His mission: Reinvent an individually sized "turducken" to catch the eye of one of the country's most famous celebrity chefs, Mario Batali. St. Petersburg Times copy editor Jim Webster was inspired.
The food at Batali's restaurants is fabled for showcasing gutsy but traditional regional Italian. So, Webster decided to take the classic Southern turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken in a molto Italiano direction. He substituted pork for the turkey. For the duck? More pork. And for the chicken, you guessed it, pork.
The result was Pig-Wrapped Pig-Stuffed Pig, for which Webster won Mario Batali's Ultimate Grilling Challenge on Friday, announced on Rachael Ray's daytime talk show. A newcomer to cooking competitions (he has competed in the annual Build A Better Burger Contest with no success), Webster was strategic about his recipe.
"When I started planning my entry months ago," explains Webster, "I was really thinking about Batali's sensibilities. I knew he was a huge fan of pork."
Thus, his dish features homemade pork sausage flavored gently with orange zest and toasted fennel, stuffed in a pork tenderloin, then wrapped carefully with pancetta and grilled. It's a bold marriage of flavors, contrasting salty and sweet - but still, as Webster asserts, a simple dish.
"Everybody thinks that to be good, a recipe has to be complicated. The thing I keep hearing and reading is to keep it simple. I think that holds true. There are seven ingredients in my recipe . . . and three of them are pork. Some of the recipes entered had 50 ingredients, with four hours of prep time and diagrams. The longest single step of mine was grilling, which really meant opening the grill and turning the meat over."
Though there are few ingredients, the techniques, including making sausage, require some skills. The recipe is hardly for beginners.
Along with the recipe, Webster had to submit a video of himself preparing the dish. Webster's skill in the kitchen shines through. As with many 21st century home cooks, he credits the Food Network for his competence in the kitchen.
Winning the competition nets him an opportunity to cook with Batali and Ray at a tailgating party in Fort Worth, Texas, later this month. But does he hold out hope that PWPSP will find its way into a Batali kitchen?
"I would love to see it on a Batali menu. On Rachael Ray's show he sounded fairly complimentary, as did she. But she didn't drop any 'Yum-o's.' ''
Pig-Wrapped Pig-Stuffed Pig
2 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon salt
2 large oranges (finely minced zest and juice, used separately)
11/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup orange marmalade
2 pork tenderloins, about 11/2 pounds each, each sliced in thirds (3 pieces, about 4 inches long each), butterflied and pounded to about 1/4inch thick
10 to 12 ounces pancetta, sliced thin (24 to 30 slices)
To watch Jim Webster make his dish, go to mariobatali.com/grillingcontest.
To make the orange-fennel sausage: Heat a dry skillet. Toast the fennel seed for about 3 to 4 minutes. Keep pan moving to keep seeds from burning. Run the toasted fennel seeds through a spice mill to grind. Toss the fennel seed, salt and orange zest with the pork shoulder chunks. Run through a meat grinder. (Substitute 11/2 pounds bulk pork sausage to eliminate this step.)
To make the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine orange juice and marmalade. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes, or until you are ready for it at the grill.
To assemble the meat rolls: Take 4 to 6 slices of pancetta (depending on the size of your butterflied pieces of tenderloin), and lay them out on a work surface, overlapping the edges slightly. Put a piece of tenderloin on top of the pancetta. The tenderloin should extend a little beyond the pancetta on the sides. Place 3 ounces of sausage down the center of the tenderloin. Fold the ends of the tenderloin up. Get your fingers under the pancetta on one of the sides, and pull the pancetta and tenderloin up to cover the sausage. Roll the package over the rest of the way. These can go straight to the grill, or be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
To grill: Preheat grill. For gas grill, turn three burners on high until grill is about 400 degrees, then turn off the middle burner and leave the outside burners on high. For a charcoal grill, set up for indirect heat cooking.
When grill is hot, put the meat over the middle burner. Cook covered for about 5 minutes, then turn 1/2 turn. After 5 more minutes, brush glaze on meat and turn 1/4 turn. After another 5 minutes, baste with more glaze and turn 1/2 turn.
Monitor temperature of the biggest piece. When the internal temperature gets to about 135 degrees, take roll off the grill and baste with more glaze. Allow to rest about 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. Leftover glaze can be used as a sauce.
Serves 8 to 12.
Source: Jim Webster, Clearwater