Alon Bar is a talented home cook who has become an Internet sensation with nearly 13,000 followers. His Instagram profile (@talandalon) began as a joint account – he was in charge of the food, while his wife, Tal, was in charge of the art. But it soon came to focus only on food, which has masses of people salivating. What’s the secret? “I try not to interfere with the ingredients,” says Bar.
Coming from a culinary family with multiple influences, he got into cooking around the age of 10. One grandmother is Moroccan and one grandfather is Romanian. “So from one side there was couscous on Friday night and salads that had been simmering since Wednesday, and on the other, on Saturdays they were grilling pork chops,” he says.
Today he cooks just about everything, always making sure to use only the finest ingredients. “All I’m trying to say and to show is that food should be tasty. That’s all. It doesn’t need all kinds of fancy decoration.”
For this column, Bar shares two of his favorite recipes: a beef shoulder roast that needs minimum effort and few ingredients, and the porchetta that has become his trademark.
First, here is one of my own recipes, which kind of connects the two, for Paupiettes – meat-filled beef rolls simmered in a white wine and tomato sauce.
For the meat rolls:
1 small onion, peeled
10 sprigs parsley, rinsed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
280 gr ground beef
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
pinch of grated nutmeg
salt and coarsely ground
10 thin slices of sirloin (about 60 gr each)
For the sauce:
5 tomatoes, grated
1 heaping tbsp. (approx. 100 gr) tomato paste
1 heaping tsp sweet paprika
3 sprigs thyme, rinsed
1/3 cup white wine
¼ cup water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
salt and coarsely ground
In a food processor, combine onion, parsley and garlic. Add 1 tbsp olive oil while processing. Blend to a paste-like consistency. Transfer to a bowl and add ground beef, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Knead well to combine.
Place a slice of sirloin on the work surface (stretch it out with your fingers if necessary). Take about 30 grams of the beef mixture and place at the end of the slice of meat. Roll the beef mixture inside the meat, tightening as you go. Place the roll seam side down and tie it up with string, making a bow on top. Repeat the process with all the slices of sirloin.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a wide saucepan. Place the beef rolls in the pan, sear well on all sides, remove the rolls and set aside. Lower heat, add grated tomatoes to the pan, and stir. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan and stir to combine scrapings with the tomatoes. Add remaining sauce ingredients, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Now return the beef rolls to the pan (seam side down, bow on top, to ease removal of the string before serving), together with their juices.
Simmer for another half hour. Mushrooms can be sauted in a separate pan and added to the dish just before serving.
Porchetta is an Italian classic, which Bar explains is pork belly filled with herbs, often served sliced in sandwiches. It has become his trademark dish.
“Although the pig is not a popular animal in this country, one of its big advantages is the cost. Boneless pork belly costs 40 shekels a kilo, so for 160 shekels you can feed a very large number of people. Another important point is that while porchetta is easy to prepare, it’s not something you can make spontaneously. One of the secrets to success is marinating for two days in water and seasonings, and slow-roasting it for 24 hours before serving,” he says.
Ask the butcher for the lower part of the pork belly, with skin on; this will assure a crispy outer layer. The piece should be rectangular, for easy rolling into a roulade.
4 kilos pork belly, cleaned of bones, tendons and cartilage
twine for tying
For the marinade:
4 liters water
300 gr fine salt
100 gr sugar
1 tbsp allspice
1 tbsp black peppercorns
4-5 bay leaves
1 whole dry shata pepper, broken
For the filling:
½ head of garlic, peeled and quartered
leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary
10 sage leaves
a handful of thyme leaves
4-5 minced bay leaves
grated peel of 1 lemon
1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
a little vinegar
Place the pork belly in a large pan with all the marinade ingredients and refrigerate for two days.
After two days, prepare the filling: Chop the herbs and combine with garlic cloves, lemon zest, black pepper and olive oil (no need for salt, since the meat has been salted by the marinade).
Take the pork belly out of the fridge, rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. Place the meat on the work surface, skin side down. Arrange the filling in a strip along the shorter edge of the meat (if there are tips of meat left over, add them to the filling). Roll into a tight roulade and tie firmly (the easiest way is to tie several bows, 6-7 cm apart).
Wrap the roulade in plastic wrap so that it is well sealed. Place it in a pan and put in an 80-degree Celsius oven (the plastic wrap won’t be affected) for 24 hours. If you have a meat thermometer, you can use it to check after 24 hours that the internal temperature is 80 degrees.
Prior to serving: Heat the oven to the maximum on the grill setting (220-250 degrees Celsius). Working carefully at the sink, remove the plastic wrap and dispose of all the liquid (there will be quite a lot). Use paper towels to dry the meat as much as possible. Place the meat on a roasting pan with a grate, brush it with vinegar and sprinkle a little coarse salt on the skin. Place on the middle rack of the oven. Keep a close eye on the meat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Turn it every so often to ensure it is evenly roasted on all sides. When done, bring to the table on a cutting board and cut slices for each guest. Serve with a green salad and a little mustard.
Beef shoulder roast with onions
Using fresh beef rather than frozen is the key to this recipe. Since there are few ingredients, the quality of each is essential. One reason Bar loves this dish is that it can be made ahead of time to be served when the guests come. If you like, you can use a smaller cut, but remember that meat significantly shrinks during cooking.
3 kilos beef shoulder roast, cleaned of tendons
6-7 large onions
300 ml olive oil
¼ cup wine vinegar
6-8 prunes or dried figs
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Peel onions, slice thinly (or use a food processor), and place them in the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof pan.
Place the meat atop the onions, then the dried fruit. Season generously with salt and pepper, and pour on the olive oil and wine vinegar.
Cover the pan and cook over high heat for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 140-degrees Celsius. After initial cooking on the stove, place pan in oven and cook for two more hours.
Remove meat from the oven and let it cool completely before slicing.
Return the slices to the pot and arrange them nicely for serving, so they are covered with the sauce. Place the pan back on the stove and simmer until the meat is very tender.
Serve with mashed potatoes or another starchy side dish. Bar points out that the meat is also delicious the next day, in a sandwich with mayonnaise.