park’s big day got a rude shove off the front page.

And because ballpark snacks in 1912 were nearly nonexistent, I’m sweeping my favorite ballpark aside to write about food on a sunken ship.

If you saw the 3-D version of “Titanic,” you nearly had a seat at the table in the first-class dining room. But despite a parade of courses, including choice cuts of meat, snapping fresh fish, precious green vegetables, the smallest, sweetest strawberries and rare, icy-cold champagne, the party dragged along at a tedious pace. Women tried to stay graceful in their constricting corsets; men choked in their natty ties.

The lively party in third class, or steerage, however, with music and dancing, seemed like a lot more fun. Those steerage passengers ate well on the White Star Line, but in fewer than the 11 courses that were served in first class, and sans alternatives or substitutions. Preserved in its records, the menu offered lesser cuts of meat, marinated for flavor. Inexpensive root vegetables were pickled, boiled or mashed if accidentally overcooked, as the less experienced cooks were assigned to third class kitchens. Soups were hearty and rustic, often concocted from the first class leftovers.

Interestingly, similar recipes (not the leftovers) enjoy a modern revival, many having made their way to home kitchens during these recession years. Some, handed down by our grandmothers, never left the family table.

A pork shoulder, certainly a tougher cut, gets a long bath in boldly flavored ingredients with port wine breaking down the stringy muscles. Pearl onions boost the flavor.

The roast followed vegetable soup and was paired with boiled potatoes, peas and biscuits. All these ingredients keep well on a ship. No room for asparagus or strawberries in third class larders. Oranges for dessert could be taken away from the table. The third class dinner was eaten and cleared quickly, leaving time enough for one last dance.

Marinated Roasted Pork with Sage

One hundred years ago, pork was not raised under modern sanitary conditions. It cooked until far beyond well done. The result could be tough and dry. Today, we like our pork slightly pink, tender and full of flavor. Start this recipe a day ahead so it gains the advantage of the marinade. Roast the meat long and low so it stays tender and juicy.

For the marinade:

1 medium-size yellow onion, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup port wine plus

1/4 cup chopped fresh sage, or 2 tablespoons dried sage

For the roast:

1 boneless pork shoulder, about 3 pounds

1-1/2 cups button mushrooms, stems trimmed

1 teaspoon butter

3 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 cup port wine

Salt, pepper, to taste

1. Pulse together the yellow onion, garlic, canola oil, port, and sage in a blender or food processor, until almost smooth. Place roast in large, shallow bowl; pour the marinade over it so it is completely coated. Cover; refrigerate for 24 hours, turning whenever you think of it.

2. Take the roast out of the fridge. Set the roast on a plate on the kitchen counter to come to room temperature, 20 to 30 minutes; save the marinade. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the roast to the skillet, searing until lightly browned on all sides.

4. Transfer pork and the marinade to a roasting pan; pour in 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven; add the pearl onions, the mushrooms, and another 1/2 cup chicken stock to pan. Return the pan to the oven, 45 to 60 minutes, until it reaches 155 to 160 degrees when measured with a meat thermometer. Transfer the roast and vegetables to a platter; tent with foil and let it rest, 15 minutes, so that juices redistribute.

5. Meanwhile, set roasting pan with the juices on the stovetop over medium heat; sprinkle flour into pan; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add any remaining stock and 1/2 cup port; bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until slightly thickened. Strain. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Slice the roast onto on platter; surround with onions and mushrooms, and pour the sauce over it. Makes 6 servings.

‘Gourmet’ Ballpark Hot Dogs

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 cup root beer

1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 each salt and pepper

8 hot dogs

8 hot dog rolls, split on top and toasted

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes, or until tender. Stir in root beer, ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, yellow mustard, chili powder, salt and black pepper. Bring a boil; reduce heat; simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the cover and simmer, 20 to 30 minutes until sauce starts to thicken. (If you like a smooth sauce, puree this with an immersion blender or in a processor.) Cover and chill overnight in a non-aluminum container.

2. Pierce the hot dogs all over and steam on the stovetop in a pot with a steamer basket (or make your own basket using a colander over a soup pot) over water or beer. Butter and toast the rolls in a skillet. Serve the dogs drizzled with the homemade sauce, warmed or at room temperature. You can still add your favorite toppings like pickle relish, onions, or sliced jalapenos. Makes 8 servings.

Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at Follow Linda on Twitter @ Kitchen Call for a daily kitchen hint, trick, shortcut or info.